Multiculturalism in the Marketplace…No Myth in C-Stores

A lack of mentors is affecting the advancement of women and minorities to executive positions.

Even with the strain of oil prices and the reduction of in-store sales, convenience stores are a booming industry. But it has some work to do to continue reaching a profitable, untapped demographic: women. Women are a full 50% of the population, yet when looking at the history of the c-store industry it has been predominately operated by men and marketed to that core base.

The perception at the store level is that men are rugged and they are the group that fills their sports cars and pickup trucks with the best in fuel and fuel-related products. Now of course, the industry has changed significantly. Women now, more then ever, have been driving and caring for the health of their vehicles. They too desire convenience. With the focus on diversity and inclusion in the industry, companies have gotten smarter and are focusing on women as major consumers, as they should. Women consume tremendous amounts of gasoline, health and beauty aids, confections, energy drinks and other products each year.
In the book “Good is Not Enough: And Other Unwritten Rules for Minority Professionals,” author Keith Wyche sends the message that women and minorities are forced to play by another set of rules. It doesn’t matter if you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth or graduated from the best Ivy League schools—minorities are always required to be better and know more than their colleagues.

Looking Up
While the landscape has changed quite a bit, it’s still flawed. For women, the road to the top has always been paved with good intentions, but with few results.

When evaluating a job opportunity, females—minorities in particular—will examine the culture of an organization with a skeptical eye. They want to know and see that there are those in middle and senior management who look like them. If possible, they will talk to other minorities who work for the company and get a realistic appraisal of the company’s values, mission and succession planning.

In this area, the convenience store industry leaves something to be desired. Presently, I don’t see many women who “look like me.” Heck, I barely see men who look like me. There are no mentors, minority or otherwise, who can help traverse the uneven playing field for young women and minority executive candidates. There are even fewer store-level opportunities for these groups.

Quite often, leadership focuses clearly on profit and rarely links the success of diversity and inclusion with the existing business model. This tends to make women and other minorities feel like outsiders. I am sure I’m hardly the only one to feel this way, but my goal is not to just point out this common feeling but to present some solutions and create an ongoing dialogue.

The ability of females to have access to middle and senior management is vital to ensure their development is solidified in a way that prepares them for senior-level positions. Given the homogeneous landscape, females and minorities find this to be difficult primarily because there are few mentors who can provide direction and appropriate career advice.

Companies must act if they truly desire to break the “glass ceiling” and reposition themselves competitively in the market. They can set up a committee that addresses these issues monthly, quarterly or annually, and ask themselves the tough questions and admit their weaknesses and limitations.

One reply I have heard regarding diversity initiatives is that “we just don’t have enough people to handle the issues from the corporate and operational standpoint.” My response: There is never a right time, but the journey begins with baby steps. I implore companies to seek individuals who can make a difference.

Convenience store operators should stop merely depending on their corporate human resources departments to address theses issues, and instead utilize the talents of those who are passionate in this area. Operations has some of the most passionate, innovative and loyal people ready to tackle the unpopular issues and challenges. Evolution is inevitable.

Tonya Brown is a business unit manager for The Pantry Inc./Kangaroo Express in Sanford, N.C. She can be reached at (843) 364-8417.

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