US Retailers Struggle Without Female Board Members, Study Reveals

Would Women in the Boardroom Help at Sears, JCPenney, and Whole Foods?

US Retail Female CEOs, Board Members, Executives Hitting Glass Ceiling
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A study of Female Executive Leadership in publicly traded retail companies reveals that a significant number of U.S. retailers without a substantial number of women in their boardrooms are struggling.  Sears, jcpenney, and Whole Foods are just some of the largest U.S. retail chains that have one or no females in their highest ranks, and have also been struggling with brand identity, retail relevance, and financial performance.

  

 Is it a coincidence that the list of retailing companies with less than 25% female representation on their Board of Directors is also a list peppered with retail companies struggling to survive?  Although it's difficult to prove that the relationship is causal, there definitely seems to be a relationship that is bigger than coincidence.

Based on research from the non-profit women's career advocate organization Catalyst this is a list of the publicly traded retail companies with a Board of Directors composed of less than 25% of female members:

Publicly Traded Retail and Restaurant Companies with Less than 25% Female Board Members:

  • Bed Bath & Beyond - 2 Female Board Members out of 10
  • CarMax - 2 Female Board Members out of 11
  • Carter's - 2 Female Board Members out of 9
  • jcpenney - 2 Female Board Members out of 11
  • Kohl's - 2 Female Board Members out of 10
  • Nike - 3 Female Board Members out of 13
  • Sherwin-Williams - 2 Female Board Members out of 12
  • Walmart - 3 Female Board Members out of 15
  • Whole Foods Market - 2 Female Board Members out of 11

Besides the massive overhauls being attempted at jcpenney and Whole Foods, without substantial female boardroom representation other major U.S. retail chains are struggling as well.  With male-dominated leadership in the boardroom, earning performance by Kohl's has been mediocre, stock prices for Bed Bath & Beyond have hit a new 52-week low, shares of Sherwin Williams have been on a serious downslide, and Walmart's  unsustainable low-wage business model has been causing both earnings and forecasts to tumble.

    

And then there's the retail companies with just one female member on its Board of Directors:

Retail Fortune 500 Companies with Only One Female Executive Officers:

  • American Eagle Outfitters - 1 Female Board Member out of 8
  • Apple - 1 Female Board Member out of 10
  • AutoNation - 1 Female Board Member out of 9
  • Dollar Tree - 1 Female Board Member out of 12
  • GameStop - 1 Female Board Member out of 11
  • Office Depot/OfficeMax - 1 Female Board Member out of 10
  • Sears Holdings - 1 Female Board Member out of 8
  • Sprint Nextel - 1 Female Board Member out of 12

Can it be concluded that the publicly traded restaurant and retailing Board of Directors with a single female member have token female representation?  Perhaps.  It could be that the percentage of female board members is proportional to the percentage of female employees in these companies.  

But if you consider the type of products and target market of companies with a solo female board member like Apple, AutoNation, GameStop and Sears, it may be understandable that a dominant male perspective at the highest levels of decision making might be helpful to the company.

However, in retailing companies like American Eagle Outfitters and Dollar Tree where the target market is predominantly female, it's easy to imagine that more female influence in the boardroom would be beneficial, and difficult to imagine why these companies don't have it.

On this list of "token female" boardrooms, we find American Eagle Outfitters, GameStop, the recently merged OfficeDepot/Office Max and Sears, all retailing companies with significant fundamental retailing challenges that are threatening their very existence.  Would different and better solutions emerge with more female perspective and influence?

The researchers at Catalyst would say that the addition of female diversity would make a substantial difference.  According to Catalyst, female diversity in the boardroom brings "different and fresh perspectives, foster innovation and creativity, and ensures independence of thought—an increasingly crucial characteristic of good governance in our ever-changing world."

More evidence indicating that a lack of female board members means trouble...  click for ​Trouble at Abercrombie & Fitch Without Female Board Members >>

When there is no corporate ladder to the boardroom for women in the largest U.S. retail companies, it creates trouble not just for an individual woman's career path, but also for the company as a whole.  This is according to expert analysis of research data provided by non-profit advocacy organization Catalyst.

SEE ALSO:  Would Women in the Boardroom Help at Sears, JCPenney, and Whole Foods? >>

More evidence indicating that a lack of female board members creates trouble for a major retailing company can be found on the list of retail companies without any females sitting on the Board of Directors at all.

Retail and Restaurant Chains with No Females on the Board of Directors:

2015 - Sbarro - No Female Board Members

2015 - Under Armour - No Female Board Members at the beginning of 2015, but 1 Female Board Member at the end of 2015

2015 - Dollar General - 3 Female Board Members out of 9
2008 - Dollar General - No Female Board Members

Admittedly this no-females-in-the-boardroom list is a very short one, which undoubtedly the advocates at Catalyst are happy about.  But it still provides two pieces of evidence that supports a connection between a lack of female perspective in the boardroom and diminished retail  performance.  

Without any women at the top, Sbarro filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in five years, after a decade of declining traffic and an ongoing challenge with a high-priced-mall-pizza brand image. Without top female leadership in 2008, Dollar General faced a sex-based wage discrimination class action suit filed by 2,000 female store managers, which resulted in an $18.75 million settlement in 2011.

In 2012 Dollar General added two women to its male dominated Board of Directors, and in 2014 it added a third female board member.  Since 2012 the company has experienced aggressive growth in terms of store count, sales, profit margin, and share prices.  Dollar General is still defending itself against a significant number of class action lawsuits, but most recently none of them are gender-based claims by groups of female workers.

 So at least that's progress.  

It would be naively oversimplified to conclude that all business highs and lows have a direct correlation to the gender balance in the boardroom, particularly in the volatile U.S. retail industry.  Under Armour had no female representation on its Board of Directors until October, 2014 and its retail operations seemingly haven't suffered for it.

But even looking at the list of retail corporate boardrooms with more than 25% of female members there is evidence to support the connection between a gender balanced board and retail success.

Publicly Traded Retailers With More Than 25% Females on the Board of Directors 2015 and 2008 Comparison:

2015 - Abercrombie & Fitch - 3 Female Board Members out of 10

2015 - Aeropostale - 3 Female Board Members out of 11

2015 - American Apparel - 3 Female Board Members out of 9

2015 - Apple - 2 Female Board Members out of 8

2015 - Avon Products - 7 Female Board Members out of 11
2008 - Avon Products

2015 - Barnes & Noble - 2 Female Board Members out of 8
2008 - Barnes & Noble

2008 - BJ's Wholesale Club

2015 - Costco Wholesale - 3 Female Board Members out of 9

2015 - CVS Caremark - 3 Female Board Members out of 11
2008 - CVS Caremark

2015 - Darden Restaurants - 4 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Dollar General - 3 Female Board Members out of 8

2015 - Estee Lauder - 7 Female Board Members out of 15
2008 - Estee Lauder

2015 - FedEx - 3 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Fossil - 3 Female Board Members out of 11

2015 - The Gap - 3 Female Board Members out of 10

2015 - Google - 3 Female Board Members out of 11

2015 - jcpenney - less than 25% Female Board Members (see below)
2008 - jcpenney

2015 - Macy's - 5 Female Board Members out of 11
2008 - Macy's

2015 - Michael Kors - 3 Female Board Members out of 7

2015 - Microsoft - 3 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Netflix - 2 Female Board Members out of 7

2015 - Nordstrom - 3 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Office Depot/OfficeMax - less than 25% Female Board Members (see below)
2008 - Office Depot
2008 - Office Max

2015 - PetSmart - 3 Female Board Members out of 10

2015 - RadioShack - 2 Female Board Members out of 7

2015 - Ralph Lauren - 3 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Sears Holdings - less than 25% Female Board Members (see below)
2008 - Sears Holdings

2015 - Target - 3 Female Board Members out of 11
2008 - Target

2015 - TJX - 3 Female Board Members out of 10

2015 - Verizon - 4 Female Board Members out of 11

2015 - V.F. Corp = 3 Female Board Members out of 12

2015 - Walt Disney - 3 Female Board Members out of 10
2008 - Walt Disney

2015 - Whole Foods Market - less than 25% Female Board Members (see below)
2008 - Whole Foods Market

2015 - Zumiez - 2 Female Board Members out of 8

Seemingly Abercrombie & Fitch would disprove the connection between board member gender balance and success.  Since there are 3 female members out of 10 on the Abercrombie & Fitch board of directors, the theory would hold that Abercrombie and Fitch should be doing well because of that diversity.  Unfortunately Abercrombie & Fitch hasn't been doing well for a long time.  

However, research reveals that all three of those female Board Members were added in 2014, just prior to the resignation of controversial CEO Mike Jeffries, who made no secret of his preference for being surrounded by males.  Coincidentally - or not - since the addition of female board members and the ousting of the male-centric sexually-oriented founder and CEO Jeffires, the financial performance of Abercrombie & Fitch retail chain is improving.  Abercrombie & Fitch is still struggling, but it has definitely gained positive turnaround momentum since adding the female perspective to its business.

Of course board of directors membership is constantly shifting so at any point in time it would be possible to identify retailing and restaurant company boards lacking female representation.  The value of the Catalyst annual research, however, lies in uncovering the trends.  

It's safe to say that the trend is toward having at least some female board representation in publicly traded retail companies.  The female boardroom presence is still disproportionately small representation compared to the percentage of female workers employed by any one retailer in particular, and the percentage of females in the U.S. workforce overall.

In 2008, 46.5% of the people working in the U.S. labor force were women, and slightly more than half of those in managerial positions were women. In the same year, however, only 15.2% of the people sitting on the boards of Fortune 500 companies were females.

By comparison, in its most current research, Catalyst reports that 19.2% of U.S. board members of S&P 500 companies are female.  While this is somewhat of an apples-and-oranges comparison between the Fortune 500 list and the S&P 500 list, it still reveals that the percentage of women in the highest positions in American corporations is disproportionate to the percentage of women in the American workforce in general.  

Since the U.S. retail industry caters primarily to female target markets, it might seem like plain common sense that having female CEOs, board members, and executive officers would be beneficial to the largest U.S. retail and restaurant chains.  But, as the saying goes, just because something makes sense, that doesn't mean it's common.

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