A Sign of Progress? 11 Fashion Companies With New Female Leaders

When it comes to the advancement of women in America, it’s tough to keep an accurate tally.

On one hand, the #MeToo movement has emboldened women to speak out about instances of mistreatment at work and simultaneously pushed corporate leadership to promote and pay female workers more fairly.

On the other, a recent series of political disappointments and a cold, hard look at the data can easily give the impression that one step forward for women is often undone by two steps back.

New insights from nonprofit research group The Conference Board, in collaboration with Heidrick & Struggles, this week revealed the number of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies rose to a record 27 last year. But, data for the current year, aggregated by research firm Catalyst, suggests some of those gains have already been reversed — with women currently holding 24 (4.8 percent) of CEO positions at S&P 500 firms.

Another blow came in May when women held just 24 spots on the 2018 Fortune 500 list of CEOs, down 25 percent from 2017’s record-breaking 32 female CEOs.

Still, none of these numbers are set in stone, and a recent wave of female hires and promotions across retail offer some hope that the tides could turn for good.

Here, we’ve rounded up 11 fashion-related companies that have hired women leaders in the past six months.

Steve Madden

Wildly successful fashion footwear maker Steve Madden this month hired retail industry veteran and former Lord & Taylor president Liz Rodbell. She was so desirable for the firm’s roster that insiders said the company built a new position tailored specifically for Rodbell. This month, she will take on a newly created role at Steve Madden: group president of retail, accessories and licensing. (In addition to its flagship brand, Madden owns Betsey Johnson, Blondo and other popular labels.)


After a four-month-long search — following the departure of chairman and CEO Marvin Ellison — J.C. Penney Co. Inc. tapped former Joann Stores CEO Jill Soltau to helm its business.


The heritage tennis brand this month hired its first-ever female creative director, Louise Trotter. The British designer will present her first collection during the next Fashion Week in Paris. Trotter had spent the past nine years at Joseph before exiting the British-based luxury fashion label in July.


Last month LVMH-backed Jonathan Anderson  announced that Jenny Galimberti, Louis Vuitton’s communications and events director, would take the top spot as its new CEO. (LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton took a 46 percent stake in his J.W. Anderson brand in 2013.) Galimberti became the latest in a string of female leaders appointed to the helm of LVMH fashion houses in the last two years, including Sylvie Colin for Kenzo, Séverine Merle for Céline and Pascale Lepoivre for Loewe.


The mega retailer in July announced the hiring of two female leaders for major roles within the company. Walmart  appointed Janey Whiteside, former EVP and GM of Global Premium Products & Benefits at American Express, to the newly created role of EVP and chief customer officer, focused on attracting shoppers and offering better customer service. It simultaneously named Barbara Messing its new SVP and chief marketing officer to lead marketing for Walmart U.S. and Walmart eCommerce U.S. Both women joined the firm in August.

Bergdorf Goodman

Neiman Marcus Group in June appointed Darcy Penick as the president of Bergdorf Goodman, effective Sept. 4. The company said Penick’s appointment is part of its larger strategy to accelerate its digital transformation. She previously served as CEO of Shopbop, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. Penick began her retail career in 2000 at Neiman Marcus Group and held various merchandising roles across multiple categories at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. She replaced former Bergdorf leader Joshua Schulman.


Reebok has recently upped the ante on its push to penetrate the women’s market more deeply. To that end, it has hired several women in recent months. In June, the brand appointed former Cast Collective executive Karen Reuther as global creative director. In April, it appointed former Crayola marketing SVP Melanie Boulden as VP of marketing.

Famous Footwear

St. Louis-based Caleres Inc. in May announced that Molly Adams, EVP of global merchandising and product development at The Walt Disney Co. since 2008, would become the new president of Famous Footwear. Adams, who joined Caleres on May 29, succeeded retired chief Rick Ausick — taking the reins of Caleres’ largest division.


Following what many have viewed as its own #MeToo awakening — underscored by the departure of about a dozen male executives — the Swoosh has made a marked push to hire and promote more women. In April, it announced that 13-year company veteran Amy Montagne was named its new VP and GM of global categories. (She replaced Jayme Martin, who left as part of the earlier shakeup.) That same month, Nike named Kellie Leonard its new chief diversity and inclusion officer. Leonard was appointed to the position after Antoine Andrews, VP of diversity and inclusion at Nike, left the company.


Wolverine World Wide Inc. in April named industry veteran Anne Cavassa the new president of Saucony, effective immediately. She came to the brand with more than 20 years of experience in global brand building and innovative product marketing. Her most recent position was chief customer experience officer and SVP of marketing and apparel for Brooks Running Co.


Under CEO Helena Foulkes — hired in February as the first female chief of the firm — the Canadian parent of Saks Fifth Ave. and Lord & Taylor has moved aggressively to add new women to its roster. In May, it announced the appointment of Vanessa LeFebvre as president of Lord & Taylor, replacing longtime leader Liz Rodbell. That same month it hired Bari Harlam — who previously worked in senior marketing roles at BJ’s Wholesale, Swipely and CVS Health — to serve as its chief marketing officer, effective immediately.

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