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Most Of The Industry's Front Line Leaders Are Female


At Jacksons Food Stores, based in Meridian, Idaho, 44 percent of the company's nearly 1,500 employees are women. But females represent more than 60 percent of its store managers.

The 212-store chain's store manager profile reflects that of the convenience store industry as a whole — as manager positions attract more women, who many believe have innate skills and traits that are ideal for the role.

“Women are well-suited for this job because being a store manager is similar to being a mother. As women are brought up to keep a household or be a parent, we may be more sensitive to peoples' needs, more intuitive and motivating, and we approach discipline differently than men do,” said Tiffany Rottenkolber Hendrickson, manager of Jacksons Food Store No. 540 in Salem, Ore. “Women balance encouragement with correcting the wrong. Not to sound sexist, but I think women understand this on a different level.”

By nature, women like to be in a family-type environment, agreed Trudy Bourgeois, founder of the Center for Workforce Excellence, a consulting firm focused on workplace diversity, inclusion and talent management based in Carrollton, Texas. Convenience stores are almost like a family, so they play to women's strengths of collaboration and nurturing. The environment allows women to take people under their wings, she said. Plus the c-store industry is all about customer service, and women have a gift for being focused on others.

What's more, women excel at multitasking. “Their intuitive natures allow them to think two or three steps ahead,” Bourgeois said. “Women have a hundred things happening all at the same time, yet we are able to keep the situation calm and bring everyone to a center point. It looks like it all works, though sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't. But women are comfortable with that.”

In other work environments, these natural traits aren't viewed with the same credibility or value. Businesses need collaboration to succeed, but in most corporations, there is very little collaboration. “Everyone has their own silo or sandbox they don't want touched. I think this is why women are drawn to the position of store manager,” she added.

Whereas female store managers have a sense of empowerment, they don't have the constraints of corporate America. Retailing is a demanding environment, but it's different than an environment where you have to assimilate to a style of leadership that you may not want to assimilate to, according to Bourgeois. “That flexibility is very appealing to a woman who may not be interested in being a vice president or president, but wants a sense of empowerment and control,” she explained. “They can carve out their own space and have the satisfaction of a management position, but in a different way.”

At The Parker Cos., based in Savannah, Ga., 23 out of the chain's 24 store managers are women. Amy Lane, the chain's COO, started with the retailer at age 15 in the deli department, working her way up to store manager at 17 and then through the ranks to the c-suite.

“There are a lot of moving parts to a convenience store, from maintenance issues to marketing, vendor relations, employee issues, customer service challenges, daily operations and cleanliness,” Lane said. “I think women pay more attention to the details when it comes to managing all of the various components. They are able to juggle a lot of tasks between their work and home life and are able to manage the stress.”

“[Women are] very receptive to and able to adapt to change.”Amy Lane, The Parker Cos.

Women also are more open to constructive criticism than men, Lane said, and tend to take whatever comes their way in the job and handle it with a can-do attitude. “They're very receptive to and able to adapt to change,” she said.

In Lane's experience, women more often view the c-store industry as a great career choice. “Women are able to see the big picture and the great opportunities this industry offers.”

Opportunity plays a critical role in developing and retaining female managers. Becky Shotwell, president of Stop'n Go of Medina Inc. in Ohio, believes many women look at the c-store industry as an opportunity. Six of the 10-store chain's store managers are women.

“Many women come in to work as associates as a way to make extra money, then they start to love the job and the customers and they want to take it a step further,” she said. “There is so much opportunity in this business, and they see that after they start working.”

While she does see more males in management roles at other retail chains, Shotwell believes that may be due, in part, to those company's male-dominated upper ranks. As she said, “there may be a comfort level in that for male managers.”

In some cases, women are not as represented in upper management ranks because they don't want to travel, noted talent development consultant Linda McKenna, principal at Employee Performance Strategies Inc., which specializes in retail employee development, especially in the c-store industry. “Much of it is women not voicing that they want to move up the ladder,” said McKenna.

At the store manager level, however, there is a great deal of promotion from within, she noted. “Many women working in the stores are single moms and they are working hard and see the opportunity to make more money by being promoted to store manager.”

These female store managers are leading groups of employees who come from all walks of life, some with unbelievably varied stories. The nurturing that is built into a woman's DNA helps them manage their employees, almost like a mother, McKenna said.

“Plus, the key to leading today's younger workers is making them feel wanted and special. Then they'll do good work for you,” she said. “Just in terms of employee engagement, such as recognizing birthdays or celebrating holidays. In my experience, women are much more likely to do something like that.”


Women store managers are natural nurturers, agreed Deverie Tye, Jacksons Food Stores' regional manager for Oregon, who started her career as a sales associate and worked her way up to store manager and district manager. “It comes down to wanting to please people and make them happy. Women are savvy at customer service because it is a natural thing for them to do. Women have a keen eye for detail and delegation,”Tye said.

However, that innate nurturing ability can be detrimental on the job, too. Sometimes the line between managing and mothering get blurred. “Some women are afraid to enforce the rules and want to be liked. Sometimes it's easier for a man to be the enforcer,” said McKenna.

Another potential pitfall is that more than male store managers, women often try to do it all, rather than delegate. Women are sometimes less comfortable than men asking someone to do something, or asking for help, McKenna noted.

“That is a huge missed opportunity. They are putting in so many hours, working too hard sometimes. That is typical of women — saying ‘yes’ to everyone. More women struggle with directing the show, rather than performing the entire show,” she said. “There are some self-esteem issues among women out there in the stores. They don't realize running a c-store is difficult — the hardest job in retail — and they don't give themselves credit for that.”

For Jacksons Food Stores' Tiffany Rottenkolber Hendrickson, the opportunity to move up to district or regional manager was “30 percent” of her decision to move from managing a family restaurant to working as a store manager for Jacksons Food Stores. She also wanted more work/life balance, while playing to her strengths in a management position.

“Sometimes our store employees are going to college or in between careers,” she said. “Store managers have an opportunity to positively mold people in their lives in the company. That's always satisfying.”

Indeed, women enjoy focusing on others and developing people's talents and skills, Bourgeois said. “The retail world has a high rate of turnover, but in the midst of it, women are able to impact mostly young people's lives and that is another element that women are good at dealing with.”

In every store she's managed for Jacksons in the last three years, Rottenkolber Hendrickson has managed a staff of mostly men. She attributes this, in part, to Oregon's full-service gasoline law, as men are more likely than women to find pumping motor fuels appealing.

“I think I am more approachable as a female manager,” she said. “When men have a personal issue about scheduling for example, they may feel more comfortable talking to me, rather than another man, because there's not all that testosterone going around.”

Still, she said, her skills as a manager are not always wellrecognized. “I'm fairly young, not yet 30, so my age may have something to do with that as well,” Rottenkolber Hendrickson said. “All of my experience comes from being on the job, not from a formal education. But I feel I am very knowledgeable and have both male and female managers calling me for advice, so I do feel respected in that way. But at times, vendors are not respectful. It may take a few times working with me for them to take me seriously and realize I know what I'm talking about. It's hard to know if that is due to my age or my gender. Also, sometimes vendors think it is OK to be flirtatious and I have to put my foot down. That can be a challenge.”

Stop'n Go Store Manager Dona Grey said women's natural ability to multitask is the key to their success as store managers. “It is a necessary trait, because you never really know what's going to happen next,” she explained. “You may have two or three things going on at once, but you have to manage them all with a nice easy flow.”

Managing a c-store is like managing a household, she said. The manager is in charge of coordinating schedules, ordering food and supplies and providing a happy, friendly atmosphere.

“The store is like our home. We always want them both to be clean and organized when our guests come,” Grey said. “We want our guests to always feel comfortable and know we want them to come back. We make sure products are always available. The equipment in the store is clean and well maintained. The restrooms sparkle. There are always fresh sandwiches ready and the coffee is hot and fresh. Of course, women enjoy a little chit chat and the customers enjoy the friendly smiles and conversation.”

Women in the C-suite

Women don't just hold a significant percentage of the store manager positions in the convenience store industry, but they also have made great strides in upper management, breaking the glass ceiling in what was once a male-dominated business.

As reported last year by Convenience Store News, c-store industry women 20 years ago faced many of the same challenges faced by females in other industries. Among the women interviewed by CSNews were, Julie Barnett, director of petroleum supply and distribution at QuikTrip Inc., based in Tulsa, Okla; Wanda Sheffield, now the vice president of operations at Miller Oil Co., based in Norfolk, Va.; Andrea Jackson, president of Jacksons Food Stores in Meridian, Idaho; Sonja Flubbard, CEO of E-Z Mart Stores Inc. in Texarkana, Texas; Jenny Bullard, CIO of Flash Foods Inc. in Waycross, Ga.; Kym Flowe, senior vice president of information technology (IT) at Kum & Go LC; Carol Jenson, chief marketing officer, and Suzanne Keenan, CIO, both of Wawa; Lily Bentas, chairman of the board at Cumberland Gulf; and Becky Shotwell, president of Stop'n Go of Medina Inc.

If you missed this article, go to http://www.csnews. com/article-breaking_the_glass_ceiling-1039.html.

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