At a Critical Time for Women, Caleres Is Leading the Way on Board Gender Parity in the Shoe Industry & Beyond

Women are steadily gaining more seats on corporate boards — female leaders now make up 30% of directors on the S&P 500 — but there is still a long way to go in efforts to achieve parity.

In the footwear industry, Caleres Inc., helmed by chairman and CEO Diane Sullivan, continues to lead the way in this area — the company’s board is comprised of 60% women (six of 10 directors).

At the Women’s Forum of New York’s Breakfast of Corporate Champions in New York yesterday, Caleres was one of only of 44 companies from all industries recognized for achieving or exceeding board gender parity. (In total, about 240 companies were saluted for having 35% or more female representation.)

“This accomplishment took a concentrated effort beginning more than five years ago,” said Sullivan. “While this award symbolizes that important work, it is not the reason for our action. We are a stronger, more strategic company because our board has the capabilities, skills, and experiences we need, while at the same time reflects the consumers we serve. As a female CEO it was top of mind however, providing opportunities for gender parity is the responsibility of everyone. The challenge is in making sure there is a pipeline for these leaders and those to follow. It is okay to be the first, just not the last.”

Diane Sullivan // Wenda Harris MIllard // Carla Hendra.
Diane Sullivan, Wenda Harris Millard and Carla Hendra on the FN Summit stage in 2019.
CREDIT: Johan Cruz

Achieving parity isn’t something that happens organically. Rather, it’s about being intentional, business leaders said at the breakfast.

The Women’s Forum “Corporate Board Initiative” is centered around the belief that change happens more quickly when it’s driven from the top. One way leaders can fuel meaningful progress, speakers said, is by sponsoring women and advocating for them in the board conversation. Companies should also seek dynamic board members who have specific skills and expertise, but they shouldn’t always mandate that directors are CEOs, speakers noted.

At Caleres, the women on the board include Lisa Flavin, SVP and chief compliance officer at Emerson; Brenda Freeman, founder of Joyeux Advisory Group; Lori Greeley, CEO at Serena and Lily; Carla Hendra, global CEO of growth and innovation at Ogilvy; Wenda Harris Millard, vice chairman at MediaLink; and Sullivan.

“A diverse board means diverse perspectives, experiences and approaches, and it just makes good business sense,” Sullivan told FN in 2019.

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