Even in retail, an industry that might more often be associated with women rather than men, women executives are hard to come by. But Kim Strong has navigated her way to the top, becoming Target’s first vice president with diversity inclusion in the title.
Strong stopped by SmartBrief’s offices this week to talk about her experiences as a woman in an executive leadership position. She recounted her career and the challenges she has faced along the way during, talking about her professional life and personal life and how they did (and sometimes did not) mesh.
Strong has been with Target for her whole career, starting out in operations and human resources for former Target division Marshall Field’s and eventually moving up to become director of human resources for Mervyn’s, another former Target division, vice president of human resources for Target’s southern stores and vice president of diversity and inclusion for all of Target, the position she currently holds.
In her role, Strong develops initiatives and programs for Target and works on making the retailer a diverse and inclusive organization. She said that the company uses representation, retention and reputation to measure its diversity efforts, and benchmarks those efforts to make sure people are all moving in the same direction.
Getting to the point where she was developing such efforts on a corporate level was Strong’s biggest challenge of her career, she said. Working with employees on the store level was very different from working with employees at Target’s headquarters because she had to shift to getting people with different positions to work together.
“I had to figure out how to motivate people differently,” she said. “When I just stopped worrying about it … I figured it out.”
On her personal journey rising through the ranks of Target, deciding to relocate from her hometown of Detroit to California with her son and husband was a major turning point. And during her experiences relocating for the company, it became a balancing act to juggle personal demands like getting her son enrolled in school and setting up new homes and professional demands.
“I thought I had to do it all,” she said.
In the end, Strong identified three key things that have helped her throughout her career and that are essential to promoting women leaders in general — saying that mentoring, making connections and engaged leaders all played an integral role in her career path.
Strong said that mentorship and connecting with people both within your organization and outside of it is key for women and professionals in general. At Target, employees are offered a formal mentoring program at every level down to the store cashier, and it is a robust process that has follow-up. The retailer also has a women’s business council that seeks to connect and engage women working for a common purpose.
Strong said she personally has one mentor outside of Target, three mentors within the company and what she called a “reverse mentor” — a 29-year-old who provides her with a different perspective on the industry and things like social media. She mentors five people and sponsors one. A key to mentorship, she said, is always saying yes to at least having conversations with people who are seeking to be mentored.
According to Strong, the No. 1 rule in the professional world is be nice to everyone, because you never know when someone you meet might make a repeat appearance in your career, and you always want to be in a position to use connections to your advantage. She said her mission is always to be a “hyper connector,” and she engages people within her own organization, at other organization and through social media.
One of the inclusion efforts she has worked on at Target has been focused employee groups. Strong said there are more than 110 networks for Target employees organized around things like running, scrapbooking and motherhood.
Strong said that engaged leaders who are interested in promoting women are essential to propelling women in leadership, particularly engaged male leaders.
“That’s 80% of the secret sauce right there,” she said.
At Target, “our best story is our women’s story,” according to Strong. The retailer’s corporate board is more than 33% women; 50% of executives reporting to the CEO are women; 67% of women have profit-and-loss responsibility; and the company as a whole is more than 48% female. All of that is because Target’s male CEO and other leaders have been engaged in promoting women’s leadership and mentorship.
And when it comes to areas where Target still has some work to do with diversity, such as supply chain, distribution and asset protection, Strong said the company ensures that the people involved have very focused conversations to make sure everyone is prepared and to make sure the environment is inclusive.
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