As we reported in our recent May-June edition, the Women of Loss Prevention survey, sponsored by Tyco Retail Solutions and Protos Security, offered a comprehensive look at how women view their current roles in our industry, how they feel they are perceived as industry professionals, the role they feel gender and gender bias has played in their ongoing career opportunities, and the responsibility that every LP professional has to remain accountable for their own career growth and development.
The goal of the survey was to offer an objective window into the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of the women of LP regarding these key areas, open doors for additional discussion, and perhaps spark fresh thoughts and ideas on how we can best address these topics to further enhance our LP teams.
Yet as important as it is to mount these critical discussions, our efforts only bear fruit if that dialogue leads to action.
In this follow up to our article, we look to further digest and interpret response to the survey. As part of this process, we felt it vital to hear the voice of industry leadership, including how today’s leaders reacted and responded to the results.
To help us find the answers, we canvassed loss prevention leadership to garner their insights and opinions on the subject. We compiled those responses to provide both general consensus and specific views on the ways that they see the role of the women of loss prevention, some of the hurdles that we will face in the process, the skills and resources necessary to power the transference, and how that will drive the future of the industry.
The Wheels of Change
The recent past has provided us with a massive wave of growth, changes, and challenges across the retail industry. The way that we shop, the products we buy, and even the way that we pay for goods and services are changing in ways that we never would have imagined just a few short years ago. Yet the common assessment is that this is merely a glimpse of what lies ahead. And as the gap broadens between where we were and where we’re headed, the role of loss prevention will continue to evolve as well.
But how will it change—and to what extent—remains largely unanswered. As we’ve all learned, real growth requires much more than just the passing of time and is largely the product of open minds. Each and every one of us must reach out, discover, and accept the need for change within ourselves.
The complexity of the subject should remind us that there is never one side, one opinion, or one solution. A shared responsibility and a shared accountability have brought us to where we are today. This is just as true with the way that we react and respond to each other, recognizing our commonalities and accepting our differences for the betterment of all involved.
The Role of Women in the Workforce
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), women’s presence in the labor force has increased dramatically since the mid-1960s, with 57 percent of women currently participating in the American workforce. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represented 47 percent of the total labor force in 2017.
As the nation’s largest private-sector employer, the retail industry supports over 42 million American jobs. Yet while there have been strides made in retail management positions, women hold only 37 percent of executive positions, and in loss prevention those numbers are significantly lower. Less than 6 percent of retail CEOs are women.
The National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2018 Nation Retail Security Survey (NRSS) found women account for 25 percent of LP management positions, showing slow and steady progress when compared to 19 percent in 2008. However, NRF research further indicates that 47 percent of women in retail hold a manager title, revealing a clear disparity in LP in contrast to our other retail peers.
Is this a product of education? Not according to the National Center for Education Statistics, which reveals that women earn more degrees than men, with women earning more than half of bachelor’s degrees (57%), master’s degrees (59%), and doctorate degrees (53%) in the United States. Women are investing in their future, helping to raise the bar for the entire industry.
“In my experience with our member companies at RILA, I’ve seen firsthand that women can find success in loss prevention, and in fact, it’s a field with an incredible path for growth,” said Lisa LaBruno, Esq., senior vice president of retail operations for the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). “This survey supports that notion, as well. But with that in mind, there is no question that the industry has a long way to go to achieve greater gender equality and diversity within our ranks. We know that those conversations are taking place now at retail companies, and it’s part of our mission at RILA to help encourage and facilitate the industry’s progress from that perspective. Given these commitments, we’re optimistic that the future of retail—one shaped by diversity of thought and inclusion—is in our sights.”
Recruiting and Developing Talent
In response to the survey results, we asked industry leaders if they felt that retailers are doing an effective job of recruiting and developing female talent in loss prevention. While the response was mixed and most feel that significant strides have been made, most also agree that this remains an area of opportunity.
In general terms, industry leadership believes that the inclusion of women in loss prevention-and more specifically leadership roles-is a critical aspect in the future of the profession. Several believe their companies are doing a good job of recruiting and developing women but feel this isn’t a consistent practice across the industry and others may not emphasize this effort as much as they should. Others believe there is also disparity between policy and practice in many cases.
Here are some of the comments offered by industry leaders:
“The inclusion of women is critical, but it has to start with the LP leadership. As we take on the challenges in retail today and in the future, we need diversity of thought and a mindset to look for solutions that are not founded in the status quo.”
“Generally, I think retailers are doing a good job in this area, but there are still some pockets where there is very little female representation. I don’t think retailers are doing a great job with developing females beyond middle-management positions. There are still far too few women in senior levels of leadership in retail loss prevention.”
“The best leaders learn to identify talent, ask the right questions to confirm that talent is genuine, and then take the right steps to secure and develop talented individuals. That’s true regardless of gender or any other distinction. I believe this is a skill that many believe they have, but most lack, and that greatly contributes to the problem.”
The Blind Spot
Many women believe that a “good ole boy” network still exists in loss prevention that somehow excludes women and/or others outside of the group. We then asked industry leaders for their thoughts on this issue.
While some wouldn’t specifically refer to it as a “good ole boy” network, every industry leader who responded stated they feel that while there has been a significant improvement in recent years, a subculture remains that appears to carry an exclusive bias, intolerance, misconception, or misunderstanding of others. There are those who tend to network and interact within their own group, a niche environment that lacks broad acceptance or inclusion. Most also agree that this is true throughout the business world and not exclusive to loss prevention.
Reviewing the many comments on the subject that were made as part of our survey, it could be more specifically inferred that most women making these comments simply didn’t feel included rather than deliberately excluded. There was a general perception that little effort is being made to change certain habits, rethink some events to make them more inclusive, welcome new faces, or otherwise modify behaviors to create a more inviting environment for women.
“During conferences and similar occasions, who is gathered together at the events?” said one industry leader. “It’s many of the same people over and over again. We don’t often make the effort to include women or newer professionals.”
This points to one of the most powerful reasons for the lack of progress in this area. We all have blind spots when it comes to certain perceptions, and it’s difficult to solve problems that we don’t see or understand clearly. We’re comfortable with the status quo and don’t feel the urgency to change. This can most certainly include gender diversity.
For example, many men may believe women are well represented in leadership, when in fact there are far fewer than they think. Further, many men don’t fully grasp the barriers that hold women back at work and aren’t fully aware of the need for change and as a result are less committed to the issues that women face or the hurdles that can stand in the way. By the same respect, women may make certain assumptions as well, perhaps misinterpreting a lack of understanding with a lack of empathy.
Of course, there are those who simply resist change and don’t feel they should change or that they have to. There are those who prefer to hold firmly to past norms and those who choose to find fault in the behaviors of others rather than considering flaws in their own way of thinking. There are also those who use excuses as tools of destruction rather than using reflection as an agent of change.
But for most of us, awareness is the first step. Whether reflecting on our own habits or learning to recognize it in others, we need to resist the trappings of finger-pointing and focus on modifying behaviors—including our own. Both men and women need to swallow the pill and get better.
Here are some additional comments from industry leadership:
“I don’t think our teams hear enough from the leaders in our industry. We have to make people feel more than included. We must give them a sense of belonging.”
“I do think a good ole boy network still exists. As one of the few women in leadership, when asked to participate in an industry function, lead a session, or comment for an article, I’m usually relegated to a subject matter considered traditionally more female.”
“I wouldn’t refer to it as a ‘good ole boy’ network; however, I think that there exists a tight network that has a certain standard that they follow, and breaking into that network can be difficult regardless of gender. It’s important leaders make decisions with their eyes and their minds open. It’s changing, but we still need to keep moving in the right direction.”
Leaders Stepping Up
Promotions and other advancement opportunities should always be based on merit, productivity, commitment, potential, flexibility, ingenuity, and other performance-based factors. Overcoming disparities requires that we develop strategies that focus on engaging all talented individuals in growth opportunities regardless of gender or other nonperformance issues.
When asked what steps retailers can take to develop female talent for LP leadership roles, industry leaders offered many suggestions:
- Create a forum for minority and female leaders to share their concerns, successes, and needs with a direct pipeline to senior leadership.
- Set specific goals and identify measurements of success. Accountability has to start from the top and reach every level.
- Take personal accountability to identify talent and assign mentors.
- Look for developmental opportunities that put everyone in the mix for promotions.
- Educate your talent on both linear and nonlinear career paths. Stretch assignments both within and outside the department.
- Support them in industry developmental programs like the Loss Prevention Foundation and Wicklander-Zulawski.
- Support diversity training for leaders at every level.
- Take real steps to ensure that hiring, promotional, and developmental decisions are based on merit, potential, and commitment, and hold leaders accountable.
- Use depth charts, forecasting plans, and other initiatives that serve to support our talent.
- Conduct more career conversations with top talent to ensure they know there is potential for them for next steps.
- Support opportunities for additional exposure by putting talent out front as speakers, presenters, and subject-matter experts at conferences and events.
- Denounce double standards for behavior, including and especially in social situations.
- Be intentional and purpose-driven in the effort.
Owning It as Individuals
While it’s important for retailers to step up and support their teams, no one, regardless of gender or any other nonperformance trait or characteristic, should expect their company to do the legwork for them. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own growth and development as well as our actions, decisions, and performance.
Even when we’re good at what we do, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will excel—or even be successful at the next level. Promotions always involve additional responsibilities and different skill sets. Similarly, tenure doesn’t necessarily translate into experience. For example, if someone performs the exact same job for five years without looking for ways to develop or grow, do they have five years of experience or one year of experience repeated five times? Every true leader must be able to see this in themselves and be able to identify those same abilities in others when making these decisions, just as every individual must refine their skills as they climb the ladder.
Each one of us needs to find our place. We must learn to understand our own strengths and opportunities, accept our limitations, embrace the gifts we have to offer, and determine how we want to use them. We think differently. We learn differently. We apply information based on our own personal experiences. We must be thoughtful, respectful, open-minded, and patient enough to make the best decisions for ourselves, our families, and our careers.
We asked leaders what advice they would give women or anyone else wanting to get ahead:
- You have to be good at what you do. That cannot be taken for granted.
- Capability is the bottom line. Mission accomplishment, leadership, inspiration, and communication are critical attributes, not seniority.
- Be engaged, passionate, and authentic. Take advantage of opportunities and showcase your talent.
- Be a sponge for education and learn to stand on the shoulders of others through programs like the industry certifications.
- Be flexible, mobile, confident, assertive, and persuasive. Learn to take calculated risks.
- Diversify your interests. Explore every opportunity. Be open to everything.
- Distinguish yourself, volunteer for assignments that no one else wants to take, and learn as much about the business as possible.
Demonstrate leadership, respect your partners and peers, and show that you can be successful.
- Intellectual curiosity, guts, and professionalism are next-level skills. Know your business and be able to speak to it.
- Express your desire and ambition for career advancement. Don’t assume that others are aware of your career aspirations.
- It’s never wise to blindly accept the status quo. The world is always changing, and we have to be willing to change with it.
- Work harder than those around you and self-market in a way that demonstrates that ability.
- From LP agent to director, you have to believe in yourself and your skill sets. This must come from you because it’s up to you.
Some additional comments from industry leaders included:
“Opportunities to get ahead should always be based on merit, but sometimes it’s also our ability to impress those qualities on others and voice our interest and desire to get ahead. I agree that there are times when a promotion might not be perceived as fair, and surely there are times when they’re not. But it’s also important that we’re willing to reflect on ourselves and try to figure out what we might have done differently or better. These decisions aren’t made on the spur of the moment, and attempting to narrow it down based on gender or any other nonmerit distinction can also be a self-serving rationalization rather than a true factor in the decision process.”
“There is no doubt that where you work and for whom you work will have an impact on your opportunities for advancement. But you control what you do and how you do it. Everyone needs to do the job, be present, show up, go above and beyond, own everything you do for better or worse, reject entitlement, embrace inclusion, be a team player first, and pick your battles. If you embrace these simple rules, gender shouldn’t matter.”
When asked whether organizations, or the industry in general, should support mentorship programs, industry leaders made it very clear where their thoughts lie. Every leader we asked offered an unequivocal “yes.”
This subject sparked significant discussion from industry leaders as they reflected on the importance of mentors and sponsors as part of their own career development and advancement. Several named specific individuals, while others chose to offer their own experiences. What was most clearly offered was that our industry leaders strongly believe in the value of these programs and recognize the value of mentors and sponsors as part of career development.
“I’ve had mentors and sponsors in my life that knew more about my potential than I did. Every organization should have a program, and they should invest time and money into it.”
“I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for those that saw some raw potential in me, challenged me, counseled me, and stuck with it. If the company you’re with doesn’t have a formal process, do it informally—or more importantly, lobby them to implement one. Having a mentor is absolutely critical in today’s relationship-driven world.”
Further, there was a consensus that the women of loss prevention should seek out all types of mentors, underscoring the importance of having mentors from outside the loss prevention profession as well. Women should seek out both men and women to serve as mentors, sponsors, and “life-skill coaches,” and should also search for opportunities to serve as mentors themselves.
“I was very excited to review the results of the women of LP survey and your findings,” said Bob Moraca, MBA, CPP, CFE, vice president of loss prevention with the National Retail Federation. “The NRF loss prevention community has been supportive of the women in LP movement for close to two decades. With strong female leadership, we have proudly developed several programs to enhance the growth of women in the loss prevention profession. Over the years we have developed a mentoring program, hosted women-centric professional development calls, and NRF proudly hosts the largest gathering of women in the industry at our ‘Women in LP Luncheon’ at NRF PROTECT every year.”
Moraca added, “Our entire industry owes a rousing debt of gratitude for the success that the diversity of experience, talent, thought leadership, toughness, and vision our women in LP bring to the LP community. We need to continue to mentor and encourage our emerging women leaders upward into the management ranks, where they can make a greater difference and continue their professional development.”
The Value of Diversity
Diversity provides our country with its unique strength, prosperity, and resilience. By recognizing and embracing our human differences, we learn to better understand each other and the unique contributions that those differences can provide. These same attributes serve us in the workplace as well, with the rich and varied individual characteristics of people and the wide spectrum of traits that make up who we are creating a positive and nurturing work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.
With the opportunity for different insights, varied opinions, and better solutions, gender diversity is the absolute lifeblood of retail and is critical as we look for the best ways to serve and interact with our customers and employees. As the blending of our society continues, there is an ongoing need to modify our way of thinking to effectively deal with the issues of communication, tolerance, adaptability, variety, and change.
Unfortunately, a majority of women who participated in the survey (72%) believed that there are gender biases that remain in the loss prevention industry today. And while most LP leaders feel that there have been significant improvements, most also believe that those gender biases remain.
Gender biases do exist across every aspect of our society. Men and women think differently. For the most part, we’re raised differently. We have different expectations, social norms, habits, and biology, and that just scratches the surface. But as is true with every other aspect of our lives, we need to learn to better embrace our differences rather than allowing those differences to create a gap between us.
Diversity encompasses not only how we perceive others but also how we perceive ourselves. Those perceptions will have a direct impact on how we perform individually and how we interact with each other. Our goal should be to build a culture of respect where the attitudes and actions of people will encourage mutual understanding, creating an environment where people of all attributes can be valued and successful in the workplace.
Venus and Mars
There may be a million ways to celebrate our differences, but there are a million and one reasons to praise how we are the same. The world is changing, and the rules are changing along with it. This is a time of tremendous evolution in almost every aspect of who we are and what we do. It’s true that there was a time when many of the lines were much clearer. But it’s just as true that some of those lines were wrong, unfair, and unjust.
By the same respect, the door has to swing both ways. Throughout the survey, there were many comments made by women that might also appear demeaning and inappropriate to men. For example, we shouldn’t make blanket statements like, “Men are better than women in leadership roles.” However, we also shouldn’t make blanket statements like, “Women make better interviewers than men.” The latter can be equally unjust and inappropriate, widening gaps rather than closing them.
Everyone wants to be respected. We want to be treated fairly and as equals. If we want to create an environment in loss prevention that’s inclusive for everyone, we have to be open-minded, but we also must be patient and understanding. As we blend as a country, we are also blending on social, personal, and professional levels, and all of us have to play our parts. We must face these issues head-on and find solutions that benefit us all.
Complicated problems aren’t typically solved with a survey and a single discussion. We have to increase awareness in a way that’s fair and objective, hold meaningful conversations that address the real issues, and move to action in a way that’s positive and productive.
It’s truly been an industry effort to bring us to where we are. From those who took the time and effort to help us construct our survey, to the incredible women who shared their thoughts and opinions, to the tremendous industry leaders and sponsors who offered their guidance and support, and to all who have voiced their commitment and passion to the women of loss prevention, you have our gratitude. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing. We just need to find the best way to get there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To download the full survey results, go to LossPreventionMedia.com/free-reports.