The LEAD Network welcomed its members to Düsseldorf on 6th & 7th October for workshops, interactive sessions and inspirational speakers on the topic of “Diversity Drives Innovation”. There were many rich opportunities for networking among the 185 participants coming from 15 countries and 38 companies.

This year’s two-day event was kicked off on the afternoon of the first day in the open office space of METRO GROUP’s Business Innovation division in Düsseldorf. Here, a “Paper Hackathon” was held, in which participants were asked to brainstorm new innovative solutions for the retail of tomorrow. The session also provided an introduction to the division and a general overview of retail innovation trends, highlighting how the retail sector is digitising, urbanising and being affected by a social shift, and that businesses will have to respond to this with agile, innovative solutions.

The event’s first evening featured a welcome cocktail and dinner event, at which Olaf Koch, Chairman of the Management Board of METRO GROUP, offered his insights into diversity and innovation from the perspective of his company. Owing to the changing business environment and customer preferences, METRO has had to change its mindset to stay relevant and continuously generate value. The company recognised that, in order to continue to create value for its customers, it had to inspire it teams, form a leadership culture that aims to grow people, develop leadership skills based on “people capabilities”, and have fun. Within this context, diversity can drive performance by including non-dominant perspectives.

The second day of this year’s event began with an introduction by Sharon Jeske, Executive Director of the LEAD Network. She reviewed the status quo of the network and highlights from a very successful year, and recapped the network’s solid growth since its inception in 2012, including its expansion internationally and at all levels within the retail sector.

In the first plenary presentation, Myriam Cohen-Welgryn of Mars Petcare & Food France related the story of her own path to business success with the title “dare to be yourself … to stay alive”. She pointed out that one’s professional persona all too commonly believes that it needs to be someone else and adapt itself in order to “fit in”, but that success and happiness in one’s career can only be achieved if one remains themselves. She stressed that companies require a diverse staff and leadership in order to remain resilient and successful.

The next presenter, Jan-Willem Dockheer of Albert Heijn To Go NL & Germany, provided an overview of his company’s business model, which is highlighted by a diversity of store formats and target groups according to location and even time of day. He pointed out that one-size-fits-all solutions are out of date and that convenience retail needs to move more flexibly and innovatively than in the past. Finally, he emphasised how deeper insight into business can be better achieved through professional development than through recruitment alone.

In the late morning and early afternoon, participants visited interactive break-out sessions that focused on more specific topics surrounding diversity in retail. The morning sessions included an introduction to the concept of the “business scrum” (Babak Zeini), a “boot camp” for women considering seeking spots on corporate boards (Andrea Abt), tips on how to be an effective mentor (Jewell Sparks), insight into what makes a female store manager successful (Sanja Jevđenijević) and honing one’s own leadership style by valuing one’s inner diversity (Myriam Cohen-Welgryn). The afternoon sessions focused, among others, on how to get the most out of a mentor-mentee relationship (Jewell Sparks) and how to tailor products to the needs of future consumers (Laura Schlehuber).

Participants then reconvened in the plenary hall for the afternoon sessions. In the first segment, Wendy Smith and Elaine Parr from Kellogg Europe discussed the significance of innovation in retail in emerging (non-OECD) markets. They highlighted in particular the growth of such markets and that these are maturing in a different way than Western countries. Women working in managerial positions in these countries need to be aware of the cultural norms that confront them. The speakers emphasised that success in business in these countries relies on a keen familiarity with the habits, rituals and behaviours of local consumers.

Anna Alex, Founder and Managing Director of the Berlin-based start-up OUTFITTERY, then took participants on a trip through the story of her company. Built upon the thought that consumers in the retail sector are becoming overwhelmed by the degree of choice in online retailing, she showed how the targeted curation of products to offer customers custom packages of goods will play an increasingly important role in retail. Based on her own experience, she emphasised that companies no longer have to hide the people and personalities behind their business, since today’s customer values this personal connection.

This year’s event was wrapped up with a session by Ginnie Roeglin and Sue Knowles from Costco Wholesale Corporation. They used the example of Costco’s very successful female leadership programme “Journeys” to show how diversity can drive innovation in the retail sector. This network now includes more than 12,000 members, an executive steering committee, hundreds of events worldwide every year and an ambassador in each warehouse. The programme has been able to realise a significant increase in the amount of women in managerial positions at the company. As a closing remark for the event, the presenters fittingly stated that “diversity is about counting heads, while inclusion is about making those heads count.”