LAVAL, Quebec — 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 our TWIC Trailblazers quarterly feature, we spotlight a c-store industry retailer, supplier or distributor company that is leading the way in championing gender parity.
This month’s subject is Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (ACT), the parent company of Circle K convenience stores. Last March, Laval, Quebec-based Couche-Tard announced that its President and CEO Brian Hannasch had joined the CEO Action Pledge, a coalition of CEOs committed to advancing diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the workplace. Couche-Tard became the first c-store retailer to join the initiative. To go along with this pledge, the retailer launched an internal global campaign, titled "Together we make a difference," where all employees had an opportunity to join Hannasch and make their own personal "I ACT On" pledge.
Couche-Tard also recently marked the two-year anniversary of the formation of its ACT Women's Council, a business resource group with the mission of creating winning conditions for women within the corporation. The Women's Council is part of the board of directors' commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to taking measurable actions that promote a workplace where a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences are welcomed and respected.
CSNews recently chatted with Elisa Goria, advisor to Couche-Tard’s D&I Executive Committee and a 2017 TWIC Woman of the Year, about the retailer’s ongoing work in diversity and inclusion.
CSNews: Why, as an organization, does Alimentation Couche-Tard feel it is important to improve diversity and inclusion?
Goria: Our people are our foundation, creating a culture where everyone is valued and can bring their whole authentic self to work every day. This makes for more engaged teams and allows us to maximize our internal talent's potential. Our inclusive culture brings various perspectives, driving innovation and increasing better decisions that move the business forward and strengthen our growth.
We are proud of the significant progress we have made on our journey. We stay committed to leveraging our people's voices and continue to make a meaningful impact on our global workforce to become a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
CSNews: What drove the creation of the Women's Council? What is the group's ultimate goal? What kinds of programs and activities does the Council organize?
Goria: Following the November 2018 adoption of the board of directors' diversity policy, the company formed the ACT Women's Council, the first diversity business resource group (BRG).
Since its inception, the ACT Women's Council has worked hard to engage, educate and empower to create winning conditions for women at ACT. The council consists of both women and men from all organization levels representing our diverse geography across our global network. Their work to identify and eliminate biases by developing internal training programs in conscious inclusion paved the way for a broader agenda within diversity and inclusion.
With over 60 percent of our workforce female, but only 20-30 percent of females in senior leadership roles, we recognized the need to create a program within the organization that professionally develops women through mentors, sponsors and educational opportunities to help advance their careers, prepare for future leadership positions, and strengthen our business and better serve our customers.
Today, the ACT Women's Council has grown throughout the globe — we’ve successfully expanded the network within the organization as individual Business Units have created individual Women's Council Chapters. Annually the company recognizes top women within the organization and provides a leadership workshop, which consists of a collaborative discussion of their ideas, while sharing experiences through their personal stories.
CSNews: Please share recent achievements and highlights of the work being done by the Women's Council.
Goria: In 2019, the Women's Council was named the global winner of ACT's Sustainability Award for their work to promote inclusivity and reduce biases.
In the spring of 2020, our CEO, Brian Hannasch, signed the CEO Action Pledge, making ACT the first convenience store to participate in the worldwide pledge. The Women's Council reinforced this commitment as they kicked off our annual global campaign, "Together, we make a difference," which highlights International Women's Day and celebrates the diversity in our culture.
In the summer of 2020, the Women's Council introduced an educational pillar: a companywide initiative on Unconscious Bias Training. This training was designed to increase understanding and ensure training occurs to provide team members with the tools and resources to adjust automatic thinking patterns that lead to discriminatory behaviors.
This year, as we proudly celebrated International Women's Day, we shared a series of inspirational stories and highlights from our amazing women who have transformed not only the company, but also our industry — our very own ACT Trailblazer Women.
CSNews: Please share recent achievements and highlights of the work being done by Couche-Tard to further diversity and inclusion.
Goria: Over the last year, with the support of the Women's Council, we paved the way for the formation of five new business resource groups: Race; Culture & Ethnicity; Disability; Inclusion; and LGBTQ+. We have appointed executive sponsors for each BRG, as well as an executive D&I Council for overarching leadership.
When social unrest broke out in the U.S. and the rest of the world, being one of the founding members and co-chairs of the Women's Council, I accepted the challenge from Ina Strand, our Chief People Officer, to help support other business resource groups. We are looking to these BRGs to help make us a more inclusive company, and ask them to hold leadership accountable for our commitment to meaningful action.
The BRGs quickly acted, engaging in courageous conversations through focus groups and pulse surveys, looking to gain insight and understand any potential barriers. Based on that feedback, we increased our training and development efforts for underrepresented groups and doubled our [number of] NACS Leadership Program participants.
We have increased our courageous conversations through Diversity & Inclusion Town Halls, where team members across the globe can watch and listen in to gain insight into the company's commitment to strengthen the culture.
Proudly, we have increased our executive leadership team to over 30 percent women. We reached our goal to [have] 40 percent of women in market manager positions in our operations team, and with the support of the executive team's commitment, we are developing plans for all parts of the business by this summer.
CSNews: Does Couche-Tard have any other new initiatives planned for 2021 or beyond around diversity and inclusion?
Goria: We recently introduced REAL Talk, a combination of sharing personal stories and hosting courageous conversations across our global networks. We have created a D&I activation calendar for the year spotlighting specific business resource groups.
Currently, our Learning Development Team is producing a global launch of a comprehensive mentoring program that will deploy later this year, and we continue to have collaborative discussions with NACS to strengthen our industry by making an impact beyond ACT.
As we continue our efforts toward a more inclusive and diverse culture, we know this can be achieved with open hearts and minds. We are listening, learning, and will continue to engage in making a meaningful impact.
Is your company leading the way in championing gender parity? If so, we want to hear about your efforts. Contact Editor-in-Chief Linda Lisanti at [email protected].