FORT WORTH, Texas — At Yesway Inc., diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become a part of the organization's fabric.
"Yesway has a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and it is inculcated into our culture. From our leadership, down to the store level, diversity is something that is meaningful to our organization," said Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer at the Fort Worth-based convenience store retailer.
Yesway CEO Tom Trkla has championed DEI throughout his career and its importance can be found throughout the organization. More than 61 percent of Yesway's approximately 5,300 corporate and retail employees are women, and more than 43 percent are persons of color.
"Giving voice to divergent thoughts and experiences drives creativity and solves problems. Simply put, diversity is important to Yesway because it drives positive business outcomes," Gaskins said.
The organization views DEI as a journey, and the company is making steady progress along that journey. "Our goal has been to ensure our commitment is everlasting," he added.
With Yesway and Allsup's convenience stores across Iowa, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming, the retailer serves many different communities. A guiding principle behind its DEI journey is to reflect those communities.
The company also strives to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are more than just buzzwords. "We want a true meritocracy and culture of excellence. A commitment to diversity must change culture and not merely be a strategy," Gaskins emphasized.
"To ensure the exercise is authentic, all levels of the organization must embrace change for it to take root," he continued. "Culture change is systemic, and that is what it takes to commit to diversity, equity and inclusion."
DEI in Action
Yesway's commitment to DEI comes through in its support of numerous organizations, including universities and social justice groups. The company also supports its executives who serve on boards and organizations that are working to improve social justice, diversity and inclusion.
For example, Gaskins is part of the Northwestern University Retail Advisory Council, which recently launched an organization called Black Kids Predict (BKP) that aims to help inner-city Chicago youth develop a passion for STEAM (science, technology, engineering, analytics and math) careers.
Yesway has a philanthropic committee as well that directly funds local community organizations surrounding its stores based on recommendations by its store team members.
In addition, Yesway's Gaskins sits on the Convenience Store News Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. In fact, he was one of three charter members who helped kickstart the industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion. With underwriting support from Altria Group Distribution Co., The Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co. and WorkJam, the platform is designed to be a catalyst for discussion, innovation, engagement and action.
DEI Going Forward
Yesway's commitment to DEI is far from over.
"We plan to continue to make steady progress. We aim to continue to empower our regional, district and store managers to support the local communities they serve. We give them autonomy with some oversight to get involved and sponsor worthy causes," Gaskins noted.
Leveraging tools like community bulletin boards within its convenience stores also enable the organization to continue supporting local needs. Additionally, Yesway looks to hire locally as much as it can — the retailer regularly holds vendor and job fairs locally.
"The key is to empower store managers to engage with local communities, to focus on the creation of inclusion, and to drive positive business outcomes," Gaskins said.
He acknowledges there are hurdles to overcome along the DEI journey. Awareness, recognition and acknowledgement that DEI is an opportunity will continue to be the biggest one, according to the executive.
"While it is axiomatic to many that DEI is a problem that needs to be addressed, there is fatigue with the overall initiative. This misunderstanding of the tangible benefits that DEI delivers will continue to be a hurdle," he predicts.
"When people see companies owned and operated by people in their communities who are like them, it shows the promise and potential of America. The direct economic investment, understanding of neighborhood dynamics, job creation, and merchandise assortment better tailored to meet the needs of the community are tangible benefits of DEI," he added. "Organizations must have courage of their convictions to do what is right, even when it's not popular. Committing to diversity is a long game."