TWIC Talk With Circle K’s Line Aarnes
NATIONAL REPORT — Now in its sixth year, the Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards program has recognized more than 200 of the best and brightest women making a positive impact on not only the companies they work for, but also the entire convenience retail channel.
TWIC is the only program that recognizes exceptional female leaders, rising stars and mentors among retailer, supplier and distributor firms in the convenience store industry, from the C-suite to the store level to the independent entrepreneur.
In TWIC Talk, our bimonthly Q&A series, we interview a past TWIC winner about what it's like to be a female leader in the convenience store industry today — the opportunities, the challenges — and get their words of wisdom for up-and-comers seeking to blaze their own trail.
This month’s TWIC Talk subject is Line Aarnes, global vice president of customer experience at Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K. She is responsible for defining the strategic direction and roadmap for the overall customer experience and customer journey before, during and after a visit. In 2018, Aarnes was one of the five women celebrated by TWIC as Women of the Year.
How would you describe the current state of affairs for gender equality in the convenience store industry? How does this compare to 10 years ago?
I am seeing progress with more examples of women leaders in both my own company and in the industry in general. However, we have a ways to go: most of the changes I see are in office positions, while not as much in operations. Also, while we have good gender balance at the store manager level, it is not continuing at the same pace above store level. That said, I am encouraged that the topic of gender equality is now higher on the agenda across our industry, and I believe that focus is helping remove some of the bias and allowing for greater representation.
What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
This year, we founded ACT Women’s Council with the mission of creating winning conditions for women at Couche-Tard/Circle K. Our council started with support from the board of directors, in particular Director Melanie Kau and Chief Human Resources Officer Ina Strand, and is now a thriving group of women across the ranks of the company, as well as male sponsors. We are starting to get the word out of the council’s work across the network and already have regional groups being formed. We are looking closely at issues around gender equality in hiring, bias training, and professional leadership training. The council’s goal is for inclusion in general and, as one of its founders and co-leads, I am incredibly proud of what we have accomplished in a few short months.
Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
I cannot say that I have directly experienced it myself, but I have observed women being treated differently — both when it comes to questions they are asked in business situations and pre-defined options influencing the recruitment process. The combination of young and woman also seems to carry its own stigma in the industry.
What barriers to advancement do you see still existing in the c-store industry?
As I said before, operations in particular is an area for attention and advancement. Also, and this is not specific to the c-store industry, I am looking for more effective sponsorship connecting women with career opportunities and advocating for their advancement. While mentorship is helpful, I believe sponsorship can be even more effective and, from my experience, there is a lack of this for women across the industry and beyond.
What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
When I was honored as a Top Women in Convenience, I gave the following advice to all women looking for advancement: “Say yes to opportunities, even though you might think they are too big. If you are asked — you are good enough.” I continue to strongly believe this. I would add: Do your best and work hard at the level you are at. Find a couple of tasks that you can be known for in your organization and use them to build your brand internally. Be transparent around defining your goals and ambitions, so your sponsors can help you reach them!