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 Laura Asbell, a regional vice president at Mondelēz International Inc., one of the world's largest snack companies. In 2016, Asbell 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?
Our industry has made significant progress in the last 10 years, but there is still a lot of opportunity for improvement. I have seen the rise of women not only in high-profile industry jobs, but also jobs at all levels at both CPG suppliers and retail/distributors. The other change I have witnessed is the increase in affinity groups that support women in our industry, including Convenience Store News’ Top Women in Convenience, Network of Executive Women and many company programs. Despite these gains, I feel we are still underrepresented in top leadership positions, but hopeful that it continues to improve.
What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
That gender equality is now part of normal conversations throughout the industry and not something only spoken about at top levels or in training sessions. It has momentum in the media and in our industry, and this momentum is growing. This is supported by the above-mentioned affinity groups and organizations, but also the general “talk” about gender equality in the media. At Mondelēz International, we have our own Women Sales Council whose mission is to attract, retain, develop and advance employees at Mondelēz International. It seeks to create a merit-based environment of respect, trust and honesty where we value individual uniqueness and allow employees to bring their whole self to work. These types of organizations give women a voice that is heard at all levels.
Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
I am not different than the statistics in the area of gender equality as I have been around for 30 years, but the best thing I did to overcome this was to speak out. I took control of my career and drove change for myself with support from my family, mentors and champions. Now, I try to pay it forward in mentoring others and supporting others in their careers.
What barriers to advancement do you see still existing in the c-store industry?
Our workforce is in constant change, from baby boomers to Gen Z, and as much as we have changed already, we need to stay agile and flexible. It is no longer about changing the person, but rather changing organizations to support a dynamic workforce — a workforce that is diverse, inclusive, ever-changing and values work/life balance.
What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
Now more than ever, we have momentum against gender equality and we all need to leverage this momentum. The best way is through networking! The old saying, “It isn’t just what you know but who you know,” still plays a role today, and the best way to win is to make sure you network and get to know others in the industry, both in your organization and outside. Networking will allow you to keep informed about opportunities, give you a forum for feedback/development and give you the courage to accept new challenges. Join and be active in networking associations. Volunteer for special projects that will get you exposure and take control of your career. Speak up.