TWIC Talk With Coca-Cola's Barbara Poremba
NATIONAL REPORT — Now entering its fifth year, the Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards program has recognized 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 new 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 challenges, the opportunities — and get their words of wisdom for up-and-comers seeking to blaze their own trail.
Our inaugural TWIC Talk subject is Barbara Poremba, vice president of national retail sales at The Coca-Cola Co. Fittingly, she was among the first-ever TWIC honorees in 2014, when the program launched. Poremba was one of five awarded the title of Woman of the Year.
CSNews: 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?
Poremba: As in many other industries, there are opportunities for the convenience retail industry to continue to evolve to achieve gender equality. I believe retailers and suppliers across the industry are actively working to ensure wider representation of women at senior levels in their companies. We’re seeing retailers and suppliers build leadership teams that are representative of the consumers they serve, and that’s helping shape the future of our industry in a positive way.
CSNews: What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
Poremba: I’ve seen many retailers mindfully think about how to elevate top female talent and evolve their leadership and management teams to be more inclusive. They’re looking for ways to identify emerging talent, and invest in those who have potential and expose them to opportunities for volunteerism and participation across the industry. These steps are great for female and male leaders, business outcomes, and our industry.
CSNews: Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome it?
Poremba: Throughout my more than 25-year career in the CPG industry, there have been many times when I found myself the only woman on a leadership team or at a meeting. But more importantly, I was afforded opportunities to take on stretch assignments that allowed me to grow and advance. This happened because I worked for progressive leaders and coaches who saw my potential and guided me to be successful. They also encouraged me to be a champion for others, and I’m certainly able to do that at The Coca-Cola Co. We take a very mindful approach to reaching gender equality and elevating female leaders to reach their full potential. This creates an environment that allows everyone — not just female leaders — to thrive.
CSNews: What barriers to advancement do you see still existing in the c-store industry?
Poremba: The greatest barrier is a mindset that’s focused on the past instead of one that’s oriented to what the world looks like today and will look like in the future. The bright side is that all leaders have the opportunity to think and do things differently. Leaders in the convenience retail industry have the ability to assess their organizations and identify top talent who have innovative thoughts and perspectives. These different viewpoints allow retailers to better serve their increasingly diverse consumer base, too.
CSNews: What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
Poremba: Ask to take on roles or projects that will stretch your thinking and allow you to grow — taking these mindful risks will allow you to develop in your career and learn from those around you. Seek out both male and female leaders you can learn from. Get involved with organizations within our industry, which provide opportunities for networking and training. Explore opportunities to volunteer with organizations like NACS or the Network of Executive Women (NEW), which have many regional and national programs.