Why Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake capped the ‘most challenging year’ with a new role

Katrina Lake, Stitch Fix, on Leadership next.
Courtesy of Stitch Fix

From the get-go, the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge challenge for companies around the globe. But things were that much more difficult to figure out for those that relied on employees at warehouses and factories, rather than those with mostly-at-their-desk workers. How do you keep people safe when they have to be in the same workspace?

“It really was the most challenging year of my leadership period,” says Katrina Lake, founder and CEO of online clothing company Stitch Fix. “There are so many dimensions across which we were seeing a huge amount of change.”

Stitch Fix has thousands of employees working in warehouses, packaging up the clothing picks by stylists as well as those consumers choose for themselves. “Suddenly, the norms and expectations around health and safety changed,” Lake says.

Lake joins Fortune’s Alan Murray and Ellen McGirt on this week’s episode of Leadership Next, a podcast about the changing rules of business leadership.

The company’s leadership team decided to help employees by offering more flexibility, including four weeks of paid time off, an employee relief fund, and a “specific fund for parents,” Lake says, “because childcare was such a challenge during the last year.”

Those changes are very much in line with Lake’s management style. As CEO, she’s pushed for pay equity and parental leave in the workplace; to offer more transparency at Stitch Fix; and to help fund entrepreneurs who may find it difficult to secure funding and mentorship.

Ultimately, all of those ideas also feed into Lake’s decision to step down as CEO and, instead, become the company’s executive chairperson (as well as an employee), so she can focus on its social impact and sustainability work. Stitch Fix president Elizabeth Spaulding will take over the company’s top management spot.

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