LAVAL, Quebec — Across the convenience channel, retailers are in different stages of their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journeys. Some are still figuring out where to start, while others like Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. are further along.
For Laval-based Couche-Tard, the parent company of the global Circle K brand, its DEI journey started with having "open and sometimes uncomfortable conversations" with its teams, according to Letty George, director of global communications and a D&I advisor to the company's Executive Council for Diversity & Inclusion.
"Engaging with our frontline store team members is vital in our industry, and we continue to share best practices on how we can continue to improve in this area," George said.
Elisa Goria, global lead for dispensed beverages at Couche-Tard and D&I advisor to its Executive Council for Diversity & Inclusion, added that the organization's team members are the heart of the company.
"Our people are the foundation of our business and by working to create a culture where everyone is valued and can bring their whole authentic self to work every day, we strive to develop highly engaged teams while maximizing the potential of our team members," she explained.
"We want to build a strong and diverse bench of leaders who reflect the customers and communities where we work and live," Goria continued. "We also know that an inclusive culture brings various perspectives, driving innovation and leading to better decisions that move the business forward and strengthen our growth."
To that end, Couche-Tard formed its Women's Council approximately four years ago and over the past two years, it's pushed beyond the question of gender equity to other underrepresented minorities with the formation of five more business resource groups (BRGs): Race; Culture & Ethnicity in both Europe and the United States; Disability Inclusion; and LGBTQ+.
"We aim to turn courageous conversations into measurable action, driving change and building a more equitable workplace that reflects the diversity of our team members and customers," George said.
A DEI Vision
Couche-Tard has made no secret of its goals to work toward equity in opportunity, representation and pay. As Goria noted, the company is committed to a workplace where all team members feel safe, respected, and able to develop their full potential.
"And our aim is that our people and management teams better represent the diverse communities where we work and operate," she added.
DEI is a shared responsibility across Couche-Tard. The company does not have a DEI department or a titled leader, preferring instead to adopt an "It takes a village" approach.
With that in mind, the company encourages its BRG members to come from all corners of the global network, including its stores, operations, IT, global fuels, marketing, finance, and more.
To date, the organization has achieved several DEI accomplishments:
Holding DEI townhalls where team members across the globe can engage and gain insight into the company's commitment;
Adding diversity and inclusion as the fifth pillar in its sustainability work;
Highlighting its business resource groups and team members from underrepresented minorities;
Establishing educational leadership programs for its U.S. Black team members and looking into similar opportunities for other BRG groups; and
Making DEI an integral part of the conversation and processes, from hiring to training to career development and operations across the organization.
In addition, earlier this year, Couche-Tard launched a leadership development program in the U.S. dedicated to accelerating and developing minority managers through a collaboration with CALIBR, a strategic talent development partner devoted to preparing black mid-level and senior talent for leadership roles through cutting-edge training, coaching, and custom workshops.
The company is also creating a formal mentorship program, which it believes will be beneficial to all employees, including the career growth of underrepresented groups.
"We know that change doesn't happen overnight, but these initiatives are part of our journey of creating an environment where our minority team members can grow and bring their authentic selves to work," George said. "We want to create a pipeline for developing diverse talent as we work toward our D&I ambition of equity. And we will continue to research further partnerships and growth opportunities for all our underrepresented groups."
Couche-Tard currently operates in 26 countries and territories with more than 14,100 stores, of which approximately 10,800 offer road transportation fuel. With its well-known Couche-Tard and Circle K banners, it is one of the largest independent convenience store operators in the U.S. and a leader in the c-store industry and road transportation fuel retail in Canada, Scandinavia, the Baltics, as well as in Ireland. The company also has an important presence in Poland and Hong Kong.