You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Footwear’s Female Execs Lean Into the Issues

Women in the footwear industry were “leaning in” long before Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made headlines with her best-selling book.

In 2010 Women in the Footwear Industry was established to encourage women to make their mark on the industry. Launched through the Two Ten Footwear Foundation, WIFI was designed to inspire, support, mentor and educate women in the shoe industry, grooming them for leadership roles.

Under the direction of co-chairs Diane Sullivan, president and CEO of Brown Shoe Co., and Carol Baiocchi, SVP and DMM of footwear at Kohl’s, WIFI now boasts 700 members across the country.

“I encourage companies to get involved with programs like WIFI,” said Sullivan. “I’ve networked with so many amazing women. It’s a great resource for our industry.”

Sullivan noted that caring advisers contributed to her own rise in the corporate world. “I’ve had a number of very strong business mentors who have been instrumental throughout my career. I look back and realize the jobs I’ve had and the people I’ve worked with have allowed me the opportunity I have today,” she said.

But the rise to the top is not easy for any aspiring executive — it takes talent, drive, passion and sometimes a push in the right direction.

Here, a few of the industry’s most-influential female leaders share their success stories, while offering words of advice to those beginning their careers.

Tina Aldatz
Founder & creative director, Foot Petals Inc.


To what do you attribute your success?

“I’m a driven and creative person, always thinking of the next idea. I don’t have a formal education, but was fortunate enough to have worked for great companies and learned how to build a brand, not just a product. I also believe in letting the experts do their jobs. For instance, since I don’t sell, I put a strong emphasis on hiring a great sales force.”

How can companies cultivate more female talent?
“Offering mentorships would be very powerful. I believe that every CEO should ask the question to all employees: If you were in my position, what would you do differently? I ask this question to every employee at their annual review.”

Why do so few women lead major shoe companies?
“Women need to step up and toot their own horns. It’s a competitive business environment, so [they can’t] expect to get rewarded or promoted because they [think they] deserve it or work harder. Women have the tendency to be intimidated and hold back. [They] need to be encouraged and taught to be more aggressive and confident.”

What might you have done differently?
“Not take it personally when a buyer says no. [Women should] expect more noes than yeses. They should set goals and remember that for every no, they’re only that much closer to a yes.”

Your advice for women hoping to rise through the ranks?
“Be committed, take advantage of every opportunity, speak up, be confident, take risks. Time management is [also] key. Staying longer than eight hours a day doesn’t make a better employee — time and work/life balance equals success.”

Sari Ratsula
President, Seychelles Imports


To what do you attribute your success?

“I’m a hands-on person. I love to make a difference and have been lucky to work for companies where I’ve had the freedom to try new things, make mistakes and learn from them. I started as a line builder at Vans and ended up running all product design, development and U.S. sales. After 10 years [there], I met Jack Silvera of Dynasty Footwear, who has been a tremendous mentor over the years. He got me involved in the fashion side of the business when he asked me to take over Seychelles.”

How can companies cultivate more female talent?

“Have the courage to believe in young talent, especially young female talent, and give them a chance. Before I joined Vans, the sales team made the product decisions. They weren’t happy having a young, inexperienced, Finnish girl take over [that aspect]. When I pushed [Vans] to launch a Black Velvet collection for women and it took off, the sales team looked at me differently and suddenly were very supportive.”

Why do so few women lead major shoe companies?

“Unfortunately, the old-school thinking that men need to be the leaders is still part of this industry, especially in the U.S. It takes time to break old habits, but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

What might you have done differently?

“I would have tried to figure out early on how to look at the total business rather than just parts of it. When you’re in your 20s, it’s hard to see [things] the same way as you do decades later. You’re so eager to get things done, you don’t see how everything’s connected.”

Your advice for women hoping to rise through the ranks?

“You can achieve anything as long as you have a passion for it and are willing to do whatever it takes. You have to ask a lot of questions and keep an open mind. If you focus on your current job and excel in it, you’ll be noticed and likely rewarded with more responsibilities.”

Connie Rishwain
President, Ugg Australia

To what do you attribute your success?
“I wanted to run a brand when I was a buyer at Weinstock’s department store. I [later] changed my career dramatically at Nine West when I went from retail to wholesale, starting as a merchandising manager. Nine West influenced my way of thinking big.”

How can companies cultivate more female talent?

“Recruit and hire more women, [including] entry-level interns. Women are great with detail and will pay attention to product details, as well as customer service and inventory. Diane Sullivan is a good role model for women doing well in a male-dominated company. She’s a well-rounded person.”

Why do so few women lead major shoe companies?
“It’s [not as much of an issue] on the West Coast as the East Coast. [I] don’t feel it on the West Coast.”

What might you have done differently?

“[I have] no specific regrets, but would have liked to have more of an apparel background.”

Your advice for women hoping to rise through the ranks?
“Be passionate about what you do every day, otherwise you won’t enjoy your work. I tell my kids, whether you’re male or female, find what you love and go after it, define your passion. It changes your level of dedication.”

Cathy Taylor
CEO, Rocket Dog Brands


To what do you attribute your success?

“I was very fortunate that I had strong mentors — George Denney, [former CEO] of Cole Haan; Richard Donahue, [former Nike] president; and Phil Knight, its [co-founder and] current chairman. They made me think differently and gave me opportunities in ways I could not even imagine. The pace was quick and you worked hard, but there was more time for [product] to go to market and to develop strategies. These allowed for more mentoring and risk-taking.”

How can companies cultivate more female talent?

“I don’t see gender — I see talent, skill and character. I would say we try to [have] a [gender] balance because it’s healthy for our business [and] the fashion industry. Do I say we’ve got to hire a woman? No. But do I say, wouldn’t it be nice to have a better balance? Absolutely.”

Why do so few women lead major shoe companies?
“I think there are more women [today] who have responsibilities raising families and multitasking on a number of fronts. In some ways, [this impacts] our field. [At Rocket Dog], we have more female executives than male, but it’s not intentional. We try to nurture, but I don’t doubt that companies go back to the old ‘boys club’ [idea]. The women in our company are some of the rare ones. I have three female heads of divisions, and they’ve been doing it all while raising a family. I [also have] other [women on staff] who go part-time.”

What might you have done differently?

“I didn’t allow myself to reflect and breathe. For 15 years, I worked two jobs — CEO of Cole Haan and VP of retail for Nike. Ten days in Oregon, 10 days on the East Coast, then on the road again. I did this for seven-and-a-half years. I worked around the clock and enjoyed it. It’s what I chose [to do]. When I didn’t love it [anymore], I changed it.”

Your advice for women hoping to rise through the ranks?
“A lot of [the younger] generation has its hand out first, as opposed to thinking about what [they] can learn and do. If you can’t put more on the table than what you’re willing to take, you can’t work at [Rocket Dog].”

Susan Itzkowitz
President, Marc Fisher Footwear


To what do you attribute your success?

“I’m a good student of business management and how to relate to people. Certainly, [I’ve] had successes and mistakes [and] learned from my mistakes. I found people who helped me, taught me, gave me opportunities. [I was] willing to move out of my comfort zone and try new things. I found balance between work and family life, which gave me the support to move forward.”

How can companies cultivate more female talent?
“We aspire to live in a gender-blind world. It has to be [an industry-wide] commitment to recognize [female] talent in order to ensure women continue to have opportunities. Women make up a large portion of our management team, and we try to help [them] succeed.”

Why do so few women lead major shoe companies?

“Many industries, like the shoe business, have for a long time been male-dominated. [We] can’t give up, though. [We] have to keep striving for more women, encourage [them] to learn and help them achieve their full potential.”

What might you have done differently?

“I look at steps I’ve taken as learning experiences. They got me where I am today.”

Your advice for women hoping to rise through the ranks?

“Find your passion and learn all you possibly can. Be realistic, bold and find a mentor who will teach and direct you. Learn about networking. Find a work/life balance. I really believe there has been no better time to succeed as a woman in this industry. Women in our company are growing and have great potential. They are [represented] in all [job] levels.”

 

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content