Inspiration From Other Industries: Women Leaders Thriving In Retail Operations

Another traditionally male-dominated space where women are thriving — retail operations.

As more and more women enter the IT channel—and make great strides—their roles get more diverse. Sales? Check. Product partner management? Of course. Driving innovations, synthesizing product streams, revolutionizing vendor strategies? Naturally.


Recently, Tim Parry, managing editor of Multichannel Merchant, explored a traditionally male-dominated retail space where women are thriving — direct-to-customer (DTC) operations. DTC refers to companies selling their product directly to customers, whether that product is shoes or online graphic design software. DTC operations executives supervise and improve the whole chain of actions needed to get that product from the factory or tech lab directly to customers efficiently, accurately, and compellingly.


DTC channel executives cultivate and manage a vast number of relationships along all parts of the retail supply chain, from factory staff to warehouse operators to vendors to web developers to analytics experts to marketers. Pooja Agarwal, vice president of operations at beauty subscription box company Birchbox, notes that “the biggest pro to [my] career in operations is that it is an incredibly fulfilling field where you get to solve hard problems and make a direct impact on consumers.”


Why not having an operations background is a plus

For many women in the IT channel, education and early work experience didn’t necessarily predict a career in this field. Rather, accumulated experience plus robust networking prompted women to look to the channel — and find opportunities for leadership and growth there.


The same is true for many female execs in retail operations, Parry observes. Agarwal and Angie Stocklin, COO and Co-founder of eyewear e-tailer One Click Ventures both received degrees in fields far from operations, including school psychology and anthropology. Similarly, Nancy Spector, vice president of business operations at customizable kids' shoe maker Plae, actually majored in urban studies at Brown University.


Stocklin sees a direct benefit to her early, non-operations education. “Although I originally obtained my psychology degrees with a career in school psychology in mind, my psychology background continues to help me better understand people in a variety of ways,” she told Multichannel Merchant. “From decisions around team culture, hiring, and professional development to everyday things like motivation and team morale, psychology is helping us reach our goal of becoming the world’s most people-focused eyewear company.”


As for Agarwal, her anthropology degree trained her to learn about “different cultures from an unbiased position.” She says, I think bringing this same perspective to my career has helped me build relationships that are most beneficial for all partners.”


Leading the with agility, innovation, competition

Every aspect of a business depends on the functioning of operations. After all, what’s the point of great marketing if you can’t get the product delivered?


This intense interdependence means that retail operations leaders have to respond—and respond creatively, and quickly, while keeping costs low, and meeting hard, metric-driven goals—to many disruptive factors far from their direct command.


Parry writes, “For Angela Goldstein, director of operations at mens' clothing retailer Bonobos, it’s exciting executing the behind the scenes pieces to make the business run. [She] said it can often be a thankless job, particularly because you are behind the scenes and often problem solving issues that resulted from something out of your control, but by being so familiar with many facets of the business, you’re often best suited to recommend and help implement change that can have a significant impact on the bottom line.”


Power, creativity, leadership, responsibility—women are finding them in retail operations, and making their companies successful along the way.


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