One of Sportswear’s Highest-Ranking Women Talks About Mentoring & Asking for What You Want

Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.

Melanie Allen, a former Starbucks executive, joined Brooks Running in the fall of 2017. Since then, she’s infused some of the coffee giant’s feel-good marketing magic into the Seattle-based sneaker brand. Most recently, the chief marketing officer led the company’s Global Running Day initiative, which challenged runners to turn their logged miles into dollars for under-served high school teams. And in April she tapped Huge as its new creative agency to help with everything from brand positioning to global activations.

Here, Allen opens up about why sportswear brands appear to have fewer women in top spots than other industries and the best way to ask for what you want.

What is the most significant barrier to female leadership in the fashion and footwear industries?

“The athletic footwear industry is behind in women representation across levels. In my previous industries, there was a more balanced representation at the entry to mid-levels, which led to more women in senior level roles. There’s no lack of enthusiasm for supporting the careers of women, but the industry needs to attract more women and create a pipeline of diverse talent.”

What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What are you doing to support the next generation?

“One of the ways I’m supporting the next generation, beyond my immediate organization, is to be an active mentor and participant in discussions and panels that move the issue forward. To underscore our commitment to inclusivity in the workplace, we signed the Camber Outdoors CEO Equity Pledge to advance female leadership in active-outdoor industries, and I participate in their mentor program. I was also proud to be part of the Empowerun conference with other female leaders in the specialty-running industry to discuss how we can collectively support women in this field. Through these discussions, I realized that we’ve made a lot of progress, but we also still have a long way to go. Some of the questions from young women are strikingly similar to what’s been asked by the generations before them. The next generation will need to keep the conversation and progress moving forward.”

Have you encountered resistance when working for — or leading — men? How did you overcome that?

“I have been fortunate to have strong male and female leaders throughout my career who I continue to look up to and, thankfully, who supported me rather than holding me back. More often than not, I’ve worked with men who ask about how they can better support women and create an inclusive environment. At Procter & Gamble, I was a mentor up for a male senior leader. Many of his questions were about how to be a better leader for the women on his team and within the organization. This experience taught me early on to talk openly with my male coworkers about the actions and behaviors that create an inclusive environment.”

What is a powerful leadership moment you’ve experienced?

“Rather than a single leadership moment, I’m proud that I’ve moved into higher-level roles while staying authentic to who I am. One of the biggest challenges I faced early in my career was thinking that I needed to change my work and leadership style to fit in. One of my mentors reminded me that my diverse thinking and approach is what the organization was expecting me to bring to the table; that conversation gave me the confidence to find my voice and work style — and I’ve stayed true to that throughout my career.”

What advice do you have for women negotiating a salary increase, promotion or other challenging issue at work?

“My advice is to just ask for it. In my opinion, there’s never a downside to asking when you present the request with a solid rationale. When I’m working with women, I always admire when they advocate for themselves, whether it’s for a project they want to lead, salary negotiation, next career opportunity, etc. I may not always be able to meet their goals, but it opens up the conversation.”

How has MeToo changed the professional landscape and your workplace specifically?

“MeToo and the women who started this movement have brought forth a conversation that needed attention in all facets of our society, including the workplace. As a leader, I have always tried to ensure all members of my teams, regardless of their gender, have the support and security to come to work and do their best at their job. At Brooks, we have a strong culture of inclusivity and respect that we nurture in a number of ways, and I’m glad that all of our employees go through harassment training so we have a common language and a shared understanding of expectations when we come to work.”

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