It seems that no matter my age or stage of life, I am surrounded by a culture of women. I attended an all-girls school for 10 years, where our senior class slogan was “Women of Wonder.” At that stage of our lives we were full of wonder and curiosity, but had yet to fully understand where that wonder could lead us. My first job was in the Office of the First Lady at the White House under Hillary Rodham Clinton and it was an honor to work with some awe-inspiring women who were true role models. I recently became a mother for the first time—to a daughter—and throughout my pregnancy and early days of motherhood I was touched by the sisterhood of supportive women I encountered and connected with immediately. And, for the past eight years I have had the privilege of working at the Direct Selling Association on behalf of 16 million direct sellers—nearly 90 percent of whom are women.
While the direct selling salesforce has long been dominated by women, until recently female CEOs, presidents and top executives were a rarity. But as that balance shifts, women find themselves seeking the feeling of sisterhood only their female peers can provide. Women have a distinctive approach to business and build on their success by sharing their thoughts and perspectives with other women as they sort through challenges and plan for the future.
In February, DSA hosted the first of what will hopefully be many Women’s Leadership Retreats. This inaugural event was held in Dallas and hosted by DSA Chairman of the Board Marjorie Fine of Shaklee Corp. While many of the women were being introduced to each other for the first time, bonds were formed nearly instantaneously. Whether the common thread was related to business, or to personal situations such as the stress and anticipation of children applying for college, the connections made among the 25 CEOs and top company leaders transcended competition or other roadblocks one might find in other professional venues. It was an opportunity to reflect, recharge and refocus.
Retreat facilitator Paula Antonini (Antonini & Associates) observed, “As you might imagine, the dynamics of having ‘women only’ were quite different than they would have been with a mixed group. These women are such a powerful force because of their natural intuition, empathy and insights that help them better understand the people they lead.”
Retreat attendees were also treated to dynamic presentations from their fellow leaders. Topics discussed included:
- Work/Life Balance (Teresa Day, Teresa Day Consulting)Teresa spoke about how many women are on “autopilot,” and the need to make a conscious decision to be present in their lives with a combination of work, sleep and play. It can start with taking just 15 minutes a day for themselves.
- An Investor’s View (Patricia Negron, Stock Analyst and Board of Directors Member at Nu Skin Enterprises) Patricia spoke about how defining the value (in financial terms) of a company is an art, not a science. Direct selling companies are usually not valued as highly as other retailers because of the risk associated with the volatility of a volunteer army salesforce and potential regulatory issues. The group had a compelling discussion about the fact that even privately held companies should be aware of the value given to other direct selling companies, as it can have a direct impact on their ability to find investors, obtain loans and more.
- Emerging Trends (Emily Knight, CEO of New England University) Emily focused on what the trends of urbanization, globalization, social media and mobile applications mean for business in general and direct selling specifically. She pointed to emerging consumer attitudes as having a great impact on the way companies approach their businesses, illustrated by something as simple as product packaging. “Demonstrating sustainable practices has become the cost of entry for businesses,” she said. “People are ready to be surprised and delighted again—not by the flashy or the fancy, but by authentic brand stories and personal connections.”
- Leading through Change (Heather Chastain, President of Celebrating Home, and Angela Chrysler, President and CEO of Team National) Everyone recognizes that change is usually complex, but what tactics work best to get direct selling companies and their sellers from Point A to Point B? Heather and Angela shared their recent experiences managing change through a company merger and the passing of a company founder. Both agreed that transparency and communication lead the way to success in stressful situations.
For two days retreat attendees had the chance to network, learn and bond. Company leaders had the opportunity to discuss issues currently facing their own companies and ask peers how they deal with similar challenges. Party plan or one-to-one, established company or startup, it didn’t matter. They were all women leaders.
Paula concluded, “The mere fact that these CEOs, who hold powerful positions, are simply people too—with human needs and vulnerabilities—is an important takeaway. It reminds us that everyone at any level needs to occasionally take a step back and gain a new, fresh perspective and perhaps take some deep breaths so they can continue to give of themselves day after long day.”
DSA plans to continue this forum for female executives by creating a Women’s Leadership Council. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to learn more.
Nancy M. Burke is Membership Director for the Direct Selling Association.