Click here to order the December 2017 issue in which this article appeared.
In This Issue:
The Most Influential Women in Direct Selling
Bringing Gender Parity to Direct Selling
Advocating for the Direct Selling Community
Navigating the Millennial-Driven World
Sticking to a Winning Business Model
Leading with Passion and Commitment
Launching New Products and Segments
Recruiting and Retaining the Field
Direct Selling Icons
A May 2017 report by the Center for American Progress showed that although women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, only 25 percent have senior-level or executive positions, and only 6 percent are CEOs. At S&P 500 companies, senior-level or executive positions increase to 29 percent, yet decrease to 2 percent for CEO positions. And, as recently as last year, 43 percent of the 150 highest-earning public companies in Silicon Valley had no female executive officers at all.
We asked this year’s panel of influential women to offer their insights on what needs to be done to create more gender equality on the corporate side of direct selling. What they had to say may surprise you.
For Cindy Monroe, Founder and CEO of handbags and accessories brand Thirty-One Gifts, the disparity in executive leadership is not by design. There will always be leading and lagging industries and companies, and she believes gender equality is one of several areas—technology, digitalization, training and organizational development being the others—in which direct selling is lagging behind.
“I don’t know that the area of gender inequality is intentional, but rather a lack of prioritization among strategic planning,” she says. “Thirty-One has 40 percent women within our executive team, not including myself. I believe that coaching and developing talent is a great place to begin with changing gender inequality within our industry. However, I also believe that we have a huge opportunity to attract professional women into our companies.”
Angela Loehr Chrysler, President and CEO of membership savings company Team National, notes that the channel should be a great fit for women executives, not only because of the high number of women direct sellers but because of the relationship-building aspects of direct selling that are central to the business.
“I do believe having a diverse team of men and women at the executive level is healthy and provides a nice balance of personalities and strengths for the office and field,” Loehr Chrysler says. “The industry needs to be open to promoting from within our companies to support and recognize men and women that are connecting well and embracing the different aspects of our industry.”
From her perspective, Candace Matthews of Amway, the world’s largest direct selling company, located in Ada, Michigan, believes the direct selling channel needs to understand its consumers—who are primarily women—and appoint leadership appropriately, while also embracing the change that must occur.
Regional President of The Americas, Matthews says, “According to studies such as Women in the Workplace by McKinsey an LeanIn.org, women remain underrepresented at every level of corporate America, despite having earned more college degrees than men have over the past 30 years.”
She also notes that studies show many companies overlook the realities of women of color, who face the greatest obstacles and receive the least support.
“When companies take a one-size-fits-all approach to advancing women, women of color end up underserved and left behind,” she says. “If we want to create more gender equality on the corporate side of the direct-selling business, companies need a comprehensive plan for supporting, advocating and advancing women. Organizations need to understand their particular barriers and address them directly.”
For Cami Boehme, Partner and Chief Operating Officer at green energy and sustainable lifestyle brand Viridian, gender parity is an issue that transcends the industry.
“The gender gap, the glass ceiling—whatever you want to call it—it starts in the hearts and minds of women, at any stage in their career, and it extends to the boardroom,” she says. “I believe it starts with empowering women at all stages of their career to not only believe that they can achieve greatness and be one of the top executives of any business, but also to have the desire to do so.
“I never set out to be a ‘female executive,’ ” she goes on to say. “I only set out to have a successful career and positively impact others’ lives along the way. The fact that I was a woman was no different to me than the fact that I was a human with lungs. I can genuinely say that it was not until later in my career that I truly internalized the unique role my gender played in my suite of skills—my ability to be an empathetic leader, to respond with emotional intelligence, to use intuition and rely on my gut as my guide and as the tiebreaker in otherwise analytical decision-making, and a number of other soft skills in my executive positions.”
A Legitimate Option
The lower percentage of female applicants from outside the channel can, in part, be attributed to two factors: the negative publicity direct selling often attracts and the lack of awareness of the global power of the business model, says Traci Lynn Burton, Founder and CEO of the eponymous party-plan Traci Lynn Jewelry.
“I think with all of the negativity we’ve had over the years, and the negative titles that people label us with, that maybe some of those executives don’t think it’s real,” Burton says. “They don’t think direct selling is a legitimate option. Or they don’t know that some of us are billion-dollar global brands. I just don’t think that there’s awareness.”
Meredith Berkich, President of North America for anti-aging skincare and wellness company Jeunesse Global, notes that women place a major emphasis on legitimacy and integrity in business, which makes them a valuable part of any direct sales team. But she also believes much work remains to improve the overall number of women executives in the channel.
“Deep-seated misconceptions about women in leadership roles continue, and if we educate all women on the importance of self-promotion, [and] intelligent and aggressive competition, then fewer women may be willing to settle for support positions,” Berkich says.
“Instead, every woman should believe in reaching for presidential and C-suite positions. Specific to direct selling, we must educate people about the benefits of what our industry offers, including positive economic and social impacts, to overcome objections based on misconceptions that prevent more traditional-business female executives from exploring our sales channel,” she adds. “Aside from this, we can continue to work to balance the scales of executive equality by mentoring the next generation of young women to pursue the best in themselves with no limits.”
Commitment to Equality
What is clear to Mona Ameli, President of healthy living lifestyle brand OPTAVIA, is that there is a need to understand and remedy this gender disparity not only for more executive women to be attracted to direct selling, but also to help talented, experienced and high-potential women currently within the channel to grow into more executive leadership roles.
“The first step, from my view point, is to open this conversation to not be just a topic for women to have to deal with,” Ameli says.
“Diversity and inclusion for women in management roles is an issue that impacts our economic growth as an industry and as a community. Creating possibilities for more women to access executive leadership roles in our industry is absolutely doable. But it’s going to take a commitment across both gender lines to achieve it,” she adds. “There is a broader conversation that must be had. Men in the direct selling industry need to actively be part of the conversations and action plans and make it a priority to help set new standards that focus on creating gender equality across the board.”
Health and wellness company Isagenix International is one of several direct selling companies committed to attracting a diverse workforce and gender equality in both leadership opportunity and pay parity. “At the end of 2016, 61 percent of our corporate staff were women,” says Kathy Coover, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President.
“On our executive leadership team, 40 percent of our leaders who held positions of Vice President and above were women. Since Isagenix is a family-oriented company with more than 85 percent of our customers being females and 47 percent having children in the home, it’s important that we have a diverse representation on the corporate team that is leading the development of our customer and associate programs and products,” Coover adds.
In addition to embracing and fostering diversity in its independent salesforce base, Princess House, a kitchenware and home décor company, has also been at the forefront of equal gender opportunity for corporate team members. Its leadership base (managers and above) comprises 68 percent female and 32 percent male.
“While these figures sound impressive, I don’t want to send the wrong message,” says President and CEO Connie Tang. “I believe our company’s responsibility and commitment is to provide learning, development and growth opportunities for all. The ability to attract top female executives and top talent comes from our ability to successfully develop individuals in our organization and provide them with opportunities to put those skills into practice for growth and exposure.”
Tang has found that individuals with great potential come in the form of individuals who not only have a resume and list of titles and roles that are progressive, but people who express a zest for learning, take challenges head-on, and have a desire or hunger to grow in skills, responsibility and credibility through a solid work ethic and discipline.
“If your company has a goal to diversify for the purpose of growing through new thinking and adding both bench strength and talented women to your company, then do so beyond recruiting and headhunting efforts,” she says. “Invest time, resources and intention to offering support in leadership and skills training through programs, participation and engagement that, oftentimes, doesn’t require huge financial resources.”