Women Who Rock: DSW’s Debbie Ferrée on Charting Your Own Path

Debbie Ferrée
Courtesy Photo

Debbie Ferrée, vice chairman and chief merchandising officer at DSW Inc., said that women’s unique way of leading can be both a great advantage and a notable challenge.

“I’ve found that often, the ways women lead are not always embraced by the male population. They tend to be great listeners, are more compassionate and empathetic [than men], have strong interpersonal skills and love to teach. In conversation, they check for understanding to make sure people feel like a part of the solution,” she explained. “A lot of men perceive the interpersonal skills women exhibit as being too soft, or they’re misunderstood.”

Here, the executive talks about taking risks and being accountable for your career path.

Advice for young women: “Follow your passion in everything you do. And it doesn’t matter what type of work you’re doing — you have to be willing to take on any task and look at everything as a learning opportunity.”

Finding the right company: “I tended to select companies that matched my values — ones that were supportive of my development, where the values matched very well.”

Her female mentor: “I’ve had men and women mentors, but I had a DMM early in my career who was a great teacher. She always gave me credit for things, and I thought, ‘But you’re the smart one here.’ She was supportive beyond all boundaries and gave me confidence in my career that I could take risks and speak up, and I would be listened to. She’s one who sticks in my mind.”

Defining your goals: “The individual is just as accountable for their development as the company. You have to want it. Some leaders don’t want it because they have a lot of other things in their life. If you do, make sure you work hard and make it clear to your company, so they know what you want.”

Closing remarks: “We have all of these great skills, and wherever your passion lies, take all these great things and apply them somewhere. You can be a great leader in a nonprofit or a corporation. Find your passion, and find a place where you can put all your skills to good use. Because we have a lot to offer.”