NATIONAL REPORT — For many companies, the first step in their diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) journey is an easy one: recognizing that DEI is both a societal good and something that will help the business improve performance by adding fresh perspectives and a wide variety of ideas.
A far harder step is answering the follow-up question: How will company leaders know whether their DEI efforts are effective or just paying lip service to a good idea?
For retailers that are used to crunching numbers and calculating profit margin to determine the success or failure of a new program or promotion, DEI initiatives may seem more difficult to evaluate than a profit and loss statement. However, several convenience store chains have launched numerous data-driven efforts to track DEI improvement.
"When we set out to improve category performance, we first need to understand the metrics we will be using, the current conditions of each category, and then set targets to achieve each goal. Measuring diversity is no different. What gets measured gets done," said Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer at Fort Worth, Texas-based Yesway, which operates more than 400 c-stores.
He pointed to analytics and transparency as drivers of improvement and change.
The same holds true for the industry's suppliers and distributors. Altria Group Distribution Co. tracks its DEI progress across aspirational "Aiming Points." These include being an inclusive place to work for all employees regardless of level, demographic group or work function; having an equal number of men and women among its vice presidents and directors; and increasing its vice presidents and directors who are Asian, Black, Hispanic or two or more races to at least 30 percent.
The Richmond, Va.-based company tracks its progress across dozens of different identities, operating companies and employee groups, and communicates its progress both internally and externally.
Another approach to DEI metrics is Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go LC's Inclusion Index, which rolled out in 2021 and enables the retailer to track its progress and monitor lagging indicators around such metrics as hires, retention and promotions.
Kum & Go's DEI plans for 2022 also called for the addition of regional networks to capture feedback and data points from store associates, helping the company monitor real-time scenarios.
At the same time, business leaders recognize there is significant value in less-quantifiable measures of progress, like simply listening to employees.
"We're constantly measuring representation and retention, and also understanding how our employees are feeling through frequent surveys and listening sessions," said Alicia Petross, chief diversity officer at Pennsylvania-based The Hershey Co. "Listening sessions have been a key driver of connection and policy in recent years."
Jumping Over DEI Hurdles
As they make plans to advance their initiatives, well-prepared DEI proponents are aware that they will have to overcome numerous challenges along the way.
Some of the biggest hurdles are practical ones. Heather Schott, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Krause Group, the parent company of Kum & Go, cited resourcing and the COVID-19 pandemic as among the company's biggest DEI challenges.
"We all are impacted when we can't get to know people that are 'othered' or dehumanized in this world. The way to accelerate change in DEI is to change the narrative from 'those people' to 'us.' That takes connections, relationship building and storytelling. When we are all so cut off from each other, it's hard to see past the negative," she said.
Other challenges exist regardless of the pandemic because they come from within. "One of the biggest challenges facing large organizations today is the fact that building equitable and inclusive environments with diverse workforces is not just about systems and processes, it's also about culture," said Larry Hughes, vice president of corporate human resources and DE&I at 7-Eleven Inc. "And no matter where you work, culture can be difficult to change."
Whatever metrics a company chooses to use to track progress, it should be prepared to measure for long-term improvement. Incorporating DEI is a journey, not something that can be easily achieved and then forgotten about. True DEI requires buy-in at all levels; letting it stop at one stage of the company will mean the journey goes unfinished.
Convenience Store News has launched an industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion, with underwriting support from Altria Group Distribution Co., The Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co. and WorkJam. The platform is designed to be a catalyst for discussion, innovation, engagement and action.