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When women come together, great things happen.
The U.S. economy is strengthening in large part due to women’s advances in the workplace. According to McKinsey & Company, the additional productive power of women who have entered the workforce since 1970 accounts for about one-fourth of the current GDP.
Although women have become increasingly active and successful in academic pursuits, there remains a large discrepancy between academic achievement and professional advancement. Women earn more than half of all graduate and doctoral degrees, yet they make up only 16.9 percent of board members of S&P 500 companies. More surprising than that, a disproportionate 14.8 percent of U.S. companies have at least three women on their boards. Earlier this year, Fortune reported there are 24 women CEOs in the Fortune 500 and just 27 in the Fortune 1000 (5 percent and 3 percent, respectively).
Studies show gender diversity has a positive impact on business culture and growth, so why do so few industries have large numbers of women rise to the top? As different sectors of the U.S. economy play catch-up in encouraging gender diversity, the direct selling industry is leading the pack. Of the 16.8 million people involved in direct selling in the U.S., 74 percent are women. Additionally, with each passing year, more and more direct selling CEOs and C-level managers are women. DSA is proud of these advances and is dedicated to the empowerment of women in this sales channel.
To continue to embrace this critical aspect of direct sales leadership, DSA annually coordinates a special venue for women executives to network with each other and continue to foster their leadership abilities. DSA’s fourth annual Direct Selling Women’s Summit took place in early October, providing 25 industry executives with a prime development venue.
“As always the most valuable part of the event is the networking, and sharing in this very small intimate setting is invaluable. I always learn things from my fellow executives,” said Mary Julich, Partner at Symmetry Corp.
A special mentoring session was a featured aspect of this year’s event, providing participants with this necessary professional development tool. Professor Kathy Korman Frey of The George Washington University’s School of Business and The Hot Mommas Project—the world’s largest digital case study library featuring female role models—led this session, and during her opening remarks she noted, “You’ve elevated the women’s leadership game. Your culture is different and special. You’re five to 10 years ahead of most industries, which is inspiring.”
In addition, these leaders also discussed engaging with the Hispanic market and political activism with two subject matter experts. Janet Murguia, President of the National Council of La Raza, and Gail Kitch, Chief Operating Officer at The Voter Participation Center, both conveyed special insights regarding women’s empowerment and, specifically, a deeper engagement with Latinas.
“Our mission is to open the doors to the American dream for Latinas,” Murguia stated to the executives. “The Hispanic community represents your future consumers and employees, and we want to be a resource for you as you engage with them.”
Kitch shifted the conversation to voter engagement and activism among female voters—one of the most underrepresented populations in the U.S. “You are the local storytellers, and the Congressional staffer you’re talking to is deeply invested in hearing those stories,” she noted as she reflected on the group’s upcoming Capitol Hill meetings. “Be that vital link back to their community.”
Meetings on Capitol Hill enabled the women to flex their political muscles as they each participated in several meetings with Hill staffers. They introduced their companies, product lines and field opportunities to Congressional offices and formed important relationships.
“Our product is women’s empowerment—helping women rise up,” observed WineShop At Home CEO Jane Creed.
“We’re in the people development business. It’s tremendous to watch them be transformed,” Shaklee Director Marjorie Fine told a staffer in Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) office.
Across the day-and-a-half retreat the 25 industry leaders mentored and invigorated one other, encouraging all participants to continue to pave avenues for opportunity for women within their companies to benefit their field members and communities.
It’s no surprise that the direct selling industry is experiencing growth with such wonderful women leaders involved. DSA is committed to advancing gender diversity and plans to hold another Women’s Leadership Summit in 2015. For more information, or if you are interested in participating in future events, contact me at email@example.com.
Nancy M. Burke is Vice President, Membership, at the U.S. DSA.