While the vast majority of corporate America fails to reach proper representation of women in senior leadership roles, Ascena Retail Group has impressive stats when it comes to women executives: 60 percent of the company’s board of directors are women, 61 percent of those in vice president roles and above are women, 71 percent of directors and above are women, and in its retail stores, 98 percent of store leaders are women.
But all that said, Ascena’s leadership team knew that it had the opportunity to maximize its development and representation of women throughout the organization. When Wendy Hufford joined Ascena in 2018, she knew she could leverage her past experience in leading and developing women’s resource groups to further that work. “I’m happy and honored to have the opportunity to continue this work at Ascena,” Hufford says.
After earning her JD from Yale Law School, Hufford started her legal career working for a federal judge and then as a litigation attorney prior to moving into the corporate world. Her first step into the retail world, however, came in the form of a vice president and senior litigation counsel role for GE Consumer Finance.
Before returning to the retail industry at Ascena, Hufford made stops in a variety of fields, from pharmaceutical distribution to global manufacturing. But the opportunity to return to retail—and move into her first general counsel role—was too good to pass up.
“It’s especially rewarding to work for a company where I’ve always been a customer. I have loved wearing their products for many years,” Hufford says. “I purchase apparel from Ann Taylor and LOFT, so I knew and appreciated their style and the high quality of their clothing.”
But more than the quality of the garments, Hufford was immediately drawn to the organization’s commitment to supporting women—both its customers and employees.
“As the mother of three daughters, I’m proud to work for a company whose mission is to provide all women and girls with fashion and inspiration for living confidently every day,” she says.
Though Ascena’s products may be very different from those of her past companies, such as Cardinal Health or Boehringer Ingelheim, Hufford is sure to take best practices and strategies from every stop along the way into her current work, particularly when it comes to furthering the company’s mission of supporting women in the workplace.
“The GE Women’s Network helped me develop as a leader and gave me the opportunity to meet other GE leaders when I was a younger attorney,” Hufford says. “I attribute some of my career growth at GE to having that opportunity to attend networking dinners and coaching sessions.”
So when she first joined Cardinal Health, Hufford saw the perfect opportunity to work with other female leaders to develop a new and much-needed women’s initiative network. “We created a steering committee and provided support to enable branches to start all across Cardinal Health, which is a very large organization,” she says. The Cardinal Health women’s initiative was a quick success and expanded rapidly in membership.
“My vision was to ensure that every woman had the skill, support, and exposure to succeed at the organization at every level, consistent with their aspirations,” Hufford says. “I was always passionate in my belief that everyone should have a fair opportunity to succeed if they worked hard and felt that corporate America had not yet made sufficient progress in giving opportunity to capable women.”
In addition to importing some of her best practices in the legal realm, Hufford immediately looked for ways she could influence Ascena toward even stronger female leadership representation. Still in its earliest stages, Ascena’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, women@ascena, utilizes executive sponsors (Hufford included) and other campus cochairs to empower all women at Ascena, and women in Ascena’s customer base, in the search for diverse perspectives and opportunities to elevate unique voices.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
The best advice I have been given was taught to me at a Senn Delaney Training Culture Building Class, where I was taught to “be here now” to increase personal effectiveness both at work and at home. This means that you should stay present and focused on the person you are interacting with rather than trying to multitask or be thinking of other things and not paying attention. This advice has helped me become a better listener and leader at work and a better parent and spouse at home.
“This new organization is just getting started, but I’m really excited about being able to work on another women’s initiative,” Hufford offers. The project has plans for community-based and career-based projects to inspire its members—efforts that she found essential in her own career development.
Drawing on her experience with leading women’s organizations at previous career stops, Hufford has been able to share key lessons that have helped define women@ascena’s launch and early activities. “Whether it’s for my own team or the women in this organization, constant development is very important,” she says. “You can’t just do your job. You have to keep trying to grow and broaden your skills.” As such, Hufford ensures that each member of her department has a development plan to guide their skills and address development needs.
Hufford also emphasizes the importance of working collaboratively with others in the process of learning as much as possible. “Trying new tasks under the supervision of someone with more experience is a great way to learn a new skill set in a safe environment,” she says.
In addition to a strong work ethic and the ability to adapt to change, Hufford counts strong mentors in her past as part of her success story—something she hopes that women@ascena can further offer to women in the organization. “Over the years, I’ve gotten better at figuring out how to prioritize my time at work and at home. I’ve learned to focus on putting the most important things first and also reaching out for help as needed,” she says.
Part of learning how to prioritize her time has included Hufford’s contributing some of those same skills to the board of the nonprofit organization Family Ties of Westchester. “I recently participated in a women’s retreat, which gave women who were caretakers for their families a chance to step away and think about their own aspirations and goals and how to better manage their lives,” she says. “I have found it very rewarding to help connect women and families to services that they need to help make their lives run more effectively.”
White & Case is proud to congratulate and support Wendy Hufford. Wendy is a master strategist and a true leader. It has been an honor and a privilege to work with her over the years.