Alice Bedwell
Alice Bedwell
Posted 08 March 2024

Retail’s Leading Women: AMA with Christy Schrader

For International Women’s Day 2024, we interviewed leading women in the retail marketing industry to spotlight their experiences, hear their learnings, and help aspiring leaders get ahead.

This AMA (ask me anything) is with Christy Schrader, a retail industry veteran with extensive experience in 360 brand activation and customer experience development. A demonstrated leader in strategic marketing, brand positioning, community engagement, and accelerating commercial growth, Christy has worked for some of the world’s most influential brands including Airbnb, Amazon and Apple. With 17 years as Head of the Global Retail Marketing and Employee Engagement team at Apple, Christy was a growth catalyst in taking the Apple Stores from zero to 500 plus locations, zero to 14 Countries, and zero to $250B in revenue. 

Within her career, Christy’s also created high-performing teams all the while empowering customer-facing employees. As an empathetic and inclusive leader with high standards, Christy is well known for recruiting, mentoring, and developing world-class talent and fostering an environment where employees can do their best work. Let’s take a look at Christy’s learnings and milestones from her career so far.

Can you share the journey of how you started in the retail marketing industry and the key milestones that have defined your career path?

Surprising and delighting customers is part of my DNA. My love for customer service began by helping my mom in the small fashion boutique she owned doing odd jobs such as running the cash register, cleaning out fitting rooms, wrapping gifts and taking inventory. My mom believed that helping a customer find apparel that they felt beautiful in instilled confidence and joy. I saw that belief come to fruition for countless customers. She also taught me that all customers were welcome in her store and to never make assumptions, always be approachable and eager to assist. 

I continued working part-time in Retail servicing customers, most notably as a salesperson at Nordstrom where I was consistently a top seller, was selected to represent my High School on the Junior Fashion Board and began my career in Retail Marketing after College. Much of my success at Nordstrom was due to the values my Mom taught me combined with how Nordstrom empowers employees to ensure customers receive the best service, selection, quality and value. This experience led me to Apple, where I was one of the ground-up designers of the Apple Retail Store experience and led Global Retail Marketing and Employee Experience to become a pioneer in shaping the future of Retail. This has led me to today, where I’m just getting started leading Community Engagement for Airbnb Hosts.

I’m proud of my roots in customer care and how they’ve fueled my ability to create delightful experiences that build deep connections time and time again. 

As a woman in a leadership role, what challenges have you faced in the retail marketing sector, and how did you overcome them to achieve success? 

One of the biggest challenges I faced was being slow to recognize that I needed to be my own advocate for my career growth. I started in Retail, but then was working in Retail for a tech company which meant in the early days a highly competitive culture with a lot more men than women in leadership positions. My approach at the time was that my worth to the company, and therefore my career reward and recognition, would be seen through the quality of my work and the results that I delivered and leaders who knew me. My strategy was to show up in a positive, prepared, collaborative and expert way, deliver work that exceeded expectations, be a team player who lifts others up and does more than my share of the work, put forward innovative ideas and the path to flawless execution to bring them to life, live the culture and emulate the brand. With this strategy I assumed my value would be easily known. Promoting myself to leadership was not my style and naively, I did not have a lot of respect for those amongst my peers whose style it was. Until they got promoted before me. 

I learned quickly then that yes it’s all of the above and that I was the only one uniquely qualified to be my best advocate. By far the best person to share my own contributions, successes and strengths in a narrative that I wrote for myself and could fully own. I learned that it was ok when needed to say “I did this” vs. “We” and that I could do so absent of ego and politics and knowing I was advocating as my authentic self. 

Leaders move-on, orgs re-org, scope of work changes, business direction changes, vision and purpose evolve  – all of these things are typically outside of your control. Your own narrative of what you’ve accomplished, what you can do and where you deserve to get to is all yours to manage. 

Can you highlight a specific project or initiative that you are particularly proud of in your career, and how it has impacted the retail marketing industry?

At Apple, I had the privilege of being part of a small team whose goal was to design a retail store for everyone, a retail experience that met customers, and front-facing retail employees, where they were at with their use of technology and authentically enriched lives through every stage of the journey. I’m proud of what we built and how we innovated time and time again on the customers’ behalf. Today, Apple Retail continues to be centred around the same values and aspirations and the overall customer experience benefits as a result. 

Mentorship and support are crucial in professional growth. What advice would you give someone looking for the right mentor? 

I would advise someone looking for the right mentor to surround themselves with a community of mentors. For example, choose a mentor who is making a positive impact to the business and is an effective leader in the role/level you aspire to be in. Look for mentors in areas of the business you’ve identified as areas you could better partner with by understanding more about or that you might want to add to potential career pathing. I also have found it hugely helpful to have a mentor who I share a combination of personal and career aspirations with, in my case that’s around leading with empathy, inclusivity, humanity and work/life balance. 

What advice would you give someone who has just started out as a mentor?  

Emulate what was most helpful to you from your own mentors! I’ve been fortunate to have some incredible mentors – both male and female – who made huge impact on how I approached my career, personal life and leadership style. Their attributes of how they invested in me is the playbook for what I aspire to bring to others as a mentor. 

How do you approach balancing work and personal life in a demanding industry like retail marketing, and do you have any advice for other women striving to achieve this balance?

I’ve learned that you need to lead by example. In the early days of my career, it was perceived that changing your vacation dates, skipping that dinner engagement or only getting a few hours of sleep on a nightly basis was a sign of how dedicated you were to your job and the company. However, working harder does not necessarily translate to working smarter. 

Working smarter for me includes being able to step away from the business to refresh. I do so by filling my cup with the people and activities I love and knowing I’m doing my best for my family AND at work. When I get this balance right, I bring my best self (and often best ideas) to my work. More importantly, I set an example for my team by creating an environment where people are supported to work smarter themselves. There are big and little things a leader can do to set the right tone. For example, when I first had my son (he’s almost 13 now) I would work for a couple of hours very early in the morning so I could spend time with him when he woke up and before I headed to the office. I heard feedback that people were feeling pressured to respond to my emails during my “time zone” and as a result, I added a line that read “I’m working at a time that’s convenient to me, no response is expected outside your normal working hours”. 

Work and life balance takes setting and advocating for boundaries, while still being flexible, which is not always easy or well-received. But I’ve found more often than not, leaders today understand the value of getting the balance right and will be supportive the majority of the time and maybe even take a similar approach!

Three things: 

1. Network with peers, mentors and industry leaders.

2. Make time daily to read. I love staying up to date on emerging technologies, pop culture, service experience innovation and the Sunday New York Times. 

3. Engage with both younger and older generations.

Diversity and inclusion are essential in fostering innovation. How do you contribute to creating an inclusive culture in your team and the retail marketing industry as a whole?

I believe people are an organization’s greatest asset. I’m deeply committed to mentoring and creating career paths for others and creating a diverse and inclusive culture where everyone can feel they belong and excel – an environment where every individual feels recognized for the talent and perspective they contribute on a day-to-day basis. 

To do so, I actively listen for and address potential bias in the moment, use empathy to listen, exercise humility and seek to understand each individual’s perspective and goals, while being honest about my own blind spots,  identify gaps in the systems (recruiting, advertising, onboarding, career development) that may be working against an individual to feel they can bring their full selves to work,  and actively keep a growth mindset on ways we can all do this better together. 

Given your experience, what advice would you offer to young women aspiring to pursue a leadership role within the industry? 

I would advise young women to find a company culture with shared values that is run by leadership they admire. Great leaders attract and develop great people. Great leaders emulate and protect the culture the company promotes. Find a place your gut says you will thrive in, learn, contribute and do the work! When you are surrounded by people you are inspired by, leaders that want to see you grow and work you want to make a positive impact around – you’ve found the right place to excel.  And then, know where you want to go and be your own advocate in authentic ways to get what you need for career pathing and development to get there.

To hear from more inspiring women in the retail marketing industry, join us in London on 30th April 2024 at Ometria’s annual community conference: Lifecycle. Get your ticket here.

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