Dong and Female Founders Fund’s founding partner, Anu Duggal, believe the best e-commerce businesses today are more often than not led by women. Diversity is especially ripe in New York, they said, which is why so many brands are sprouting up in SoHo.
“We believe the next wave of companies will be founded by women,” Dong said. “You have the undeniable success of IPO stories like Stitch Fix. … [The landscape] is looking very different than it did 10 or 20 years ago.”
For Kaplan, being a female and working in retail was never really out of the norm — until she started rising up the leadership ranks. It was then when she would find herself in boardrooms, looking around and thinking: “I’m the only woman in here.”
According to Catalyst, women in leadership positions are still a scarcity, and that holds true in the retail world. All the major U.S. department stores, for example, are led by men. Kohl’s will soon change that when Michelle Gass takes over Kevin Mansell’s position in May. But more often than not, women’s names only start to appear in second- or third-tier roles.
A new class of upstart retailers could change that. A number are led by women, including Denise Lee of activewear line Alala; Karla Gallardo and Shilpa Shah of apparel retailer Cuyana; Ariel Kaye of bedding and linen brand Parachute and Jessica Herrin of accessories merchant Stella & Dot.
“It takes a real confidence in finding your voice and not trying to fit in and use other voices, … and I’ve had to work on that,” Kaplan told CNBC. “There were times in my past where I would say I was trying to be what other people wanted me to be, but where I’ve been more successful is when I do it in my own way.”
“We are starting to see more women like me in leadership roles,” she said. “That’s taken time.”
Kaplan also believes that a growing #metoo movement will push more women to higher ranks in the retail trade.
A recent CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey found that companies are increasingly reviewing policies around diversity and gender equality in hiring and promotion while also revisiting their sexual harassment policies and reporting procedures.
“Women speak to the customers, they leverage digital channels. … It’s just a difference in how they approach brand building,” Duggal said about what female leaders in retail can bring to the table. That’s not to say men aren’t capable of the same things, she said, but women’s capabilities and skill sets have been disregarded for too long.
“These conversations around diversity and leadership are more relevant than ever,” Duggal added. “Before, some of these conversations were too difficult to have.”