Working with the Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience Advisory Board has me reminiscing about my early career as the publisher of CSNews.
Attending the NACS Show and visiting chains big and small, I was fortunate to meet inspiring women leaders, including Sonja Hubbard of E-Z Mart, Jenny Bullard of Flash Foods, Kris Kingsbury of Rotten Robbie and Jennie Jones, now with S&D Coffee.
As young professionals in the c-store industry, we understood the innovation, customer service and hard work needed to excel in convenience retailing. We also understood what it was like to be one of just a few women in the room. (A room where the men often talked to each other about "expanding the customer base" and attracting working moms.)
Today’s industry leaders are more diverse. One of the most effective — Betsy Hosick of Chevron Corp. — serves as board chair of the Network of Executive Women (NEW). But despite these gains, outdated stereotypes and gender bias exist in too many corporate cultures.
C-store/petroleum headquarters remain among the most male-dominated in retail. It’s no coincidence most store operators' efforts to lure women beyond the gas pumps have fallen short.
Consider this: Women control 70 percent of household spending and make or influence 93 percent of all food purchases. Yet nearly 60 percent say food marketers don't understand them.
‘It's Time’ to Change That
The disconnect between female customers and the mostly male-led teams making the majority of merchandising, marketing and operations decisions couldn’t be clearer. Beyond this disconnect is a huge opportunity to grow sales and profits. Which is one reason why Network of Executive Women launched our "It's Time" movement for women's leadership and workplace change.
The advancement of women in the retail and consumer goods industry — including the c-store segment — has stalled. The reason is simple: We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. High-potential women do not need fixing. And guess what? The men don't either.
We need to change our corporate culture and workforce policies to create a more inclusive, flexible and collaborative workplace for everyone. This new workplace culture will attract and leverage the best talent — including millennials, now the nation's largest generation of workers and consumers. It will spur innovation and create the new products, services and store experiences needed to make c-stores a destination for today’s diverse customers.
Transforming the industry's leadership won't be easy. NEW has developed an action agenda that will help create a new corporate culture that advances women leaders, builds business and strengthens your workforce:
- Change the culture and the way we look at women, who are often viewed as either "too nice" or "too bossy."
- Change the organization to eliminate the countless subtle barriers to advancement, including a lack of role models, sponsors and access to senior leadership, and career paths and policies that favor men.
- Engage men and treat them as partners instead of problems to be fixed. We need to enroll men in this movement and turn them into mentors, sponsors and supporters of women.
- Engage senior leadership. The commitment of senior leadership is decisive. For example, at PepsiCo where top leaders have taken a strong stand on women in the workplace, 31 percent of U.S.-based executives are women and the company continues to work toward gender parity.
- Achieve critical mass. Too many organizations advance a few high-profile women and then rest on their laurels. To achieve the benefits of women’s leadership — and make these gains sustainable — organizations must have targets in place that advance women. What gets measured gets done, and what gets done must be tied to executive reviews and compensation.
NEW is doing its part by expanding our existing learning programs, events and research, adding infrastructure and outreach, and launching new leadership initiatives like the NEW Executive Institute, NEW Career Accelerator and NEW Rising Stars to help transform leaders at every level.
Now, it’s up to you. We need strong leadership to leverage these new programs and champion women’s leadership and workplace change.
To enlist in our “It’s Time” movement and find out how you can create a more inclusive corporate culture, visit newonline.org/itstime. Together, we can advance more women leaders, change the c-store industry's workplace and attract more women shoppers.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a four-part series of exclusive educational columns by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), leading up to the 2015 Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience awards in October. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.
Sponsors of the 2015 Top Women in Convenience awards include Altria Group Distribution Co., Kraft Foods Group Inc., The Coca-Cola Co. and BIC Consumer Products.