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    Saluting the Heroes Behind Every Wonder Woman

    The support of men is essential to women?s leadership.

    By Joan Toth

    Jill Lepore?s book ?The Secret History of Wonder Woman? (Knopf 2014), chronicles the first female superhero, introduced more than 70 years ago. Spoiler alert: The lasso-wielding Amazon princess ? so advanced for her time ? was created by a man.

    William Moulton Marston had five sisters and strong ties to the women?s movement. A popular psychologist, he wanted to create a superhero with two superpowers, truth and love, which he believed were more powerful than fists or firepower. His wife said, ?Fine. But make her a woman.?

    The creation of Wonder Woman brings to mind the male heroes who were early champions of women in our business. These industry leaders also went against the prevailing wisdom of their time and understood the power of women.

    When the Network of Executive Women (NEW) was founded in 2001, the support of these far-sighted men was crucial. Without their support ? and the commitment of their companies ? NEW might never have gotten off the ground.

    Strong Advocates

    Case in point: Bill Grize, the late CEO of Ahold USA and the first retailer to wholeheartedly, and very vocally, endorse the network.

    Bill was such a passionate advocate for women?s leadership, and so important to the early success of NEW, that we named our Hall of Fame Award for him. Each year, the honor goes to a leader who demonstrates the same commitment to women?s leadership Bill did.

    Since 2011, NEW has presented the Grize Award to 11 individuals and two companies. They?ve included four supermarket veterans and one supermarket chain: Former Supervalu CEO Jeff Noddle; Judy Spires, CEO at Kings Food Markets? parent, Angelo Gordon Supermarket Holdings, for her work at Kings and Acme Markets; Jamba Inc. CEO James White, honored for his work at Safeway; Delhaize America; and, last fall, Mike Gorshe, Accenture?s managing director, consumer goods and services and food retail, whose first job was bagging groceries at his local Kroger store in Bellaire, Ohio.

    Men who champion women have a great appreciation for the abilities of women. They have female protégés. They frequently have a mother or wife who works. And I?m struck by how often they say they want their daughters to have the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

    Mike ? and all of the men and women who?ve received the Grize award ? share Bill?s belief that companies that don?t develop women leaders not only shortchange half their workforce, they also shortchange their bottom lines.

    More Leaders Wanted

    The retail industry has made progress on women?s leadership, but it?s been slow going. To nurture more women leaders ? and create a better workplace for everyone ? we need more male leaders committed to change.

    Words aren?t enough. It takes action.

    Here?s what you can do: Mentor or sponsor a female colleague. Give stretch assignments to high-potential women on your team. Support your company?s women?s employee resource group. Help recruit more women. Promote a more flexible and inclusive workplace. Join communities like NEW and connect with other change agents.

    Women in our industry don?t have the powers of Wonder Woman. But they do provide unique insights into female consumers. They work hard; think long-term; collaborate and innovate; and build strong teams through empathetic leadership.

    NEW is proud of all the leaders ? male and female ? who?ve supported our mission of advancing women?s leadership in our industry. We invite you to join them.

    Men who champion women have a great appreciation for the abilities of women.

    By Joan Toth
    • About Joan Toth Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a learning and leadership community with more than 8,500 members representing 750 companies, nearly 100 sponsors and 20 regions in the United States and Canada. For more information, visit newonline.org.

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