Where Are Our Female Leaders?


The convenience store and petroleum industry has changed a lot since 2001, when a handful of determined women (and a few supportive men) formed the Network of Executive Women. These far-sighted leaders ? including a number of women in the c-store industry ? believed there were not enough women executives in the retail and consumer goods industry, and they believed business would be better if there were.

Today, there?s wide agreement ? and ample supporting research ? that having diverse leadership drives innovation and promotes growth. A 2011 study by Catalyst reported that companies with three or more female board members outperformed those with no women directors. These companies saw an 84-percent higher return on sales, a 60-percent higher return on investment capital and a 46-percent higher return on equity in at least four of the five years analyzed.

Recognizing the bottom-line benefits such as these, companies are promoting more high-potential women to top executive roles. And they?re getting results.

In the c-store industry, which often struggles to attract female customers, more women are influencing what stores sell, how they sell it and who supplies it. Women like Maria Lindenberg, chief procurement officer at Chevron Corp.; Sonja Hubbard, CEO of E-Z Mart Stores Inc.; and Alison Moran, CEO of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., serve as high-profile role models for the industry?s emerging female leaders. And more women are being recognized for their contributions. This spring, for instance, Jenny Bullard, chief information officer of Flash Foods, was inducted into the Conexxus Hall of Fame.

But these women are still exceptions that prove the rule. While the majority of store employees are women, few are found in the industry?s c-suite offices or boardrooms. (I?m excepting ?mom-and-pops,? where ?mom? has always been an equal partner ? and more.)


Despite the proven business benefits, the growth of women leaders in corporate America has been glacial. In 2005, there were nine female CEOs in the Fortune 500. That number has increased to 23, but it?s hard to describe leadership that?s 95-percent male as ?diverse.?

It?s time for business and society to take a hard look at workplace culture. Yes, women need to ?lean in? and claim their right to lead. But c-store companies need to lean in, too. They need to create workplaces where motherhood is as valued as fatherhood and no one must choose between having a life and having a career.

C-store and petroleum company leaders must ask: Are we really committed to advancing women to leadership roles? If yes, your organization needs to address these questions:

  • Do your diversity and inclusion efforts treat the dominant culture ? white men ? as a ?problem to be fixed? or are men fully engaged in the process and benefits of advancing women?
  • Do you have specific targets for women leaders?
  • Is there a well-defined career track for high-potential employees?
  • Have business resource groups been created to develop women leaders and leverage their unique insights?
  • Where are women in your succession planning?
  • What are your policies for maternity leave, vacation time and job-sharing?
  • Is telecommuting or flex-time an option for employees?
  • Do your policies and benefits support childcare or elder care challenges?
  • Do you support all employees? need to balance career and family?

When it comes to change in the workplace, the focus has largely been on developing women so that they can advance in a traditional, male-dominated leadership culture. That won?t work today.

Your customers and workforce are changing and the leadership traits most needed for future success are the leadership traits most often found among women.

The old top-down, hierarchical style doesn?t work. It?s time for a new leadership culture. Less rigid and more flexible. Less authoritative and more collaborative. More diverse ? and more profitable. Women need it. Millennials want it. And the changing times demand it.

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