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11/13/2022

A Decade of Service: An Interview With WISE

As Women Impacting Store Brand Excellence celebrates 10 years, it looks forward to future growth and further enhancing diversity across private label.
Greg Sleter
Associate Publisher/Executive Editor
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In the decade since its founding, Women Impacting Storebrand Excellence (WISE) has continued to evolve as an organization, expanding its efforts beyond its initial focus of helping women find opportunities in the private label industry, to now promoting the broader topic of diversity.

With support from product suppliers and retailers, including one that does so with a high degree of anonymity, WISE’s focus during its first 10 years has been providing individuals and companies throughout the private label industry a host of needed services that includes professional development opportunities.

Now, as WISE embarks on the start of its second decade, its leadership is looking ahead to new opportunities and how it can meet the needs of its membership in a world that feels as if it’s changing daily now more than ever.

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Jen Linke (left) and Judy Clark (right)

Recently, Jen Linke, chair of WISE, and Judy Clark, vice chair of WISE, spoke with Store Brands about the organization’s first 10 years of service to the world of private label, how it has evolved over that time and how it continues to play a role in highlighting the importance of diversity that goes beyond gender.

STORE BRANDS: As WISE celebrates its 10th anniversary, what are your thoughts about this milestone?

 

JEN LINKE: We are proud to say that we have made it 10 years. There were never any questions about whether we would succeed and continue on, and today we are thriving. We have laid a strong foundation and I think we have a lot of opportunities in the future for the organization to thrive even further. I’m incredibly proud of what we have accomplished.

JUDY CLARK: Every year we continue to figure out ways to offer something new to our members as we continue to evolve with the private label industry. During the pandemic we continued to come up with unique ways to connect with our membership and support them at a time when most were working remotely and feeling a great deal of stress.

As we look ahead, we continue to offer a platform to drive diversity and to make sure everyone is welcome into our industry as we continue working to develop products that target the needs of today’s consumers.

SB: What led to the founding of WISE 10 years ago?

 

JL:I would like to share a story. Our founding is really the work of Peggy Davies (current president of the Private Label Manufacturers Association). She was at an event and when looking out at the audience she noticed that 50% was female and younger people. When she looked back at the panel of speakers,
that group was far less diverse. It was clear that many in the audience were not seeing people on the stage that looked like them.

It was clear that we needed young people, the future of our industry, to realize that they could have a really successful career in the store brands industry.

JC: And it’s important to note that while the organization was founded by women, it goes beyond women and is focused on all forms of diversity. We have a lot of younger men involved in WISE and also have people from many different ethnic backgrounds.

When I attended my first PLMA Trade Show in 2007, you would walk down an aisle and it was all gray-haired men. This is an industry that is made up of scrappy operators and the founding of WISE was always about educating people as they come into the industry.

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SB: Do you feel WISE has played a role in raising the profile of the private label industry?

 

JL: I think what we have done is continue to help bring more diversity into the industry, whether on the retail or manufacturer side. For suppliers, it’s important to think about how their brands can have an impact on diversity and how that impacts their business. I think a lot of what we are doing is bringing the aspect of diversity to private label and showing companies how they can benefit from it.

JC: For smaller companies, they often don’t have the resources to have a diversity officer to help push this issue and make sure their company is providing diversity training. WISE offers a place for small companies to leverage resources without having to add headcount. Human resource teams at companies are able to partner with WISE and take advantage of the resources we offer. We are also seeing some of the bigger players now have a greater focus on diversity that they
perhaps didn’t have five years ago.

SB: So the result has been WISE highlighting the discussion about diversity that goes beyond only gender but also is about race, age, etc.

 

JL: It’s really about diversity of thought. That is the key. We all have different backgrounds and having diversity of thought within any organization is so important. In any company, there are people in finance, operations, IT, etc., who each bring different perspectives to a conversation. It’s important to have all those voices in a conversation to make a product launch or new line more successful.

SB: As part of that diversity, how important was it for WISE to have me involved in the organization early on?

 

JL: While the word women is in our name and WISE was founded by women, I don’t think we ever intended to be just a women’s organization. We have had men on our board and on our volunteer committees since day one. They bring diversity to the organization.

It’s also interesting to hear men today talk about wanting to make sure their daughters are able to have access to good jobs after they graduate college. Honestly, whatever their motivation is to get involved with WISE is great, but then we have to make sure they stick around and continue to advocate for us.

JC: Our first meeting was attended largely by women and there were about 50 of us. By the second year, we knew we had to stick with it as there was a clear calling for an organization such as ours. The men in the room during our second meeting showed us we were doing the right thing and they wanted us to grow and enhance diversity as much as we knew we needed to do it as well.

SB: As you look ahead, what’s next for WISE?

 

JL: We will continue to offer strong professional development programs. That has been a strong foundation for us. This year, we launched our DEI learning series, and it was one of the most successful programs. We are looking to take that to another level in 2023. We are also looking at doing some type of summit next year that would be virtual and provide a few hours of training over a couple of days. And we are also focused on continuing to grow WISE. It’s important to remember that we are an all-volunteer organization and those involved also have full-time jobs in addition to the work they do for the organization.

Part of that growth effort is our junior board, which allows us to bring in younger people. They have been amazing and very active on a variety of our committees. The junior board is also part of our succession plan and allows us to stay diverse.

JC: We also want to increase our mentoring by looking for opportunities to bring together our senior and junior members for increased coaching. Our junior board is a great way for companies with young high-potential employees to gain more learning and exposure.

Plus, this keeps that young talent in the private label industry. They really are walking advertisements as to why store brands is a vibrant industry that offers employment opportunities for young professionals.