Women Who Rock: Diane Sullivan On How the Industry Has Evolved

Caleres Chairman, CEO and President Diane
Caleres Chairman, CEO and President Diane Sullivan.
Courtesy Photo

Since she started out in the footwear industry, Diane Sullivan, the CEO, president and chairman of Caleres, has seen a lot more doors open for women.

“When I first joined the industry, it was fundamentally men. I’ve noticed a lot of change in the past five or 10 years,” Sullivan said. “While you might not see a lot of women in top leadership positions, you do see a lot of super-talented women populating key roles.”

But as Sullivan ascended the ranks — she now occupies one of the most powerful jobs in the industry — she said she never thought of herself as a female leader. “I think of myself as a leader,” she said. “It was always about what I aspired to do, how I followed my heart, what I thought I could be good at.”

Here, Sullivan sounds off on more leadership issues.

The importance of motivating your team: “You have to have empowerment in your organization, with many people leading the way. Our new world order is forcing different kinds of leadership.”

On how the industry has evolved: “When we became more consumer-focused, there was more value seen in how women shape things, how the showroom looks, the packaging, the details. There was a time when those things were considered superfluous, but I don’t feel that one bit anymore.”

On finding balance: “For me, if you looked at it day to day, there never was balance. If you thought about it over a period of time, you could bring it back in line I heard [former Gilt Group CEO and current AOL executive) Susan Lyne speak a few years ago, and she talked about how she takes one hour during the work day and shuts her door and thinks about what she wants to think about. I’ve tried to do a better job of that. I can’t do it at work, but I do it at home in the morning.”

On what mentoring means: “It took a while to think about mentoring. It’s a series of moments, and it’s with a whole lot of different kinds of people. It’s about empowerment or giving someone an opportunity to see what they do with it.”

On helping employees navigate parenthood: “[Having and raising] children is often more of the women’s responsibility, but I also see men who are engaged [100 percent] in being parents. We are looking at our paternity-leave policy at our company. If we can help more men and women through that transition, [we can retain more of them].”