Taking a Stand: Shoptalk’s Zia Daniell Wigder Explains the Bold Choice Creating Buzz About This Year’s Event

Founded in 2015, Shoptalk has exploded on the scene—becoming the fastest-growing event in retail history and providing a platform for large retailers and branded manufacturers, investors, startups, tech companies, analysts, and members of the media to learn, network, collaborate, and grow. The conference is reshaping how consumers discover, shop, and buy, and frankly, it’s a whole lot of fun.

This year’s event, held March 22–25 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, features 274 speakers who will discuss a wide range of technologies that retailers are leveraging, including artificial intelligence, chatbots, and voice-activated commerce; intimate speaker sessions; roundtables; dinners; one-on-one meetings; and an interactive exhibit hall.

Astound Insights had the opportunity to talk with Shoptalk Chief Global Content Officer Zia Daniell Wigder about the big news around the conference this year.

Astound: The dominant story this year is that Shoptalk has drawn a line in the sand by mandating an all-female speaker lineup for the 2020 conference. What drove that decision?

Wigder: We have tried to make sure that the number of female speakers increases every year. Before this year’s announcement, our goal certainly was parity, and we were moving rapidly in that direction. Still, we realized at some point that just achieving parity wasn’t going to be sufficient. We needed to take a bold step to move the industry forward, because despite all the great efforts—whether it be events that had gone to parity or other ways of bringing women into conferences—it just wasn’t having enough of an impact on the industry, and we did not see change happening fast enough.

Astound: Why 2020? Why this year?

Wigder: It’s going to be our fifth year, and we had been talking about what we could do to help promote women—a step that would move women forward in this industry. We discussed a variety of approaches we could take. We realized that if we went the direction we ultimately chose, it could potentially have a significant impact on the industry. It was good timing, with Shoptalk turning five and wanting to make a big statement about an issue that is very important to us.

Astound: And this happened after male speakers had been confirmed. Did you receive any pushback?

Wigder: We had surprisingly little pushback. We had more than 60 men confirmed for the event when we made this decision. We went back to them and said, “We will honor your free ticket to the event, we want to feature your company on the agenda, and we’d like to give you this opportunity to nominate the most senior woman possible to take your spot on stage.” In rare cases, they didn’t have someone that could do it. Still, overall we had a supportive group of men who felt we were doing the right thing and were glad to step aside, particularly given that this is not a long-term approach; it’s just something we’ll be doing for a single year before moving to a 50/50 lineup in future years.

At right: Shoptalk Chief Global Content Officer Zia Daniell Wigder, on stage during the 2019 event

Astound: Any target numbers around LGBTQ participation or other underrepresented groups?

Wigder: We want to ensure we have a diverse lineup in terms of having people of color and having the LGBTQ community represented. Diversity is an integral part of helping the industry become much more varied than it is today. And while we don’t have a quota or a set number, we’re trying to make sure we are mindful of all these different groups and that our speaker lineup represents a wide range of individuals.

Astound: Shoptalk has an impressive array of sponsors. How can they follow Shoptalk’s lead in helping support women in retail?

Wigder: We’ve called on both sponsors and speakers to think about what they, at their companies, can be doing to empower women within their organizations. There are different steps you can take. You can commit to having a certain percentage of female leadership. You can establish new mentoring programs. You can ensure that the numbers you do have, at every level of the organization, are diverse. Many companies start with a young workforce that is quite diverse, where they have a large percentage of women, but those numbers begin to dwindle over time. Then, as you start to see the more senior-level executives, there are fewer and fewer that are women.

Astound: Each year, Shoptalk offers new onsite initiatives. Last year you introduced Tabletalk, for example, which are interactive peer-to-peer roundtables, made up of five to eight attendees, that allow for in-depth discussions to share insights, address issues, and generate actionable takeaways that will help them drive their businesses forward. Will there be new initiatives at this year’s event?

Wigder: We do try to make sure we are bringing in new types of content every year and new ways for people to learn. This year we’re doing two different things. We’re going to be introducing Classroom Sessions, which are 20-minute sessions taught by a teacher or instructor—anyone from a leader at a brand or retailer to a market research analyst like someone from Forrester. Or it could be someone who comes from the investment side to talk about how they look at companies. We want to go deeper and get more hands-on and tactical than we might be able to do in our regular sessions.

Astound Commerce is a proud sponsor of Shoptalk 2020, which will be held at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, March 22–25, 2020. If you plan to attend, stop by Booth 3933 in the main exhibition hall and say hello!

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Alicia Lynch

Alicia Lynch is a senior writer on the Astound Insights team.

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