We've joined up with four HERproject brands as part of a campaign to promote and accelerate leadership for and by women. As part of this, we asked Jen Jackson Brown, President, Nordstrom Product Group, for her experiences of and views on this topic.
How long have you been in your current role?
I currently support our Nordstrom Product Group, which encompasses our 40+ private label brands available in more than 100 different departments across our full and off-price stores and websites. I've been in my role for two-and-a-half years, though my entire 27-year career has been with Nordstrom. I joined the company as a salesperson in Los Angeles right after graduating from college. What has kept me here so long is the people. I've found our people operate with a high degree of integrity and I've been given the flexibility and autonomy to own my career and essentially be a shopkeeper. We have a deeply-rooted sense of entrepreneurial spirit and that mentality resonates with me and has allowed me to build a successful and rewarding career.
What does your day look like?
Every morning, I connect with my teams at their morning huddles. By mid-morning I have connected with the entire organization and know the state of the business for the day. Mid-day is devoted to meetings and at the end of the day, my core leadership team sits together to discuss and work through anything we have coming up. At the end of that, I take time to reflect on my day: what went well, what needs attention tomorrow.
I used to have a traditional corner office with windows, but I'm an introvert, so I found myself hiding in there and felt I wasn’t as in touch with my team as I needed to be. So I moved my desk in the center of the floor to get out with my teams more often. The majority of my extended leadership team has done the same—they've moved out of their offices so we now have a lot more "we" space as opposed to "me" space for the team to use.
What do you like most about your work?
My favorite aspect of my job is the fact I get to work with a lot of different types of talent—each with their own creativity. From design to fit and technical design, social responsibility and supply chain, there are a lot of types of talented people on our team, which means every day I can learn something new.
What I aspire to do is allow the people who are closest to the work make the decisions that they believe are best for our business. I find they are the ones who often know the best ways to get things done, and they have creative ideas around how we can move our business forward. As a leader, I believe we are all better served when the majority of ideas come from the team itself. So far, that's proven to be true: the best ideas we've had have come from someone other than me or my core leadership group.
How have you progressed into a leadership role?
We have a strong “promote from within” culture, so I was able to progress down the ladder to a variety of roles throughout Nordstrom (we have an inverted pyramid structure, where the customer is at the top and our leaders are at the bottom). I was a salesperson, assistant department manager, a buyer, then a leader who managed a team of buyers, followed by a product development role within our private label group. There, I learned a lot about all aspects of the product development process, from design to sourcing.
After being with NPG for several years, I was offered a leadership role in our merchandising group. The role stretched me to develop new leadership experiences, which proved to be invaluable. I was fortunate to have the support of a company that allows its employees a certain degree of room to get there on their own; acknowledging struggle is an important part of the journey. I'm tenacious and wouldn't give up and was ultimately able to be successful. It showed me the value that comes from being pushed outside of your comfort zone.
What does it mean to you to be a leader?
As a leader, my role here is to create the vision, provide hope, and give clarity on our path forward.
I've found that being a leader is a balancing act between being okay with the fact you're imperfect while also trying to always set an example. Both things are always true for any person. So you need to find how to give yourself a break on the one hand, because nobody's perfect, but also be committed to being the best you can be.
What is your advice to women who are progressing into leadership roles?
The advice I'd offer is for anyone new to a leadership role. Find your unique gifts and then get going. Don't be afraid to express what you're good at in every opportunity made available to you. Surround yourself with people who are different from you—don't allow yourself to just be attracted to people who are similar to yourself, your experiences and perspectives.
What drives your commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality?
I think being passionate about this topic is a little bit easier for me because I am a woman, but also because I am a leader who doesn't see a lot of other women doing the type of work I'm doing right now. As a company, close to 70% of our employees are women. We also know women make up the majority of our customers and the world’s factory workers. It’s the reality of the business we’re in, and a commitment to empowerment and equality is simply the right thing to do.
What drives your brand’s commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality?
At Nordstrom, we value the richness diversity brings to our workforce—it makes our company better and the communities we serve stronger. We’re committed to reflecting diversity across our business. We believe diversity fosters innovation, enables us to better serve our customers and strengthens our ability to attract and retain top talent. We view gender equality as a human right and are committed to respecting human rights throughout our business.
Can you give an example of how your brand is trying to lead on women’s empowerment?
Nordstrom is committed to offering our customers a selection of products they can feel good about. We work closely with factories that make our NPG brands to ensure they’re meeting our guidelines to create a safe and healthy workplace for the women and men who work there.
Since 2007, Nordstrom has partnered with BSR’s HERproject to launch worker empowerment programs in 27 factories around the world, reaching more than 18,000 workers through a peer-educator model. The programs are focused on topics like health and financial literacy. Women also learn communication and leadership skills to help them reach new opportunities within the factory.
In addition to directly supporting women who work in factories, these programs have a ripple effect that benefit workers’ families and their communities. Factory managers have also reported benefits to their business, with reduced absenteeism and worker turnover as a result of the program.
As we look at where we are today and where we want to be in the future, this is an area that's a high priority for us, and we know it matters a lot to our customers as well. We're in the process of finalizing a new, ambitious goal for women's empowerment in our NPG supply chains, with the aim of giving women the tools and skills they need to become leaders in their organizations so they can make real progress in their careers and lives.
Beyond NPG, Nordstrom is working across the business to better reflect the diversity we see in our communities—from employee recruitment to our own marketing efforts. We’ve launched employee resource groups that aim to connect individuals around given topics, including a group focused on supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.