DSN Top Women event's 2nd panel focuses on how women can rise in the ranks

Sandra Levy
Senior Editor
Sandra Levy profile picture

In the second of two webinars making up the programming for this year’s Drug Store News’ Top Women in Health, Wellness and Beauty event, participants discussed what has changed and what has remained the same when it comes to how women can reach top leadership positions. They also shared what challenges and roadblocks women face, and how male advocacy plays a role in helping to develop and nurture female leaders.

The panel, “The New Playbook for Women in Retail: How Female Leadership is Changing the Way Power is Distributed” featured  Lauren Brindley, group vice president, beauty & personal Care, at Walgreens;  Colleen Lindholz, president at Kroger Health; Jocelyn Konrad, executive vice president, chief pharmacy officer at Rite-Aid;  Kristen Abreu, vice president of customer business development drug at Crossmark; Jennifer Holahan, head of U.S. strategy and market effectiveness, at GSK Consumer Healthcare; and Tiffany Daniel, head of drug channel at Unilever.

The 60-minute panel presentation was moderated by marketing and advertising specialist Kelly McDonald.

Wednesday’s panelists noted that while women have made tremendous strides in leadership positions, there are still challenges and obstacles women must overcome, particularly when it comes to advocacy for women in the workplace.

Lindholz noted the importance of men who are in senior leadership roles serving as mentors and confidants and enabling women in the workplace. She also stressed the importance of “women who worked their way up, reaching into junior levels and continuing to engage with them, sharing the roadblocks and obstacles that we’ve had to get through in our careers, and really making this part of the DNA of our operation as leaders.”

Brindley agreed, noting that it is imperative that women advocate for themselves and for other women. “Females are naturally not as comfortable tooting their horn and celebrating their success as men. It’s not that we’re not confident; it’s that we’re not naturally as comfortable celebrating our success or saying, ‘that was my idea,’ or ‘how about this?’ As females we tend to be more collective. Females like to look out for each other. There’s an element of being an advocate for others. It’s not about coming across as arrogant. It’s about having confidence to just say things concisely and clearly, and bringing forward your own ideas. We need to support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. Younger women see that and that is inspiring for the younger generations,” she said.

Daniel pointed out that there’s still a lot of gender bias, as well as different expectations and double standards for women in the workplace. She provided the example of a woman who is apologetic when she has to tell her boss that she has to attend a parent-teacher conference.

“She may not be perceived as when a man does the same, and is rewarded for being so involved with the kids. I tell my team, be unapologetic,” she noted.

Holahan took Daniel’s thoughts one step further, emphasizing that too many women opt out of amazing opportunities because of the struggle over being a caregiver and still putting in the hours to get their work done. “We have work to do to help women and to create environments to progress their career without them worrying if they are doing the right thing or worrying about that double standard,” she said.

All of the panelists agreed that there are numerous benefits from the shift in their organization and in the industry to have more women in senior-level positions.

For instance, Abreu, said with women being the prime shoppers in the industry, it makes good business sense for companies to have female executives who understand their core consumer.

“Organizations with more senior-level women, also have more diversity and perspectives on diversity. That’s good business. It helps us understand problems from a different perspective, and it creates a flexible environment that the young people coming into the industry demand,” she said.

Konrad concurred that diversity is key. “Diversity helps innovate and drive better decisions. As female leaders, it’s our responsibility to pull others in, to show you can do it and you’ll be supportive of it,” she said.

Lindholz pointed out that diversity enables growth. “At Kroger there’s literally been a shift in women who put people around them that are better than them. We see that if we do that, one plus one equals three and we’ll win in the long run versus the old school style. The decisions made at the highest level, who are we going to become, a lot comes from the influence of the team I’ve put around,” she said.

Finally, the panelists insisted that male advocacy plays a key role in helping to develop female leaders.

Daniel said men still comprise the majority of leadership positions, but many men are unaware that gender bias still exists. “I need them to speak up, hire more women, and have women on their slate. Male leaders are uncomfortable giving negative feedback to women. I need them to promote more women, and have female employees apply for jobs, even if maybe they don’t check off all boxes. Women get promoted based on performance, men on potential. Give women a chance. Sign up to mentor or sponsor a woman. We need more companies to rally behind this concept of male advocacy. That way men don’t feel penalized for advocating. They come out of their comfort zone,” she added.

Holahan, who has had male sponsors and mentors, said, “They can help amplify my voice, give me a perspective I may not understand. They are great coaches and supporters.”

Abreu urged that male leaders can help ‘up and coming’ women in their organization. “Diversity is here to stay and it’s a good thing. If you’re a man, and you’re not sure giving feedback, reach out to a senior female executive and ask her, ‘mentor me on this,’” she said.

Finally, Konrad offered this advice: “When you build the confidence of someone it fuels them to want to do more. I encourage men, if you are going to sponsor or mentor, watch your words; those will drive her confidence to say, ‘I can do this. Subtle words mean a lot in life.”

The webinar was sponsored by Crossmark, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Unilever, Beiersdorf, Bausch + Lomb, Nature’s Truth/Piping Rock, iA, and Coca-Cola.

The full panel recording can be accessed here.