by Genna Rosenberg, Principal at GennComm & WIT Executive Board Member
Whether you call them wonder women, girl heroes, girls action stars, or girls with power, each corner of the toy industry is filled with powerful women knocking down barriers, pushing through walls, and empowering those around them. They support, promote, and inspire each other through connections, purpose, and empowerment. Providing opportunities to women economically is smart business, and no one knows that better than this industry’s own superhero, Anne Marie Kehoe, vice president, toys at Walmart and recipient of the 2016 Women in Toys Retailer of the Year Award. She is a real-life action hero in the toy world, committed to providing opportunities for women-owned businesses at Walmart. The Toy Book recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kehoe and discuss the role women are playing in the toy industry, Walmart’s commitment to source from women-owned companies, and what it’s like to be a bonafide Wonder Woman.
Why is it important for Walmart to source from women-owned businesses?
The short answer is that empowering women economically is smart business. Our women’s empowerment work is a step forward in our commitment to help people live better and a defining issue for our business and the world. For Walmart, empowering women helps us better understand and serve our customers, find the best talent, and promote economic growth in the communities we serve. Walmart’s Women’s Economic Empowerment program has the potential to be a game-changer for women and for economic growth. By tapping its core competencies as a global retailer, Walmart will empower more women to access markets and develop careers in the global supply chain, transforming their lives and the lives of their families.
Through its Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, Walmart is paving the way for women-owned companies. How do toys and WIT fit into the overall mission?
Through Walmart’s Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, we’ve set goals and we are taking practical steps to help change the lives of countless women around the world. We are committed to sourcing $20 billion from women-owned businesses for our U.S. business and double sourcing from women suppliers in international countries where we do business. Additionally, we have set goals to empower nearly 1 million women through training and promote diversity and inclusion representation within our suppliers.
Through its annual Empowerment Day held each year at the Dallas Toy Fair, WIT has been an incredible pipeline to women-owned business leaders. Our buyers are able to network with companies they may not have access to, and manufacturers can pitch their products to Walmart, participate in learning sessions and panels, and empower women to reach their goals. WIT is an important partner in this endeavor, and the event works as a two-way street. WIT members provide us with a robust pipeline to mine for new and innovative products we can provide to our consumers, and we provide WIT members an opportunity to meet with buying teams to which they may not normally have access.
What does it mean to be recognized as a WIT Wonder Woman?
It was really an honor to be recognized. But with the honor comes great responsibility, which I take very seriously. Throughout my career, I’ve strived to create pathways for women from all areas and WIT gives me an opportunity to do just that. I strongly believe in WIT’s objective—and am a member of the Empowerment Committee and advisory board. I am committed to the organization’s mission of providing a collaborative, supportive environment and unparalleled opportunities that foster relationship building and innovation, all designed to help them advance women in their careers and succeed in business.
What is the story behind the “Women Owned” logo that Walmart helped develop?
Women are our biggest customer base by far, and when given the opportunity, many women will buy from women-owned companies. In partnership with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and WEConnect International, we developed the “Women Owned” logo to help customers easily identify products made by women-owned businesses sold through any retailer, not just Walmart. All women-owned businesses that are WBENC and/or WEConnect certified are eligible to display the logo on their product packaging.
Can you give an example of a success story that came as a result of Walmart’s Women Economic Empowerment initiative?
During the very first WIT Women Empowerment Day, our buyers met Jodi Norgaard from Dream Big Toys. She had a line of dolls, books, and apps called Go, Go Sports Girls that promote self-appreciation and healthy life skills. When our team met with Norgaard, we saw something unique and wanted more, so we gave her some suggestions and agreed to a test in 50 stores. Within two years, her product was in 162 stores and we are proud to provide her products, which support creative play and social-emotional growth through sport, and encourage girls to dream big.
In another example, we are currently selling doll clothes made by apparel merchandising students from the University of Arkansas. A few years ago, through our Women’s Empowerment Initiative, we reached out to students at Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences at the University of Arkansas to design a doll clothing line for My Life As dolls in Walmart. The program allows students to interact directly with professionals in the apparel industry, build their resumes and portfolios with hands-on experiences, and showcase their work in a national retail arena.
What’s next for Walmart and its Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative?
As a company, we don’t believe that we have to choose between being a successful business and a responsible one. We have a model for making a difference that works. And when we combine the Walmart model with women’s empowerment, we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference on the big challenges facing our world.