Overwhelmingly female in the field, many direct selling companies still mostly male in C-Suite
By Jennifer Osborne
“Women need to ask for more than we do; women as a whole, not just executives, need to step up in every department, in every shape, in every form across the board and ask for more.”
— Laura Brandt, President, IDLife
The most recent Forbes’ 100 Most Innovative Leaders list includes only one woman. This number has raised many questions and debate about inclusion and diversity across the business community.
Melinda Gates, philanthropist and author, said that “in 2018, there were more men named ‘James’ running Fortune 500 companies than there were women. This year, only one CEO on that list of 500 is a woman of color.”
Gates has pledged $1 billion over the next 10 years to expand women’s power and influence in the U.S.
As for the direct selling channel, in the U.S. as well as globally, women comprise about 74 percent of the channel’s salesforce. Would it not make sense to be more proactive in including more women in C-suite roles?
Especially as all eyes have been on upcoming generations as the most fertile recruiting field, and inclusion and diversity is a priority to them.
Former president of both Belcorp and OPTAVIA Mona Ameli, who is certified by the National Diversity Council and the Barrett Cultural Center in the areas of inclusion and diversity, says, “Fifty-three percent of millennials will leave their current organizations for a more inclusive one, and 30 percent have already left. And Gen Z is even more concerned about this.”
Ameli adds, “The question becomes, ‘What are you doing to stay relevant for the future, not only for your employees, but also for the field?’ ”
President and COO of Bliss Business, Meredith Berkich, who led Viridian, Jeunesse and Immunotec in president roles, comments on women in the C-suites. “In direct selling there are some women CEOs, but how many are of companies they founded?” she says. “And there are companies that hire women executives in a downturn, which can set them up to fail, whereas when things are going well, they often look back to the familiar.”
No Victim Mentality
Berkich doesn’t think that the responsibility for the scarcity of women in top roles is solely the result of men excluding women.
“We should not be willing to accept a victim mentality on this as in, ‘Oh, it’s just another boys club,” Berkich says. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘Are we comfortable as No. 2? And is that why we don’t aspire for No. 1?’ I just think we have a lot more control over what’s happening than we would normally admit in polite conversation.”
Laura Brandt, appointed president of IDLife three years ago, agrees with that assessment. She also says what a woman believes she deserves is a factor. “It’s a common scenario that when a male and a female are vying for the same role, the male will ask for 20 percent more money than the female, even in situations where the female is more capable.”
Brandt says, “Women need to ask for more than we do; women as a whole, not just executives, need to step up in every department, in every shape, in every form across the board and ask for more.”
Berkich adds, “Another question we have to ask is, are we supporting other talented women that we see, or do we withhold our endorsements? In other words, do we have each other’s backs?”
She believes these questions are important because they have a direct impact on a company’s bottom line. “Loyalty is the buzzword right now. Women are strong at creating loyalty because we bring a vantage point of emotional intelligence. “
Berkich adds, “Women also have a different mindset. A healthy company has a lot of stakeholders, so at the highest strategy level you have to have voices that represent the masses.”
Brandt expands on that idea. “Women spend the majority of the money in the U.S. So when you’re making decisions on direction, promotions, products, whatever, it’s helpful to have a female perspective because women are your majority in the sales field and also as consumers.”
Brandt believes at the end of the day, the choice for CEO or president should be based on their competencies and skill sets, not whether they are male or female. But having a female perspective in the C-suite of a network marketing company can help make sure you don’t walk right into a landmine.
She says, If you’re an executive team solely run by males, who’s challenging that male perspective? No one. And that can create problems.”
Healthy Cultures and Emotional Intelligence
“Also incredibly important in our channel,” says Berkich, “is that you can’t separate emotional intelligence and culture. Without the perspectives that come from emotional intelligence, your culture might be strong in some respects, but it will be lacking.”
Ameli agrees. “If you don’t have a one-culture approach with your employees and with your field, disengagement becomes your biggest challenge. Field people need to be able to relate to the corporate office. If corporate is not able to relate back, and not narrating and inspiring the actions that they’re telling you that you can do, you’re not going to stop believing in corporate. ”
According to Ameli, appointing more women to leadership positions may mean intentionally recognizing and mentoring in a new arena. She says, “Seventy-five percent of executives pick people who look like them so they end up with proteges or people that they feel comfortable with. So the men usually don’t pick a woman.”
IDLife’s Brandt says that how a woman sees herself will also play a primary role in achieving top executive positions. Brandt says women must reconsider their own veiwpoints: “Reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In was pivotal for me, because it changed the way I thought about myself in the workplace. I also realized so many of the traps I was falling into.”
She adds, “I would say that had I not been exposed to some of the thoughts and some of the things that Sandberg saw as a leader, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Ameli says there’s good news for those who are concerned about initiating these changes within corporate practice and culture. She says, “I think commitment to cultural transformation can be extremely fast. With the authentic commitment of a leader truly believing in it and linking it to the financial bottom line of the company and every decision that they make, they’ll take inclusion into account and the field will also see it,” Ameli says.
The Direct Selling Association (DSA) is also taking steps to create an environment where female executives can connect with and build relationships with other female leaders in the channel.
Nancy Burke, vice president of membership, points to the DSA’s annual Women’s Industry Leadership Retreat, initiated when Shaklee’s Marjorie Fine was chairwoman of the DSA. “It’s been amazing to see over these nine years the real true friendships that have materialized from this event. There are group texts that go out when they have issues, and there are monthly CEO-to-CEO group calls.”
Creating a culture of inclusion not only makes sense for today’s marketplace, it also builds a stronger foundation of appeal to the upcoming Generation Z—of which 41 percent plan to work for themselves, according to Entrepreneur magazine.
Bloomberg notes that Gen Z is the most populous generation ever, encompassing 32 percent of the population.
Direct selling companies that get ahead of the curve on inclusion and diversity can reap the rewards of stronger appeal to Gen Z.
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