TWIC Talk With Couche-Tard’s Deb Hall Lefevre
NATIONAL REPORT — Now in its seventh year, the Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards program has recognized nearly 300 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 quarterly 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 Deb Hall Lefevre, chief technology officer for Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. She was appointed to her current role in spring 2019, having previously held the position of chief information officer since April 2017. In 2019, Lefevre 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 have only been in the convenience industry for a little over two years, but in my own company, Couche-Tard/Circle K, I am proud of how we are advancing in gender equality and our commitment to diversity and inclusion. Three years ago, we had no women in the executive leadership ranks. Now, we have three, including myself, and represent more than 20 percent of that leadership. We also recently formed an ACT Women’s Council with the mission of creating winning conditions for women in the company, especially looking at career advancement and how our employees can best represent and serve our diverse customer base.
What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
At the beginning of the year, our President and CEO Brian Hannasch became one of more than 900 CEOs who have come together to join the CEO ACTION pledge, the growing coalition pledging to advance diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Brian is the first convenience store retailer CEO to join this action for diversity and inclusion – a vital component in strengthening our commitment of growing together. The Women’s Council also has introduced unconscious bias training at the office level, which will expand to store-level employees this summer. All of these initiatives come out of our Board of Directors’ clear mandate for diversity and inclusion, and to take measurable actions promoting a workplace where a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences are welcomed and respected.
Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
I think most women who have been in the workforce for the past 20-plus years have experienced some gender bias. Sometimes, as women, we strive for perfection and are constantly asking ourselves if, as a mother and female leader, can we do it all? And can we do it all well enough? I have asked myself this question at many stages in my career and moved forward by building great teams at work and support at home. This has allowed me to find balance and success. The most important part of my job is attracting and growing talented people, including talented women, and creating an environment where they can thrive. This is especially important in the male-dominated field of technology. I am so pleased that we have incredible female talent on my team, and know we are valued and valuable to the company. When we bring the right talent together and create a culture that allows teams to thrive, then we win both professionally and personally.
Do you see any barriers to advancement still existing in the c-store industry?
Like other industries, we need to focus on cultivating a diverse pipeline of candidates throughout the ranks of our employees. At Circle K, we have mandated that any leadership position has at least one diverse candidate being considered. This is a start, but those of us in leadership positions must try to ensure women are on the slate when those opportunities open up. We are also addressing, through unconscious bias training in the organization, barriers that may be keeping women from advancing, such as family obligations, or being perceived as too nice or too tough or too bossy. I would also like the industry to do better at providing tools to help women succeed, such as flexible work arrangements, being sponsors and coaches who inspire self-confidence and belief that women CAN be successful leaders in a world where there are not enough role models. Finally, I am a big believer in cultivating communities of female professionals so that when one of us rises, we all rise.
What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
Remember that feedback is a gift. Find various people you trust to give you constructive feedback throughout your career. Build a “Board of Directors” with a mix of mentors and sponsors to ensure you have a diverse set of coaches who can also provide opportunities. Additionally, I’d say it’s very important to be an effective communicator. I like the tagline: Be brief. Be brilliant. Be gone!