TWIC Talk With Team Saverino’s JoAnn Saverino
NATIONAL REPORT — Now in its seventh year, the Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards program has recognized more than 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 JoAnn Saverino, vice president of sales and marketing for Team Saverino/Saverino & Associates Inc., a sales and marketing company serving convenience stores and other classes of trade in more than 25 states. She’s been a part of her family’s business since 1988. In 2019, Saverino 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?
Gender equality has come a long way, but genuine equality still has a long journey. Convenience store businesses, in recent years, have absolutely embraced women in leadership roles and have made significant efforts toward inclusion. Many have done a great job with the advancement of women compared to 10 years ago, but I believe those companies still represent a minority of the entire industry.
Some major corporations have set good examples of recognizing talent and offering leadership opportunities to incoming young people, which would have been very unlikely 10 years ago, but males still dominate those opportunities. I would like to see them advancing based on merit and promoting within, and gender should not be a factor.
Men and women in this industry are all working toward success together and are moving the change forward. I look forward to the day when our daughters and granddaughters will have equal opportunities in all industries. Young men who were raised by, and are being raised by, parents who set the example of equality, who are being raised by strong women holding authority, are helping to make the change.
What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
I would say the most positive change I have seen personally is intelligent young women getting leadership opportunities early on in their careers, when historically that privilege was reserved for men; not making women start at the bottom of the corporate ladder, with the promise of a slow climb, by being told to “be patient.” Clever women in corporate management roles leading teams and growing their companies successfully are more common now than ever before.
I know many in this industry who started at the ground level and with hard work, dedication and perseverance earned top spots in their organizations, which is truly admirable, but not actually a level playing field when men could achieve those same positions much more quickly.
Positive results are undeniable, but some organizations miss out on young female talent because they are not offered the training or opportunity early in the process. Meeting the bright young women who were also honored last fall as part of TWIC made me so proud of how far we have all come, past the generation when the only women in leadership were closer to the end of their careers rather than the beginning.
Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
I have to smile now thinking back to those days. Women who made sales calls 20-plus years ago could tell you countless stories of endless awkward circumstances. It was very common to find myself as the only woman in the room, and I was so young and naïve that I wasn’t even overly affected by it because it seemed normal — it was what I expected. The days of backhanded compliments, being judged by your appearance, suggestive calendars hanging on the office wall of a buyer; subtle things men wouldn’t have noticed.
I was once singled out during a broker meeting at a national trade show when the speaker was about to tell a joke and then announced, to a large crowd, that he “couldn’t tell the joke because there was a lady in the room.” On cue, every man in the room turned to look directly at me. I was mortified at the time and for the rest of the event, I was conscious of the recognition every time I crossed paths with someone who had been in that room.
Hurtful instances of being carelessly excluded from a dinner, golf outing or event because I didn’t fit into the group of men doing the planning. After being excluded from more than a few golf outings, I bought my own clubs and learned to play golf, determined to be included, and I succeeded.
Let me clarify, for the record, I am not bitter about any of these examples. These instances are what made me, and scores of other women, stronger, wiser and prepared for all situations. I learned to persevere despite the circumstances, committed to proving I had the talent it took to succeed. Witnessing firsthand the leadership and fortitude shown by women in this industry gave me the courage and confidence to keep reaching to achieve more.
What barriers to advancement do you see still existing in the c-store industry?
I hope that one day, our industry — all industries — will recognize potential and talent for just that, no matter what it looks like. That business owners set aside ego and small-minded ideas and look within their organizations at the talent and dedication of the women who work with them. Recognize their ability to advance your business. Really, I think stereotypes and preconceived ideas are the hardest barriers to break. The more that c-store organizations, like TWIC, bring attention to the existence of inequality, continue to advocate for change, and recognize women who have made a difference, the smaller that barrier becomes. So, thank you!
There will likely always be some sort of bias not just toward gender, but age, race, disabilities, sexual orientation, political views, the list goes on and on, but as long as we recognize that, learn to listen with an open mind and improve, I see a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope and pray that my little granddaughter and grandson grow up in a completely different environment than mine.
What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
Unite yourself with other professional women. Build a network of strong influencers and use them. Be confident, be accountable, be an asset, communicate well, listen well, share your success with your team, freely give and accept praise. Keep learning and count your blessings every single day.