Go for it, panelists tell women in e-commerce

A workshop tells of big opportunity in e-commerce for women.

Mary Wagner

Four women online retail executives found a common thread in the career experiences they shared at a Women in E-Commerce evening workshop at IRCE—the industry offers plenty of opportunity for women, but they must pursue it actively and with a plan.

The workshop, sponsored by Internet Retailer and consulting firm FitforCommerce, drew an audience of about 70, mostly women. Bernardine Wu, co-founder of Women in E-Commerce and FitfForCommerce, lead the panel discussion.

“Develop a plan for yourself to learn outside of your organization,” said panelist Andrea Gulli, vice president for e-commerce at retailer New York & Co. “Don’t wait for your company to do this for you—manage your own opportunities.” Gulli also advised women working in e-commerce to expand their support networks. And, she added, “There is value in face-to-face communication.”

Panelist Shirley Tan, director of e-commerce at America Bridal.com, advised women developing careers in e-commerce to “think of yourself as a brand. Plan your growth as well as your company’s. Make sure you are not just promoting your company, but also yourself."

At the same time, she said, women should make themselves accessible to other women as they move up in their careers. “Be approachable,” she told the audience. “If women in the company are not willing to come to you, there may be a problem with you, not them, and you should be open to that.”

Panelist Esther Steinfeld said the biggest challenge she’s ever faced was mastering the technology she uses as marketing manager at Blinds.com, the company she joined three years ago after graduating from college. After studying journalism in college, Steinfeld found herself in “an environment that was all math and science” at the e-commerce company. And though directionally helpful, her supervisor, the company's chief marketing officer, expects performance that doesn't require hand-holding, she said.

Steinfeld said she’s trying to educate herself by reading articles, books and a wealth of information about technology and business available online.  “No one’s feeding me this information; I’m teaching myself," she said. "It just takes doing.”

Panelist Susan Aplin, CEO of online retailer Bambeco.com, recalled trying out for Little League Baseball at age eight. “You can do anything the big boys can do,” advised Aplin, who founded Bambeco after earlier positions at Williams-Sonoma, Staples and Arthur Anderson.

Aplin focused her talk on funding for women entrepreneurs building e-commerce start-ups, noting she’d once turned down an offer of millions in equity financing from an investor group that wanted to back her initial concept and brand. But the investment would have meant ceding management largely to the investor group, consisting of men. That, she feared, might move the brand away from her initial vision.

“Look at who you are getting involved with,” she told would-be entrepreneurs in the audience. “Make sure their values are aligned with yours.”


IRCE 2010, networking, women executives, women in e-commerce