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    Nothing Less Than 50/50 in Gender Parity

    Better is not good enough in our leadership.

    By Joan Toth, Network of Executive Women (NEW)

    Target Corp. CEO Brian Cornell and PepsiCo Inc. CEO Indra Nooyi are two of the smartest, most innovative leaders in the retail and consumer goods business. Their companies are brand icons, masters of consumer marketing, and trendsetters in talent management and sustainability.

    As CEOs of Fortune 50 companies, Cornell and Nooyi deal in big numbers. Target’s sales hit $73.8 billion last year, up more than $1 billion from the year before. PepsiCo’s food and beverage portfolio includes 22 brands that each generate more than $1 billion in annual retail sales.

    Now, they’re helping the Network of Executive Women (NEW) reshape the retail and consumer goods workplace and focusing on a smaller number: 50. Nooyi and Cornell are co-chairs of the NEW Future Fund, a two-year, $5-million capital campaign to support the goal of 50/50 gender parity. The fund will invest in new technology that will provide insights and analytics on the barriers women leaders face in our industry and will create powerful new on-demand leadership learning, talent best practices, and community and engagement tools to address those barriers.

    Little Progress 

    Why are these two industry titans devoting their time and resources to the NEW Future Fund? Because despite the business case proving that women’s leadership improves bottom-line performance, there’s been little progress advancing women in the retail and consumer goods industry.

    Consider a few more numbers: Women make 64 percent of all retail shopping trips and make up 55 percent of our industry’s workforce. But they comprise just 27 percent of senior management in food and beverage (only 22 percent in retail). The industry — and the convenience store segment in particular —  is not a first choice for college graduates and is losing many of the highly trained emerging and mid-level leaders it already has.

    Nooyi says she is serving as the NEW Future Fund’s co-chair because PepsiCo needs to ensure women have an opportunity to rise as far as their talents will take them. “We know that when we open the doors of opportunity to extraordinary women, businesses thrive,” she says.

    “PepsiCo depends on women. We depend on our female nutritionists and marketers to develop foods and beverages that meet the needs of today’s consumers. We depend on our female salespeople to understand the purchasing patterns and family dynamics to help them serve our key customers. And more broadly, we depend on women consumers. Women are the gatekeepers to many of the key shopping experiences today, so you need to win over female consumers. Otherwise, you’re not going to have a successful business,” Nooyi continues.

    The power of women’s leadership is why PepsiCo has invested in programs that give women and men equal opportunity to advance their careers. With the company’s Pinnacle program, a senior-level female executive mentors five high-potential women. Another program, Lift, pairs senior leaders with young, high-potential female associates.

    On Target

    Cornell has seen firsthand the positive impact women’s leadership can make. At Target, women make up 36 percent of the board of directors and 45 percent of its c-suite, well above industry and external benchmarks. Almost half its 1,800 Target stores — each with several hundred employees, generating tens of millions of dollars annually — are run by women.

    “There’s no question we’re making progress, but we still have work to do to achieve gender parity in the industry,” Cornell says. “It starts by continuing to build and support a culture of true workplace inclusion and an atmosphere that empowers women to be leaders and grow in their careers.”

    One effort: Target’s Women’s Business Council, which engages women through mentorship and career counseling. The council also does male advocacy work, supports Target's women-owned vendors and suppliers, and engages Target board members in the conversation.

    “Encouraging these kinds of activities as a part of our workplace culture is helping us close gaps, foster equity and create opportunities for all leaders,” Cornell says.

    PepsiCo and Target are the fund’s initial corporate sponsors and others have already pledged their support. Every member of the NEW Board — comprised of leaders from some of the industry’s largest companies including Ahold, Chevron, Delhaize, The Hershey Co. and The Coca-Cola Co. — has already pledged their personal financial support.

    These industry leaders agree: We’re in a highly competitive, low-margin industry, and talent is the difference between success and failure. Led by industry executives, driven by NEW members and powered by the NEW Future Fund, we can make retail and consumer goods the No. 1 industry for talent. To learn more, visit newonline.org/ournewfuture.

    Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

    By Joan Toth, Network of Executive Women (NEW)
    • About Joan Toth Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women, Retail and Consumer Goods, a learning and leadership community representing 10,000 members, 750 companies, 100 corporate partners and 20 regional groups in the United States and Canada.

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