CHICAGO — It takes more than one supportive leader to turn an average company into one with a truly equitable work environment that provides women with the support and opportunities they need to thrive in their careers. To truly become a top workplace for women, companies need buy-in at multiple levels and must back up their commitment with action.
Three female leaders came together to discuss this topic during a recent webinar, "TWIC Talk: The Makings of a Top Workplace for Women," presented by Convenience Store News and Altria Group Distribution Co.
The webinar was offered as part of CSNews'Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) program and The Convenience Inclusion Initiative, a CSNews platform that champions a modern-day convenience store industry where current and emerging leaders foster an inclusive work culture that celebrates differences, allows team members to bring their whole selves to work, and enables companies to benefit from diversity of thought and backgrounds.
Talking and listening are a big part of creating a top workplace for women, according to Ericka Ayles, chief financial officer at Yesway, winner of the 2023 Top Women in Convenience Corporate Empowerment Award.
"Here at Yesway we've taken probably a less prescribed approach to women's empowerment, meaning that we want folks to have good conversation about who's at the table," said Ayles, a Woman of the Year honoree in the 2021 TWIC Awards. "Oftentimes, you'll see in many of our meetings, we have folks that are anywhere from entry level to the C-suite. So, it's really about giving people an opportunity to learn here, find that mentor and find their place."
Backing up words with action to create a company culture and atmosphere where people trust that they will be heard without penalty is also a necessity.
"Our culture is extremely important, and our employee engagement here at Sheetz and our culture is really founded in respect," said Erin Matosziuk, assistant vice president of talent at Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. and a 2022 TWIC winner in the Rising Stars category. "[That] involves listening, making sure that women have a voice at the table, and really creating that culture of inclusivity where you can bring your whole self to work."
The company also focuses on "psychological safety," which enables people to share their opinions even if it differs from the opinions or perspectives of others.
Kelly Bucher, director of technology planning at Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores Inc., pointed out that supporting women in the workplace doesn't mean supporting them in just one role, or even just one branch of the business.
"I think one thing that's been really exciting at Casey's is looking at the opportunities throughout the organization for our team and giving team members the opportunities to work in areas that they maybe traditionally didn't think would follow their career path," she said. "I started in internal audit and today my life is in technology."
Offering benefits such as paid parental leave and daycare is a huge plus. While all employees can get something out of these benefits, they are particularly beneficial to women, who tend to disproportionately take on caregiving duties.
Advancing Women's Careers
Having an openness to differing perspectives and career paths can help companies create specific advancement opportunities for women.
At Casey's, in-store team members have the opportunity to come into the Store Support Center in a variety of roles, while team members at the retailer's distribution centers may seek out jobs in its field operations team. This provides an opportunity to take one's existing knowledge and apply it to other areas of the company, Bucher explained.
Casey's also has resource groups that give team members the opportunity to take on a leadership role in a non-risk environment. They can grow associated skills, get feedback from their teams and take what they've learned into a leadership role within their career.
Ayles encourages companies to educate supervisors and department heads to make sure they understand the culture they are helping to build, and actively seek out future leaders.
"Go out and find those folks. Let's identify them and figure out for those specific individuals, what is it that they need to succeed? Sometimes, it's just as simple as being told that 'we think you have something here, we think you're ready to grow.' That, sometimes, is just enough confidence booster for somebody to believe in themselves, but really it's about us finding that talent," she said.
Building career development programs that start with the store-level workforce provides a natural opportunity for career progression, but Sheetz also makes it a priority to assist the sometimes-overlooked midlevel leaders.
"We have a women's leadership program that is for our mid-career women leaders who maybe have reached a point where they feel like they're stalling out in their career," Matosziuk explained. "And so, it's really focused around how do they create their personal brand, how do they build their confidence, and having really great critical conversations with peers and leaders across the company. It's really rooted in a lot of vulnerability and it's been extremely successful for us. We have a waiting list of female leaders wanting to get into the program."
Companies should also consider creating mentorship programs or investing further in ones that already exist.
"I think one of the things that makes it challenging is that the c-store environment had previously been very male dominated," Bucher said, emphasizing the value of "having that sense of community and belonging that you feel like there's someone in your corner and that you can truly go to them and have conversations, look for guidance, and have them guide you along your journey."
"I am a firm believer in the right balance between leaning in as women and feeling that self-worth, that my career is just important if not more important than my husband's career," Ayles added. "And so, I think sometimes it's finding that right support for women that are earlier in their career trajectory and showing them that we believe in you. We think that you have a long way to go here."
A replay of "TWIC Talk: The Makings of a Top Workplace for Women" is available here.