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Executives discuss the power of women in the industry’s future

Posted By Barb Francella, Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Senior executives from some of the consumer products and retail industry’s largest companies offered their insights on "The Power of Women in Tomorrow’s Industry” at the NEW Leadership Summit.

Panelists Irene Chang Britt, president of Pepperidge Farm; Susan Chambers, executive vice president, global people division at Wal-Mart Inc.; Tom Falk, CEO of Kimberly-Clark Corporation; and Bhavdeep Singh, executive vice president of operations for Ahold USA, gave their outlook on the role of women in leadership roles. The discussion was moderated by past NEW Board Chair Alison Kenney Paul, vice chairman, US retail leader and principal at Deloitte.

Chambers named talent management as a major concern."Are some of our jobs unnecessarily complex? On the other hand, how do we prepare talent for necessary complexity?” she asked, noting  "there isn't enough merchandising talent in the world, and we know we have to grow it. Another scarcity is technical talent.”

Singh had "change" on his mind. Kids are finding alternatives to e-mail, for instance. "They have more access to information at their fingertips now. Values have changed and they hold older generations to a higher standard.”

In a culture that typically rewards only success, having permission to fail can be critical to career advancement. "Sometimes we try to avoid making the same mistakes,” Falk said, and "people tend to shut down those projects that we think await those traps.”

Britt shared an experience during which one of her projects failed. People rallied around her and supported the project until it succeeded. "Be a dent-maker," she advised. "Decide to do something that gets noticed, not just to move through your day.”

 Chambers shared a situation that once had her speaking publicly to negative outcry. Feeling isolated and alone, a friend told her to "Get over it” while others applauded her sincerity and strength. "Never underestimate the power of encouragement,” said Chambers. "Life is short, have some fun, and push forward in the things you're passionate about.”

Singh discussed the importance of getting more men involved in gender diversity and advised NEW members to create a platform that encourages everyone to step forward.  His goal: championing good business decisions and a level playing field for everyone, including women, to potentially go all the way through the organization to the CEO spot, if desired.

Britt offered practical advice for women affected by reorganization: If you've been moved out of an area that you have served well, figure out how to make that same difference and impact in your new area of responsibility. "Find out what you can deliver,” she said.

"Be brilliant,” Chambers added. "When we talk about people we're going to promote, we talk about the people who are doing a fantastic job where they are.”

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