There is no doubt that being a mama is a powerful thing, and being an executive (and a mama) at one of the world’s biggest fashion brands is no small feat. When we set our sights on launching heymama San Francisco, we looked at the companies that called the City by the Bay home. Old Navy, a Gap Inc. brand, was at the top of the list. Co-founded by Doris Fisher in 1969, the company prides itself on having created a welcoming and supportive environment for working mamas.
We sat down with four women on the executive team (65% of their Leadership Team – VP and above – are female! Yaaas.) to get the inside scoop on their new Power Jean and how they’re celebrating the latest product launch with a series of initiatives to recognize powerful women throughout history. These four #hipowered women graciously shared their favorite things about working for Old Navy, their supportive teams and advice for new mamas heading back to work. Read on…
Ladies, we are blown away by the warmth and camaraderie amongst all of you. How do you feel Old Navy promotes collaboration over competition within the company?
Loretta Choy, SVP/GM of Adult Merchandising: I believe everyone recognizes that power comes from team effort. When we are clear on our goals, we work together to deliver. We recognize and respect the expertise each individual brings to the table, and are open to explore ideas from our partners. We appreciate “fresh eyes” when solving issues, and egos are checked at the door.
Jamie Gersch, CMO: As a company co-founded by a woman, (Doris Fisher back in 1969), respect for women is embedded in our DNA. This innate value naturally promotes supporting one another; our culture would not have it any other way. This has bred an environment of many working moms who share stories, boost each other up and support one another both professionally and personally.
Knowledge makes me feel powerful! The more I learn and understand, the more impactful I can be.
Julie Luker, Director of Brand Engagement
In 2014 you were first recognized as the first Fortune 500 company to give equal pay to both men and women and you’ve continued to validate this incredible fact for the past 4 consecutive years. What other ways is working at Old Navy different from working at other companies?
Julie Luker, Director of Brand Engagement: Old Navy is a company that truly walks the walk and lives its values. We make fashion for the people, and everyone is invited into our brand and into our stores. The message of inclusion is a core brand value that permeates everything we do – from our inclusive sizing to our diverse marketing campaigns.
Loretta Choy: We do our best to operate with transparency. Conversations are honest and teams make a concerted effort to ensure information is shared. We are also working aggressively to address any issues highlighted in employee surveys. An example, when we learned that our teams were struggling to find the right career development resources, our learning and development teams prioritized tools for the organization. I believe we are a supportive organization.
Jamie Gersch: It is incredible that we have been recognized for our pay equity for four consecutive years. It’s also inspiring to see how many women we have at the leadership team level. Out of Gap Inc.’s four global brands, we have two women CEOs. And at Old Navy specifically, 65% of our Leadership Team (VP and above) are female. The fact that we have so many women in these positions helps create an environment where we encourage and support women to thrive in their careers.
There’s nothing more powerful than supporting fellow working mamas… I love sharing REAL experiences, especially the stories that aren’t very glamorous.
Melissa Caminiti, Director of Visual Merchandising-Adult Divisions
Many mothers find it hard to come back to office life after having a baby, yet at Old Navy, 77% of your global employees are female and 65% of your team at a VP level and above are female. This sounds like an inviting environment for mamas to come back to! Tell us more about how the company makes this transition easier for new mamas.
Melissa Caminiti, Director of Visual Merchandising-Adult Divisions: We have a lot of clean, comfy rooms for pumping available at all times of day for maximum flexibility to fit our busy schedules with separate mini refrigerators. There’s also just a culture of encouragement. We had two mamas return from mat leave today and they were showered with cards, flowers and genuine love. It’s so important to show support-that first day back is so overwhelming and emotional it’s incredibly important to show your support.
Loretta Choy: We encourage returning moms to connect with their boss to create a plan. Many, like the idea of a “soft” transition – essentially easing from part-time hours back to full-time hours. We also do our best to remain flexible with hours. Some mamas start their days at 7:30am, others start at 9:30am. It’s up to you to define what works for your personal circumstances.
The ability to navigate through each day seeing smiles on peoples’ faces (at work and at home) – knowing that they are feeling challenged, supported, trusted – and having fun.
Loretta Choy, SVP/GM Adult Divisions
What’s the one nugget of wisdom you share with your mama friends when they are heading back to work after their first baby?
Julie Luker: Be kind to yourself! Going back to work is a massive change of pace following maternity leave, and it takes a while to get back into the swing of things. There are a lot of ambivalent feelings to reconcile – the thrill of working your brain again coupled with the sadness of being away from your baby. My new life coach, the pint-size animated sage Daniel Tiger, has some great advice: “Sometimes you feel two feelings at the same time, and that’s ok.”
Loretta Choy: I recommend setting expectations and boundaries with your boss. Then, sharing the agreements with your peers and direct reports. Clarity and communication are key.
Using my influence and power to inspire more young women and young moms to follow their career goals is a great feeling!
Jamie Gersch, CMO
Old Navy has an incredible partnership with Boys & Girls Clubs of America through your ONward! initiative, which focuses on turning learners into leaders, that led your company to be named one of the Best Places to Work for Giving Back by Fortune Magazine. Your last campaign for this initiative during Black Friday resulted in you donating over $1 million to the program. What has your involvement been like and what can we expect next?
Jamie Gersch: In the same way female empowerment and leadership are part of our DNA, giving back is an equally as strong brand tenant. When I came back to Old Navy in 2016, I realized we weren’t correctly focusing our efforts and communicating to our customers what we stand for. We developed ONward! to focus our giving and shine a light on what we believe in and what our customers care about — developing the youth in America. Last year we were able to give $2 million dollars to Boys & Girls Clubs, and our field donated a record number of volunteer hours- 175,000 – in their local communities. This year we will continue to build on this momentum and develop more ongoing programs to showcase the power of the programs we invest in, along with the dedication our employees have to the cause. Keep your eyes out—it is going to be delivered in a fun, “only Old Navy” way!
Melissa Caminiti: I’ve participated in filling backpacks with supplies and writing cards to kids for back to school which is pretty cool. I got emotional writing my note; I couldn’t fit enough words of encouragement on one tiny little card!
We all talk about finding balance in our work and home life. Do you have any life hacks (apps, programs, mantras) that help keep things flowing?
Melissa Caminiti: I’ve started some amazing small support groups with fellow moms from all over the world on Instagram. I have three separate groups, and we chat every day. We video each other sans makeup about real life stuff and talk about our experiences. One mama is currently suffering from postpartum depression, and our group chats have been a great outlet for her where she knows she can be honest and unafraid about how she’s feeling.
Loretta Choy: Find time to unplug. I set time daily where no one in our household is allowed to use devices (6:30pm – 9pm). This means I have two hours of uninterrupted time with my family – we talk, play games, dance then get ready for bed time which always ends with reading. I have 30 mins with my husband once kiddos go to bed. I recommend you find a family activity that everyone enjoys. I’ve been skiing most weekends with my family and we are enjoying full days of physical and mental activity (clears my head), in the great outdoors, without devices.
Who do you look to for inspiration for career? Motherhood? Lifestyle?
Loretta Choy: My mother has always been my inspiration. My father was in a car accident when I was in high school which left him unable to continue working. My mother was the sole bread winner for our family (six total plus a dog). She had her own men’s sports wear company – my sisters (3) and I assisted her on the weekends (office work, sketching, comp shopping). My mother had exceptional style, she loved new experiences (food, travel, music), and was obsessed with playing tennis (although she was terrible).
Jamie Gersch: Over the years at Gap Inc. I have worked for so many incredible women. And while they all approached being a working mom in their unique way, each provided me with inspiration along the way. Most importantly, it was so good for me to see these #hipowered career women integrate their kids into their lives – bringing them to work occasionally or leaving a meeting to make a game or performance. They showed me it was possible to both be a hands-on parent and have a fulfilling career. I committed to that path early on, and it continues to guide me today.
Do you have any funny (or not so funny!) stories from making the transition from maternity leave back to work?
Julie Luker: Since I live in the ‘burbs and take the Bay Bridge into work, I have a electric car which allows me to drive in the HOV lane and cuts down dramatically on my commute. I have to be religious about plugging it in every night, and my first week back, I was out of my routine and forgot. I didn’t realize my error until I was on the freeway with my car about to conk out. I managed to navigate to a grocery store parking lot somewhere deep in Oakland, while I waited, and waited, for my car to charge up! #workingmomfail
Melissa Caminiti: Not really one story but more just the general story of pumping at work and the mad shuffle of remembering supplies, getting to the room in time (before you lose your mind and it’s been too many hours since you last pumped). It’s so stressful and unimaginable unless you’ve done it. I remember there was a white board in the room I would always pump in and someone wrote a quote by Tina Fey and it was so meaningful and encouraging. “You go through big chunks of time where you’re just thinking, ‘This is impossible—oh, this is impossible.’ And then you just keep going and keep going, and you sort of do the impossible.”
Loretta Choy: I was asked to take a short trip to LA with my team shortly after returning to work with my first child. We were running late for our return flight and didn’t want to miss the flight. Everyone was scrambling to get bags out of the car and to race through security. My (male) boss mistakenly grabbed one of my bags and went through security. He was stopped by TSA and asked if he was carrying liquids. When he answered “no”, they asked what was in the small black bag. We both suddenly realized he grabbed my bag with breast milk. That was a true team bonding moment.