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Women of Power: Macy’s Shawn Outler Talks Retail Industry Boss Moves Beyond the Sales Floor

Executive shares how women of color can leverage diversity of opportunities

Shawn Outler, Group Vice President, Macy's (Image: File)

It’s always awesome to attend professional events just for women, especially in an environment that facilitates quality networking and worthwhile information-gathering. I had the opportunity to do so recently at a ColorComm Network event in New York City.

Moderated by Jeanine Liburd, executive vice president at BET Networks, the topic focused on how women of color can “lean in” for fulfilling careers and advancement. The room was packed to capacity with young, eager careerists who listened to the inspiring stories and keep-it-real insights of four panelists including Camille Edwards, vice president and news director at WABC-TV; Veena Raj, director of media relations at Burson-Marsteller; and Patrice Tanaka, co-chair and chief creative officer at Padilla CRT.

One awesome highlight of the night was catching up, one-on-one, with the fourth power woman panelist, Shawn Outler. The Syracuse University grad and retail industry vet currently serves as group vice president of fashion forecasting & operations, leased businesses and multicultural development at Macy’s.

We talked about her career development, how women can “lean in” beyond the office walls and her advice for other power women to keep their careers fresh and fulfilling.

What motivates you to go to your job everyday?

Shawn Outler: My motivation is really about the business and the customer. At this level, it’s a little bigger than just me. It’s about my team and how they grow, how they create new strategies, how we put them into action and how those strategies ultimately land on the floor to better serve our customers.

I get a kick out of finding a new resource and new opportunities and really going through the process of solidifying a deal that is advantageous for us, the other party involved, and our customers. I just get a thrill from creating new business and opportunities and seeing those come to life.

With career success comes increase in salary—if you’re smart and strategic—and that topic was brought up tonight. How can women “lean in” in terms of financial fitness and freedom?

My father always told me that I had to have a plan. From the very beginning, I had to have a plan for my life—and that includes one for my money.

No matter how much money you make, you really have to always manage appropriately, put some to the side and make sure you’re using it wisely.

My father would always ask, ‘At the end of the day, who do you want to be, and how do you want to get there?” I really took that to heart, and watching him do the same, it was really instilled in my sisters and I. From a very early start, I had a 401K and I always put money aside. It didn’t matter how much I was making, I knew it was important to save. That helps give you leverage and confidence so that, as you grow in your career and as an individual, you’ve got money in your back pocket and you’re not beholden to anyone. You can make decisions along the way that are really about what you want to do—not what you might be forced to do.

Many women love shopping, and some only see the in-store sales side (and employee discount perks) of employment in the industry. What are other opportunities out there, and how can women of color position themselves for those opportunities?

Yes, I think there are huge opportunities in the retail industry, and often, people of color only think of what happens in the store—the face-to-face with the customer. But there’s marketing, legal, merchandising, buying, planning, product development … there are so many other facets to the retail industry.

In terms of positioning, it’s great to take advantage of opportunities when companies visit campuses [if you're a student], and go to the career fairs to understand what’s out there. Also, it’s a good idea to get educated on the process of retail and the business behind it—the decision-making. Education is key.

I’m also on the board of BRAG, which offers internships and scholarships for high school and college students interested in the industry. It provides great exposure and a realistic view of the career options.

As a woman of power yourself, at the level of corporate success you’ve had, what are tips for mid-level to senior-level executives to advance and remain refreshed in their careers?

Early on, you figure out what you need to know and you master the task. Then, you move on to the people you need to know who are in the know. It’s really building a pipeline to those who have the information and to the influencers in your industry so that you understand what’s important.

Then, it’s getting yourself to the point where you are one of those people who creates strategy and creates ‘the know.’ It’s moving through that trajectory. That, to me, is what success looks like. Positioning yourself with the right people, being strategic and adding value is critical.

Now, for me, it’s about exposing myself to different people and networking—broadening my reach in the industry. There’s a lot I can offer and a lot I can learn from others. I’m very involved in what I do with the company as well as building the brand that is me. It’s important to have a combination of networks and contacts both within your organization and outside it, to bring fresh ideas and gain an understanding of what’s going on globally. I’m really about bringing freshness and newness.

What industry leaders inspire you? #SoundOff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

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