DES MOINES, Iowa — When discussing the convenience store industry's approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), it's tempting to focus on how well the channel is currently doing. After all, it's necessary to understand the existing strengths and weaknesses before improvement is possible.
However, it's equally important to understand the potential impact the c-store industry can have in the future, according to Heather Schott, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Krause Group, parent company of convenience store chain Kum & Go LC.
"I would rate the convenience store industry as having an amazing opportunity to drive change," Schott told Convenience Store News. "We get to interact with customers across all diversity spectrums daily, and we also have an industry where people can join our teams and grow their careers no matter where they start in life.These customers and associates represent all genders, ages, races, abilities, socioeconomic statues, neurodiversity, and so much more."
Schott pointed out that few other industries can say they exist across rural and urban customer bases, while making millions of impressions daily. Des Moines-based Kum & Go operates more than 400 stores in 11 states.
To her, the real question is: How well are retailers using the opportunity to create environments where people feel seen, valued and comfortable, enabling them to work and shop as their authentic selves?
"Where we have work to do is in welcoming all. Do we greet nonbinary folks without gendering them? Do we have spaces easy to move through for those with different abilities? Are our leadership teams representative of the communities we operate in?" she posed. "There is absolutely work to do in all spaces, but I'm hopeful because I hear the questions being asked and I see the desire to do better. Now, we need to show up and do the work each day."
Krause Group views people as critical — both the associates it employs and the customers it serves. Any organization that doesn't focus on people, which is the core of DEI, is setting itself up for failure, according to Schott.
"We need people that will share ideas, experiences and feedback to make us better or to allow us to innovate solutions," she said. "If we don't have all voices, how can we serve all customers?"
Setting a Destination for DEI
More than a year into Krause Group's and Kum & Go's DEI journey, the company has made progress in reviewing policies and practices while embedding a "DEI lens" in company leadership, which Schott flagged as a key requirement for organizations.
"We aren't impacting all associates yet and we have a lot of work to do before we promote our work as such. But what we have is absolute leadership support," Schott said. "I've seen organizations 10 years into the journey that aren't having the conversations we are having."
The retailer is actively and intentionally working to understand existing barriers and has committed to keep pushing for positive cultural, brand and business change.
"DEI isn't something we 'do,' it's something we embed in all we do," Schott said. "From a practical standpoint, that approach is embedded in all our learning and development efforts. How can each opportunity of learning include building skillsets that support equity and inclusion? It is a journey, but a unique approach we are finding success with."
This year, the company expects to add to its formal corporate DEI team, and create key partnerships across the organization.
The DEI team's job is to train, help create content, and impact procedures and process to be equitable and inclusive before handing them off to discipline leaders and key business influencers, who can bring them to life in sustainable ways.
Current initiatives include building on the understanding of what DEI means for the organization by teaming up with local filmmakers and trainers to bring the company's stories forward in videos. These will, in turn, be leveraged to message to its store associates. The retailer also plans to pilot networks across the regions in which it operates.
"We can't claim to be inclusive if we don't build the structure to allow feedback," Schott said. "This will be a key touchpoint to ensure we aren't just talking about DEI, but are also responding to experiences and perspectives of our frontline associates."