Female Executives Weigh Digital's Impact

They gathered in New York last week to discuss ways in which the digital revolution has changed the way they run their businesses.

NEW YORK — A group of top female executives gathered here last week to discuss ways in which the digital revolution has changed the way they run their businesses, from hiring practices to dealing with clients to spotting global trends.

The executives, all clients of Berns Communications, were participants in The Women’s Leadership Roundtable, an ongoing series of discussions among leading executive women who are driving the business of retail. They were Laura Pomerantz, principal and founder of PBS Real Estate; Celeste Gudas, president and founder of 24/Seven, the executive recruiting firm; Wendy Liebmann, chief executive officer of WSL Strategic Retail, and Catherine Moellering, executive vice president of the Tobe Report.

“The digital space is one where most retailers are scrambling to find the right talent now,” said Gudas. “For years, maybe not at the merchant level, we had a good pool of solid talent, and that’s really shifted. We’re looking outside of retail, and we’re looking at other industries to pull people in,” she said.

The recruiting firm is looking at every channel and every school to uncover talent for its clients. She pointed out that it’s common to bring in younger people when it comes to digital. “That’s because of flexibility. Schools are catching up and bringing talent to the market that’s relevant. If you’re looking for an app designer, you’re more likely to find that coming out of school,” she said. “It’s a very dynamic, shifting marketplace. I think that talent is key, but you can see the divide in the skills gap that’s happening.”

Gudas believes that comfort with digital media needs to start at the top. “I think it starts with us as leaders in an organization. I find it frustrating when people say, ‘Oh, I don’t know technology. I leave it to my kid.’ It’s up to us. It’s like nails on a blackboard for me now...if we’re not using it and curating the information and pushing that effort in trend spotting for the organization...”

Tobe’s Moellering said the digital movement is having an enormous impact on the company’s trend spotting. “I suspected runway coverage would be most impacted. The expectation around runway coverage in a digital era is that it’s free. It really has forced us to look internally at what we’re offering to our clients and to decide what is of value.”

Moellering finds there’s so much available because of blogs and sources such as that are free. “What’s interesting to me was to hear how many top senior executives saying, ‘I get all of my runway coverage on Twitter.’”

Moellering said she’ll always argue that there’s tremendous value in Tobe and in its editorial and point of view about the runway. “But the timeliness about it starts to shift, and where along that timeline do we provide a viewpoint that’s of value?” One area that Tobe is not willing to abandon is the physical printed piece. “It’s not been something I’ve been willing to do...yet. Perhaps at a later date. I’m not there yet. Some of it is in respect to our clients. We deal with very senior decision makers, many of whom tell me they like to have a physical report. I hear over and over again, ‘I put it in my bag and read it on the plane.’”

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