Opening the (Talent) Pipeline

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Opening the (Talent) Pipeline

By Joan Toth, Network of Executive Women (NEW) - 07/01/2015

Speedway LLC — the nation’s second-largest company-owned and operated convenience store chain — is known for its successful marketing strategies (more than 4 million loyalty program members), its customer service (download the Speedway app) and its strong community outreach. Less known is Speedway’s commitment to gender diversity.

Chief financial officers, like Speedway's Beth Hunter, like to talk numbers. Recently, she shared a few eye-openers with me. Women, she noted, make up fewer than 10 percent of the petroleum industry's 186,000 employees. But at Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC), Speedway's parent company, women comprise 20 percent of employees.

At U.S. fuel dealers, Beth told me, just over 40 percent of employees are women. At Speedway, operator of 2,750 stores, nearly 65 percent of employees are women, a number that has held steady for several years. Half of its store managers and supervisors are women.

Beth is a living example of gender diversity. She started her career in petroleum marketing in 1987, when J.R. and Bobby were still feuding over Ewing Oil (for those millennials out there, that’s the once popular “Dallas” TV series). She has personally experienced the c-store industry's evolving workplace culture, one that increasingly values — and benefits from — the insights, experiences and leadership qualities of talented women.

“Opportunities for women to advance to leadership roles is improving,” she told me, “and from my vantage point, it looks like women's leadership will not only continue to improve, but accelerate. There are very talented, driven women in management positions. I believe there’s a pipeline of strong talent that we will see reflected in leadership over the next several years.”

Beth said a “push” and “pull” approach has opened doors for women at Speedway. “When it comes to pull, management can and should continually look for new ways to identify and acquire high-potential talent, encourage women to seek out leadership roles and help them succeed,” she said. “But there must also be push — and this is the more important driver. Women need to prepare for leadership roles and seek them out.”

Avoiding Traps, Taking Risks

Women need to avoid the traps that tend to stall their careers. One of these traps, according to Beth, is defining yourself too narrowly.

“I’m an accountant by training,” she told me, “but when there was an opportunity to work in sales, purchasing and investor relations — all of which helped give me the breadth of experience needed for my current position — I gladly accepted the assignments.”

It’s also important to manage your career and take risks. “Some of the positions I took were outside my comfort zone, but it’s very rare for anyone to make great career leaps while remaining in a comfortable position," she said. "And, of course, some career moves don’t work out and you’ll have to correct your course. Taking risks is an important part of advancement.”

Research from the Network of Executive Women (NEW) and other organizations demonstrates the strong business case for women's leadership. This is especially true in the highly competitive c-store industry and at Speedway, specifically, according to Beth.

“The business case for women in leadership is part of the larger business case for pursuing diversity and inclusion in all we do: talent acquisition, retention, training, supplier diversity and advancing senior leadership,” she said. "We all recognize that a wide variety of experience, leadership styles and ways of thinking — especially in an inclusive environment where diversity is valued — can make a company much stronger.”

The Diversity Dividend

At Speedway, diverse talent has empowered team members to approach day-to-day work from more perspectives, which leads to more solutions that meet the needs of the company's customers, shareholders, employees and neighbors.

“You won’t find many other businesses that compete with one another by changing the price of one of their primary retail products on a daily basis,” Beth said. "So, it’s only natural that we’re continually looking for factors that can give us the edge. Attracting and retaining the best talent is one of the most important of those factors. In all its forms, diversity is a tremendous competitive advantage to industries.

“And I mention ‘all its forms’ for a reason," she continued. “We all benefit from a workplace that reflects our communities, our customers and our business partners. That means race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender. It also can mean other factors that distinguish one employee from another — political or generational differences, for example.

“To tap the competitive advantages of a diverse workplace, we work hard to make sure our workplace is attractive to the people we want to bring in and keep. That includes the physical setup of the offices, the way our management interacts with employees, and much more.”

Not Just an Add-on

At Speedway, diversity isn't just "an add-on." It's deeply rooted in the corporate culture.

“In our industry, it’s important to have frank, open discussions about issues such as race, ethnicity, political orientation and the expectations of different generations,” Beth said. “Talking about how these differences can be leveraged as strengths, by understanding them instead of being barriers to success, is good for operational reasons. But just as important, it gives people a voice, strengthens engagement and helps us retain employees, especially those who have unique viewpoints.”

Speedway's community involvement helps the company keep the best talent — and attract high-potential millennials. “Our employees assume responsibility for our reputation in the communities where we operate,” she told me. “A company that doesn’t do its part to support the community isn’t just doing itself and the community a disservice; it is also risking the goodwill of its employees. After all, employees have to face their neighbors, their kids’ teachers and coaches, their bankers, doctors and many more members of the community.”

Policies that promote work/life balance are another crucial retention tool, especially in an industry where many operations — pipelines, refineries, terminals and c-stores — never close. "This can mean challenging shift work and employees on-call at all hours of the day and night," Beth said. "Making sure policies reflect the real needs of employees, while still allowing us to be competitive, can make a huge difference in retention of talent."

At this point in the industry's history, the talent pipeline may be as important to the bottom line as the one carrying crude.

Editor’s note: This is the second 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.