TWIC Trailblazer: Altria Group Distribution Co.
RICHMOND, Va. — 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 Trailblazers, our new 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 Altria Group Distribution Co. (AGDC), the nation’s largest tobacco supplier with its products on the backbars of nearly every c-store retailer’s stores. AGDC promotes the advancement of female leaders through its Women in Sales Network (WSN), an employee resource group founded in 2013 that currently has 519 members, accounting for about 30 percent of its sales organization. Membership is 68.6 percent female and 31.4 percent male.
CSNews recently chatted with members of the Women in Sales Network about its mission.
CSNews: Since its inception in April 2013, how has the Women in Sales Network evolved in its mission and tactics?
WSN: When WSN started, we were focused on recruiting and advancing women. We set lofty goals (and met some of them) but, in talking with our members, realized that we were missing the mark. The change our members really needed in the organization was more cultural. Many women in AGDC want to feel a stronger sense of belonging. So in 2019, we refocused and unveiled our new vision: to drive a culture where women are included, valued, and Altria leverages her perspective to ensure continued success.
The most effective tactic we use is sharing our members’ stories — divulging the real and unique challenges women face to the executive team. Stories have the power to transport you into someone else’s world; experience another’s innermost doubts, fears, joys and pains; transform opinions and behaviors; and most importantly, create empathy.
The muscle behind our stories is WSN’s two agile teams dedicated to shining a light on the actual environment so that we can work together toward a better future:
- Sharing her experience – to change mindsets and build a more inclusive culture, leaders and the organization need to understand how she feels, what’s important to her, and what she’s been through.
- The diversity of her – because what Asian, black, Hispanic and white women need to feel included and valued is unique.
CSNews: What have been some of the most noteworthy results and achievements of the Women in Sales Network to date?
WSN: WSN has achieved a lot over the years, but the most noteworthy resulted from surveying our members on what changes they’d like to see in Altria’s benefits. WSN then advocated for these changes to leadership, and the results were life-changing for both men and women at Altria. Among the changes:
- Paid Family & Medical Leave – The first benefit WSN advocated for was men’s leave. Now, women and men can both take parental leave, which increased from six weeks to 12. Parents can take this intermittently or all at once. This is in addition to the six to eight weeks of medical leave women receive after giving birth.
- Surrogacy/Fertility Assistance – Previously not a benefit, Altria now reimburses employees up to $35,000 per surrogacy or fertility-related procedure, like IVF. We also receive up to $10,000 for cryopreservation, which is long-term storage of reproductive genetic material. No medical diagnosis is required.
- Infertility Treatment Assistance – Company support increased from $20,000 to an unlimited lifetime maximum with a medical diagnosis.
- Adoption Assistance – Increased from $3,000 to $35,000 per child.
- Breast Milk Shipping – Previously not a benefit, Altria now pays for new moms to ship breast milk home while on business travel.
WSN leads Altria’s other employee resource groups (ERGs) by example, in creating a stronger relationship with leadership. Leaders depend on WSN and the other ERGS more now than in the past to advocate for members and bring the employee’s voice to the top. AGDC’s president and CEO chose to be WSN’s executive sponsor, making us a high priority and leaning on us to help create a more inclusive culture.
Additionally, WSN launched national training for our 1,700-member salesforce on topics such as gender intelligence, coaching your inner critic, mentoring, negotiation, resilience and energy, emotional intelligence, and more. WSN created Women Executives Leading and Learning (WELL), a one-year learning series for about 30 high-potential women in senior management and director roles. This multifaceted developmental experience broadens participants’ exposure and interaction with senior Altria leaders; increases participants’ personal awareness, enterprise acumen, and ability to develop and leverage relationships; and changes the perception of female leaders.
Alongside NACS, WSN also created the Women’s Leadership Program at Yale, which develops women at critical transition points so that they stay in otherwise leaky pipelines to the top. Participants build awareness of decision-making biases, learn how to create high-performing teams, negotiate win-win outcomes, manage crises, drive innovation, and create an authentic leadership style.
Last year, the Network of Executive Women recognized one of our WSN members, Jacob Davidson, as the Male Advocate of the Year.
CSNews: Are there any new initiatives at AGDC planned for 2020 around gender parity?
WSN: Absolutely. Within WSN, we aim to double our male membership from 160 to 320 by the end of the year. Across Altria, we’re striving for 50/50 gender parity at the executive and director levels. WSN contributes to meeting this goal by holding leadership accountable. We advocate for visible scorecards and analytics of diversity breakdowns by role for senior-level leadership.
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].