I’ve been involved with the private label industry for more than 25 years. One thing I’ve always experienced is being either the only woman or one of a few women in the room.
I felt I needed to take some action and start a conversation about diversity in the store brands industry. I set out to determine if there was a need and business case to support some type of association for women and men within the store brands industry.
In October 2011, I sent a note to about 30 women to meet on the Sunday evening, in November, prior to the start of that year’s Private Label Manufacturers Association’s trade show. Twelve women attended ready to learn more. After a two-hour meeting, we had about 10 poster size boards full of notes, ideas and suggestions of what we could do. The reasons were so clear and written (literally) on the wall. That’s when I knew for sure we had to do this. What I never imagined is how these 12 women would turn the possibilities into reality in such a short time.
The women who came together to make this happen are different industries, locations and backgrounds. Each woman had her own unique and special role within the group. All are dedicating so much time and energy outside of their existing professional careers and personal commitments.
Everyone agreed that the store brands industry needed diversity in thought and leadership. The statistics show that gender diversity positively impacts business and financial performance, yet only 3.6% of Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs. We wanted to do something that would make a difference and create positive change in our industry.
At our next face-to-face meeting in May 2012, the possibilities started to turn into reality. We collectively agreed on our name: Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence (WISE). We also determined our mission, objectives, committees, kickoff event and so much more.
Total Access Blog: Women Get 'Wise' About Store Brands 
Our mission for this newly formed, non-profit professional development organization created and led by women, is to “foster diverse collaboration and provide leadership that drives the continued success of the store brands industry.” Our membership includes women and men from the store brands manufacturer, retailer, broker, and supplier community.
We could see the gaps in our experience. With that acknowledgement, a few more ladies were tapped on the shoulder to join the organization. With 15 people we could cover all the bases for the key committees: Events, Recruiting-Membership, Marketing, Communications, Finance, Strategic Goals, Partner Liaison and most importantly Professional Development.
From September through late October the momentum advanced. We registered as a non-profit organization. Business cards, show banner, rack cards, and a booth at the PLMA’s annual trade show were assembled. The very last days before the inaugural event, our website (womeninstorebrands.com), Facebook page and Twitter account launched.
One short year after that first gathering, our vision was realized. The long hours and hard work came to fulfillment with our official kickoff at the PLMA 2012 show. What an event! Speakers included Greg Baskin, director of Hormel Food Sales; and Molly McAdams, principal of Om3. Molly works with manufacturers and retailers to imagine “What’s Next?” and bring innovative products to reality.
PLMA 2012: WISE Convenes for First Meeting 
More than 120 store brands executives (male and female) representing retailers, manufacturers, brokers, and industry suppliers were in attendance. The passion in the room for the organization was palpable, and further demonstrated as we attained 10 corporate partners and more than 30 new members during the event and show.
The team is now focused on understanding the possibilities for WISE, including face-to-face meetings and webinars. A high percentage of companies are willing to be partners and members.
We are now working on our next event, to be held Feb. 27 at Hyatt O’Hare in conjunction with the Store Brands Decisions Innovation & Marketing Summit. WISE will hold a 90-minute presentation and workshop themed: “Fostering Growth Through Diversity.” Luke Visconti, CEO, DiversityInc. Media LLC; and Priscilla Wallace, founder and president, New Marketing Network, will discuss the latest research showing how gender diversity in top leadership roles positively impacts business and financial performance.
Future professional development topics will focus on Strategic Thinking, Art of Influence, Career Development and Negotiation Skills.
Moving ahead, WISE will hold its annual meetings at the PLMA show each November.
WISE has launched!