The Strategic Role of Chief Diversity Officers

There’s a place at the table in the evolving convenience store industry.

By Tonya Brown

The issue of diversity and inclusion in corporate America has been a topic of conversation for a long time. First, the issues around the table were about achieving diversity. Then the role of inclusion came to be and the issue of how do we actually leverage that diversity once achieved took center stage.

I have been involved in the area of diversity and inclusion in talent acquisition and management for some time, both by sitting on panels and participating in racial dialogues. There have been many strides made in terms of the Fortune 50,100, and 500, but it is clear that while some convenience store operators have achieved some diversity at the lower levels, they are certainly still living in the dark ages.

The convenience store industry is clearly not a melting pot and the lack of attention given to diversity and inclusion is not only evident, but clearly not attractive to minorities considering possible career paths.

For there to be any significant and lasting changes in the industry, leaders that don’t fit in the “minority” category have to approach the topic with zeal and with the notion that minorities possess more than just the ability to pull dollars from their wallets and spend. They actually have the abilities to formulate ideas, sit on boards, execute strategic initiatives that generate revenue and increase sales, and express critical thinking.

Defining Commitment

About seven ago, the title of CDO or chief diversity officer came into being. It was a role with no defined parameters, but a few brave organizations like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Burger King, Sara Lee, Kodak, were willing to jump head first into truly defining what that role would entail and what position would it take on in their organizations. Major companies are constantly redefining the role, but one thing is clear: there are many innovative organizations that now have individuals possessing this title reporting directly to the president or CEO.

A CDO is a strategist and a creator of services, processes, training; etc., that revolutionize their company’s mission, vision, its products and ultimately the brand itself.

Companies like Budweiser, McDonalds and Dunkin’ Donuts all have Web sites that demonstrate their commitment to diversity. They provide photo histories highlighting their diverse employees from the perspective of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. While this is not representative of everyone and everything, it gives you the sense that the company understands the business value of promoting inclusion in the work environment.

Attempts at diversity do matter in the grand scheme of things. The attempts made never go unnoticed.

The convenience store industry is always making strides in providing innovative product mixes for their stores. Managers analyze the markets and constantly approach marketing and advertising from the viewpoint that the products sold should reflect its consumers, but little is said about the heterogeneous environment the industry operates in.

I have had a chance to meet and interact with leaders from other major convenience store chains. What I noticed is that this is clearly a male dominated industry that has made some strides, but has left a lot of questions unanswered about the value it places on diversity and strategic succession planning.

There is lots of room for improvement, and one of the goals I set for this column is to awaken the dialogue that needs to happen to elevate this industry as a champion of diversity in the marketplace. I encourage all retailers and suppliers that have not done so to hire a CDO, diversity consultant or manager for their organizations. The changes may not be instantly welcomed, but this is not a sprint, it’s a journey.

I also implore the industry’s current leadership to take a stand and speak up about the lack of multiculturalism in the industry. I suggest minorities step up themselves and let their employers know of their greatness and that they deserve to benefit from the wonderful opportunities this industry has to offer.

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