Are You Really Listening to Your Biggest Customer – Women?!

Jeffery Tobias Halter - Selling to Women

Are Your Male Store Managers Gender Aware?

I have been consulting with a very progressive international grocery chain to develop and implement a fully integrated women’s leadership strategy. Currently, our work is focused on the front lines of their business – the retail store manager. As part of the strategy, we created engagement groups for male middle and regional managers to become more aware of gender differences, not just in the workplace but also in the entire store experience.

Gender awareness is paramount in the retail industry as over 60 percent of employees and over 80 percent of customers are female.

Today, the manager of a single store can easily be managing hundreds of people and have multimillion-dollar P&L responsibility. We also know that within the retail grocery industry the majority of regional and store managers are men. As talented as these store managers are, few of them have been trained in consumer insights or gender awareness, including how women think, act and shop.

Ask your male store managers three questions:

  1. When was the last time you created the weekly grocery list for your household?
  2. How many times did you go grocery shopping during that past two weeks? (No, just bringing home groceries from work doesn’t count)
  3. When was the last time you prepared seven consecutive meals for your family?

Bonus question – when was the last time you shopped at 5:30 pm with two chicken finger/macaroni & cheese eating children wrapped around your legs while the baby was crying in the shopping cart?

My guess is the number of men answering “yes” to the above questions will be small.

In of our male engagement group sessions, I had participants read a Harvard Business Review article on The New Female Economy. It is a great eye-opener to help them start to think differently. One of the regional managers in the group entirely embraced the article. He read it and went into one of his busiest stores at 6:00 on a Thursday night. He confidently walked up to a very busy mother of three and starting offering suggestions on easy to assemble dinners and “ready to go meals” in this week’s flyer.

She looked at him like he was from Mars. She was in a hurry and was picking up cereal, school snacks, a prescription, a frozen pizza and a bag of lettuce. She looked him and said, “If you really want to help go bring me a box of Cheerios.” He did as she requested and she actually smiled and thanked him. His lesson (and the lesson we teach in our male engagement training) — don’t assume you know anything about women, even if you have read and studied. If you want to know, ask first and then genuinely listen.

It’s that simple and it’s that hard.

Please make no mistake, I have the utmost respect for the very challenging job of managing hundreds of employees, daily deadlines and an unrelenting pace of change in which Sunday afternoon has now replaced Saturday as one of the busiest shopping days. However, as the grocery decision maker, the home category manager or any new term you want to put on her, the customer is typically over 85% female. And most store staffs are well north of 50% female as well.

Isn’t it time to question the paradigm of male leadership in an industry dominated by women?

ELOA – Educate, Listen, Observe, Act

To acquire further insight, I reached out to Sharon Orlopp, retired Global Chief Diversity Officer of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer. Realizing how ‘crazy busy’ store managers are, I asked her for some straightforward tips store managers can do to become more ‘gender aware’?

She offered these insights:

It’s all about being inclusive on a daily basis. This means creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed, valued, and respected. Not just employees but customers as well. It’s about creating a sense of belonging.

Four key leadership behaviors that drive inclusion are:

  • Educate Yourself. Establish a gender coach relationship with a woman who works with you. Ask her to provide feedback about your work behaviors and ask what you can do to be more aware and inclusive.
  • Listen Generously. Listen to feedback from your gender coach and from others. Active listening includes being empathetic and putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to truly understand.
  • Observe and Act. Pay close attention to which employees speak in meetings and while touring the store. Ask questions of employees who are quiet; they may have the best business solution.
  • Talk to Your Shoppers. Most important — talk to your shoppers. Get to know them.

“You’d be amazed,” Sharon told me.

Our store personnel are so busy, that sometimes they may forget to stop and talk to our shoppers. Find out what’s really on their minds and how can we help them. Really knowing our customers goes back to the days of Sam Walton, but it is a lesson we need to teach and remind people of daily.

This also goes beyond the customer. Observing and acting also requires you to speak up and speak out when you see or hear something that doesn’t feel right. If there are inappropriate jokes or comments or if someone uses a demeaning tone, make sure you address it immediately. 

Now it’s time to ask yourselves, are your front line managers ready to be your ambassadors to the new economy?

HuffPost logoA version of this article appeared in HuffPost.

Jeffery Tobias Halter has more than 30 years in the CPG/Retail Industry. He is President of YWomen, a strategic consulting focused on engaging men in women’s leadership advancement. He is a TEDx speaker, Huffington Post blogger and the author of Why Women, The Leadership Imperative to Advancing Women and Engaging Men. Click here to download Chapter One of Why Women as a sneak peek. @YWomen

Sharon Orlopp has spent over 30 years in Fortune 500 companies in senior level Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion roles, including Walmart, Foot Locker, and Sports Authority. She is President of Orlopp Enterprise, an inclusion consulting firm.  @sharonorlopp.