NATIONAL REPORT — Now in its eighth 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 Jayne Rice, managing director and director of institutional sales, marketing and investor relations for Brookwood Financial Partners LLC, the private equity firm behind Yesway convenience stores. Rice is a member of Brookwood’s and Yesway’s Executive and Investment Committees. In 2019, she was one of the five women celebrated by TWIC as Women 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?
I would say the current state of affairs for gender equality in the c-store industry is mixed. I have not been in the industry that long, but what I have observed is very encouraging. I know Yesway is committed to ensuring that gender is irrelevant when it comes to promotions, hiring or compensation. It does not impact our decision making.
However, given the historical evolution of this industry being predominantly male, the senior positions across most firms are still held by men. And their way of doing business — on the golf course, over drinks at NACS, or even on hunting trips — is both habitual and successful. It is sometimes hard for women to break into or feel comfortable in those environments, and our way of networking and building relationships often differ. As women continue to take on a larger percentage of senior executive c-store roles, the way in which business is conducted, including how relationships are formed and leveraged, will also continue to evolve.
CSNews: What is the most positive change you have personally witnessed?
I have been impressed by the Top Women in Convenience recognition events, and believe the work of this group is making a meaningful impact on the role and prevalence of women in the c-store industry. I was honored to be recognized, and what has been terrific to see is the continued outreach being made to all of the women who have been part of this initiative. TWIC is continually soliciting our opinions, publishing our stories, and enabling our voices to be heard. That is inspirational, not only for the women being recognized, but for all of the other women working hard in this industry who now have a growing group of mentors and role models to help support their careers.
CSNews: Along your career path, did you personally experience gender bias or inequality? If so, how did you overcome?
Of course, yes; especially given that most of my career has been spent in male-dominated industries. I know few women who would say otherwise.
I am comfortable in challenging environments. I think, in part, because I grew up as an athlete, have three older brothers who were all athletes, and learned how to take setbacks in stride. I am comfortable competing, and have also had some success using my gender difference to my advantage. I can say unequivocally, however, that this is not the environment at Brookwood or Yesway, where there are many women in senior positions. Their voices and opinions matter and are valued.
I have always been involved in and heavily supportive of organizations that support women in business, not only for networking purposes and to help develop my own career, but also to help with the development and support of other women’s career paths.
CSNews: What barriers to advancement do you see still existing in the c-store industry?
I do not see barriers. What I do see is a really dynamic industry that is changing rapidly and full of opportunity. For example, what seems like just a few years ago, there was a very funny commercial that highlighted how buying sushi at a gas station was a bad idea. Now, you can actually buy very good sushi and all kinds of other fresh, award-wining food at gas stations. As the industry continues to evolve, so too will its related opportunities, and with that will come new voices that will lead this sector going forward. It is no longer an industry that does not cater to women.
There will continue to be an even greater need for women’s voices at the senior levels of the industry to better understand how to meet this consumer base that maybe in the past had been underrepresented. On the Yesway executive team: Ericka Ayles, who was recognized as a TWIC Senior-Level Leader, is chief financial officer; Jen Fermano serves as senior vice president of finance, and was recognized as a TWIC Senior-Level Leader; and Lisa Ham, Yesway’s senior category manager of center store and beer, was a TWIC Rising Star.
CSNews: What is your advice for other industry women looking to rise to higher ranks?
I read the following quote from Sheryl Sandberg a while ago, but it still resonates with me because of my own career decisions: “Treat your career like a jungle gym, not like a ladder.”
In my experience, it’s important to be willing to explore going sideways or even climbing down a rung to get to your ultimate career objective, as opposed to looking at your career path as a one-way ladder. I intentionally left a very good job at a large Fortune 200 company to seek out an opportunity where I could be in an entrepreneurial, fast-paced environment and be involved in the running and development of multiple cross-functional and firmwide initiatives.
Never would I have guessed that by working for a private equity real estate investment firm, I would be recognized as a woman leader in the convenience store industry because of the work we have done over the last few years in creating a new brand from scratch.
It is important to keep your eyes open for opportunity, which may not necessarily mean a direct promotion. It could be changing fields; it could be stepping down into something with less responsibility, but of more interest, that’s going to create greater opportunity going forward. It is important for women at all levels of an organization to be open to all opportunity, as opposed to being narrowly focused on vertical advancement.
It is also important to have experience that is broad-based, especially in an industry that is as dynamic as this one. The c-store sector is experiencing both a tremendous amount of consolidation and evolution. In dynamic industries, the people who tend to succeed the most, whether man or woman, are those who can best adapt to change, learn new skills, and wear multiple hats. The more you can juggle multiple roles, and the greater number of skillsets you can develop, the better.