Retail plays a role in diversifying the faces of public service

The Women’s Public Leadership Network National Summit highlighted opportunities for community connection
Director, Political Affairs
May 11, 2023

In April, the National Retail Federation sponsored for the second year in a row the annual Women’s Public Leadership Network National Summit in San Diego. The event brings together hundreds of people from across the country to hear from experts on policy and campaigns and learn how to better equip themselves to lead in their communities.

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“The retail industry is at the heart of every community across the country,” WPLN founder and President Larissa Martinez said. “It is so important to create opportunities for women who are considering running and those who are serving in public office to connect with retailers, understand the challenges they face, and work together to add value and support our communities.”

As part of the summit, attendees heard from Rachel Michelin, CEO of the California Retailers Association, about the importance of workforce development in the retail industry. Michelin has become a leading voice in the industry and in California, advocating for policies that promote economic growth and retail job creation.

Michelin highlighted the unique challenges facing retailers in today's economy. “When we talk about workforce development, part of the challenge is going to be thinking outside the box,” she said. Regarding the use of technology such as AI for advanced store checkout systems, she said groups such as labor unions might fear it will put individuals out of work, but “You have to change the dynamic,” she said.

“You have to think about how we bring technology into this. The retail industry wants to invest in people and train them to operate this technology.” 

Michelin emphasized the need for ongoing development programs that can help retail workers stay up to date with the latest technologies and trends.

“It is going to be an interesting dialogue over the next couple years, particularly as you talk about AI, technology, privacy, biometrics, and where that is going to lead us,” she said. Stressing the importance of valuing all jobs and individuals in the workforce, she said, “Every single path is important because every individual has their own path. Our members choose to invest in people.”

Michelin also highlighted the critical role that workforce development plays in the economy and how state legislators can support progress in the industry. “It is up to industries to educate and elected officials and regulators to think outside the box,” she said.

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Michelin said regulatory issues are her biggest challenge in the state: During the COVID-19 pandemic, California placed many regulations on small businesses that severely impacted their financial security. She continues to battle these regulations daily while advocating for the retail industry.

“If I really want something done in California, I go to a woman,” Michelin said. “The fatal flaw that we made was, we focused too much on women getting elected and appointed and we didn’t focus enough on getting women in key leadership positions within the state capital: chiefs of staff, committee consultants and leaders of business consultants.”

NRF was proud to partner with WPLN for the summit and will continue to work toward supporting the WPLN mission to educate, organize and inspire women to seek public office and become effective leaders.

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