NEW’s Joan Toth Calls For a Workplace With No Limits

NEW’s Joan Toth Calls For a Workplace With No Limits

February 25, 2015
Business Skills

RDBA recently caught up with Joan Toth, President and CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), to chat about the future of business – how women and men need to come together to shape the future workplace culture to make it more friendly for women and more appealing to the younger generation. 

What does creating a more gender diverse workplace or leadership culture mean?

It means creating a workplace free of cultural and institutional biases where everyone, regardless of gender, can succeed and advance their careers to the top. 

That's our vision at the Network of Executive Women – a workplace with no limits – for everyone.

When we talk about "gender diversity,” we aren't advocating switching from a male leadership culture to a female one. We need an inclusive work culture that values the unique strengths of everyone to make our organizations strong.

Let me add this - men don't need "fixing," either. For too long men have felt beat up. They’ve been afraid to talk about women for fear of saying something wrong. Men want what’s best for their organizations, themselves and their women leaders. 

How will this benefit the future?

Women’s leadership is not a woman’s issue. It’s a business issue. The retail and consumer goods industry is going to rise — or fall — with our women customers and employees.

How can you undervalue the skills, experience and leadership traits of half your workforce and still expect to compete? How can companies expect to succeed if they are not retaining and developing the best, most talented individuals? Eliminating workplace biases, entrenched hierarchies and policies that favor male leadership styles is a business imperative in today's diverse marketplace. There are real bottom line benefits for having your leadership teams reflect your customers and for leveraging the skills, insights, experiences and perspectives of high potential women.

Also, it's important to note that initiatives that have been long championed by women are important to male and female millennials - the industry's future leaders. Millennials are redefining today’s workplace by their sheer number and what they want in a workplace. Millennials share the same workplace priorities as women. They want balance between work and life. They want a flexible work environment. And they want to make a difference. When you create a workplace that attracts and retains women, you create a workplace that attracts and retains millennials, too.

As a group, millennial men and women want what women want. More than half of the 4,000 graduates across 75 countries surveyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2011 said they preferred employers who offered opportunities for advancement, while 35 percent cited “excellent training/development programs.” Virtually every millennial surveyed — 95 percent — said work/life balance was important to them when choosing where to work. 

Female millennials, in particular, are seeking out employers with a strong record on equality and diversity, according to a 2014 PwC report "Developing Tomorrow's Female Leaders.”

"Since 2008, there has been virtually no increase in women executives in the retail business - it has gone from 18.5 percent to 18.6 percent. The research shows that women comprise the more educated half of our workforce, that they excel in leadership traits and demonstrably improve the performance of companies they lead. Why isn’t the share of women leaders in our industry soaring?" Was this statistic the impetus for the It’s Time campaign?

Since NEW was founded in 2001, we've helped put women’s leadership on the agenda. We've changed hearts and minds throughout the industry. We've advanced tens of thousands of individual leaders through our education programs and events.

But we've sent these empowered and inspired women back to companies that have not changed. Women make up half the retail industry’s workforce but less than one in five corporate officers and one in 20 CEOs.

Despite our best efforts — and those of our 9,000 members from 750 companies, including 100 corporate partners who represent the world's leading retail and consumer goods companies —  the number of women in decision-making positions has improved only marginally, if at all.

The reason is we have been focusing on the wrong issue. We do not need to change women — we need to transform our organizations. That is the impetus of the It's Time campaign.

Can you tell us a little about the It’s Time Campaign?

The It's Time campaign is a call to action. The industry is aware of the crucial role women leaders can play in their success. There is general agreement that women leaders drive collaboration, spur innovation and help connect you to consumers.

Now companies need to act on that awareness. The campaign is our way of launching a movement to transform our workplaces, win the war for talent and create a better workplace for women, men and the millennial generation.

Stay tuned for part II next week.


Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, the largest diversity organization serving the consumer products and retail industry. Toth, who was named executive director shortly after the association’s establishment in 2001, was appointed president and CEO in 2011. She is responsible for executing the Network’s mission of attracting, retaining and advancing women in this multi-trillion dollar business sector.

Prior to joining the Network, Toth launched Go-To-Market Strategies, a retail industry consulting firm, and led print, event and web business development activities for the retail/food industry publications of Bill Communications. Toth previously served as vice president and publisher of Convenience Store News and group publisher of the retail and distribution publications of Macfadden Trade Communications. She is a frequent speaker at industry organization events such as Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) and National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), among others. She recently completed board service for Foundations of Music (formerly Rock for Kids), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide music education to underserved children in Chicago public schools. She is also active in Sister Cities International.