“Best-of” lists can seem ubiquitous and vapid.

But Best Buy Co. Inc.’s recent ranking by Forbes as one of the nation’s top employers for women was both noteworthy and decades in the making.

Fifteen years ago the culture at Richfield-based retailer was so male-centric that a high-ranking female manager convinced top executives that the old boys network had become a business liability.

Julie Gilbert created the Women’s Leadership Forum in 2003 to help women inside the company network with each other and improve their leadership skills.

Using the acronym of WOLF to describe the initiative, Gilbert reported getting jeered in hallways by howling men. Some men shut her out of business meetings and avoided her at work parties. Her ideas, then CEO Brad Anderson acknowledged, were “incredibly contentious” and also “brilliant.”

Within a few years of launching WOLF, the number of female Geek Squad agents had tripled, the number of female general managers had risen by 40 percent and turnover among women had slowed measurably.

The initiative has evolved into a women’s employee resource group that a few weeks ago drew 400 employees to its annual summit.

Best Buy’s newly tapped CEO Corie Barry is part of an expanding, yet still small, group of just 33 female leaders of Fortune 500 companies.

Her presence on Best Buy’s board of directors tipped the gender balance to seven women and six men.

Women also oversee Best Buy’s three main business groups: Kamy Scarlett leads the retail/store operation; Trish Walker is in charge of the home and services division; and Allison Peterson heads up e-commerce and BestBuy.com.

The company has on-site childcare and recently expanded and renovated its mother’s rooms. A year ago, the company began offering up to four weeks of paid leave to bond with a child or care for a family member’s health condition.

Best Buy ranked No. 7 out of 300 companies on the Forbes list of most America’s best companies for women.

Other Minnesota companies named in the top 100 included the Mayo Clinic (14), Great Clips (17), General Mills (39), 3M (94) and Allianz (98).

Companies were ranked based on surveys from 60,000 U.S employees, including more than 40,000 women. Evaluations were based workers’ views on their corporation’s atmosphere and development, image, working conditions, wages and diversity.

Companies were also judged on parental leave, family support, workplace flexibility and pay equity.
Research partner Statista created an index based on the share of women who fill top executive or board positions.

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