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Each year, I log tens of thousands of miles to meet with women and men at every job level throughout the retail and consumer goods industry. No matter where I go, I hear this same question: "The business case for more women leaders in retail is clear, so why aren't there more women in senior roles?"
The short answer: built-in bias — in society, in our corporate cultures and in the choices women are forced to make. Women of every age, circumstance and job level experience barriers that frustrate their career goals — and dampen business results.
But here's the good news: By working together, the convenience store industry's talent and the companies they work for can absolutely create workplaces that allow everyone to reach their potential.
Change is happening. We see progress toward gender equality at companies like The Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc., The Hershey Co., and many others. But change is not happening everywhere and not nearly fast enough.
NEW’s latest special report, "Green Lights and Stop Signs: The Road to Gender Parity in Retail and Consumer Goods" (written with the Center for Creative Leadership), uncovers three critical support factors that women say drive their careers forward: organizational commitment to gender diversity, developmental support through business relationships and company initiatives, and support from a professional network.
The report, based on insights gathered from more than 900 NEW members, also identifies three unyielding career barriers that women say impede their careers: conflicting work/life priorities, being overlooked and undervalued, and being undermined.
Here are just a few of our findings:
- Women perceive they must sacrifice life outside of work to hold a senior leadership position. Nearly one in 10 of the women surveyed identified competing work/life priorities as a reason they have held back from pursuing leadership positions.
- Women are often overlooked — not developed for leadership positions — and perceived as having less leadership potential or career commitment.
- A significant percentage of women say their career goals have been undermined, intentionally and unintentionally. They report their qualifications are routinely questioned.
- Women of color face more career barriers and experience less career support.
The two best predictors of career satisfaction, we found, are the level of an organization’s developmental support and the degree to which women experience being overlooked and underappreciated. C-store operators and suppliers must ask themselves: What career hurdles do women in our organization encounter?
"Green Lights and Stop Signs" doesn't just report on the state of women at work; it lays out a blueprint for industry leaders that want to advance women and boost their business, and for women who want to blow past the stop signs that have stalled their careers.
The report advises women who want to take more control of their careers to adopt these strategies:
- Ask for assignments that can advance your career.
- Reach out to senior leaders and get their feedback.
- Find people who can mentor and sponsor you, and participate in formal mentoring programs offered by your company.
- Voluntarily participate in further education, training and career-supporting events.
- Read career-related books and articles and participate in leadership webinars. NEW members can attend the NEW Leadership Academy, NEW Summit Speaker Series, and NEW Small Business Leadership webinars for free. (Learn more about NEW's learning options at newonline.org.)
- Build a diverse network of influential people inside your organization. Volunteer for projects that give you an opportunity to meet leaders outside of your function.
- Start a group of men and women who actively promote and support each other
- Know your personal values, interests, abilities and areas for development — and try to see yourself through others’ eyes.
One strategy presented in the report is a piece of advice I've given other women throughout my career: "Believe in yourself — and go for it."
For detailed action plans for women, men and industry leaders working toward gender parity, download the full "Green Lights and Stop Signs" report at newitstime.com.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.