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 Sarah Bibbs, vice president of merchandising for Eby-Brown, where she focuses on developing strong, long-term partnerships with the vendor community and delivering new and innovative solutions to the market so that Eby-Brown's customers can grow their businesses.In 2019, Bibbs 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?
In my 11-year tenure in the convenience industry, there has been an evolutionary movement toward gender equality where women are noticeably attaining higher-level positions. This is an encouraging contrast to my early years in the industry when there were rarely women in decision-making capacities. It is programs like TWIC that have forged awareness and a path that will lead to greater gender equality.
What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
One of the responsibilities of my role is to work with vendors and brokers to develop strategic plans for growth. The dynamics of these meetings have evolved from male-dominated to a balance of professionals, comprised of both men and women, bringing diversity of gender and mindset to the planning process. I’m excited to be part of that progress!
Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
I am a strong believer in a work ethic that is based on accomplishing anything I put my mind, heart and soul into. That dedication has delivered professional and personal growth and reward. With that as a driving principle, I don’t recall experiencing inequality in the workplace but, based on my values, I have always stayed focused on accomplishing my goals and overcoming any challenges.
Do you see any barriers to advancement still existing in the c-store industry?
Although there is a positive evolution, the industry continues to be dominated by white males. This makes recruiting and retaining diversity to lead the industry forward quite challenging. Developing recruiting strategies and education on inclusion, for all, would be strong, positive steps toward advancement.
What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
First and foremost, be true to yourself and your values. Have faith, confidence and stand firm on your beliefs and goals for professional and personal growth. I would also recommend identifying a mentor who is: an accomplished woman who has a voice and has earned a seat at the table in the organization; shares your values; and is willing to help you navigate your career growth. These women are out there and are willing and eager to help.