For the Ascena Retail Group, which caters strictly to women and girls, gender equality on the board and in the ranks is a reality.
That became clear Thursday, when the four female members of the eight-member Ascena board schlepped downtown through traffic and ice to Wall Street — even at one point abandoning their van to make better time on the subway — to pay tribute to the “Fearless Girl” statue.
The Fearless Girl statue, created by Kristen Visbal and situated in the heart of the financial district, stirs a call for gender equality in the business world. Paying tribute to the statue was a way for Ascena to highlight its progress putting women on its board and the importance of female leadership in business.
“We feel we have reached gender parity at Ascena. That’s the reason to celebrate at the statue,” said Kay Krill, former president and chief executive officer of Ann Inc., which is part of Ascena. “I firmly believe women deserve to have equal rights in all businesses and on boards. Women bring unique skills and diversity of thought to board rooms allowing for decisions, conversations and strategies to be richer and more effective.”
The Fearless Girl statue has been in the news lately since the day after International Women’s Day, when a vulgar video of a guy in a business suit simulating coitus with the statue went viral.
But Ascena’s tribute to the statue was not to protest the nasty video. “Not at all,” Krill said. “It was motivated by the spirit of the statue and what the statue is calling upon businesses to do.”
Krill was joined at the statue by the three other female members of Ascena’s eight-member board: Kate Buggeln, senior adviser at Irving Place Capital; Katie Bayne, senior vice president, Global Sparkling Brands, The Coca-Cola Co., and Linda Yaccarino, chairman of advertising sales and client partnerships at NBC Universal. The group also included Rosyln Jaffe, founder of Dressbarn, which is part of Ascena, and her daughter Elise, Ascena’s senior vice president, real estate.
As far as women breaking through the glass ceiling, Buggeln said, “Progress has moved very slowly, whether it’s in the retail industry or industry more broadly. There’s been some improvement, but there is still not sufficient representation.…We all need the most qualified thinkers at the table, making the business decisions that matter the most — the ones their boards make. So in 2017, with experienced female candidates ready to step into the room, why would we leave 50 percent of society’s perspective sitting outside?”
Krill and Baynes have been on Ascena’s board for two years, while Buggeln has been there for 13 years, and Yaccarino for just over half a year.
“As professional women on boards, we are amazed at the powerful and immediate reaction to the statue,” said Baynes.
“We are all taking the opportunity to shine a light on the issue,” added Yaccarino.
“Gender parity is an issue we feel strongly about, especially as a family of brands that serves women and girls,” said David Jaffe, president and ceo of Ascena, which operates Ann Taylor, Loft, Lou & Grey, Maurices, Dressbarn, Lane Bryant, Cacique, Catherines and Justice. Of the company’s 69,000 employees, 97 percent are female. Women fill 63 percent of the positions at the vice president level and higher.