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LAS VEGAS – Although women make up half the workforce, they account for fewer than one in five executive officers and one in 50 CEOs, despite the benefits that cultivating diversity, talent and innovation can bring to the business world.
It's to the convenience store industry's advantage to change this, according to the 2015 NACS Show educational session "Leveraging Women's Leadership to Win Talent, Foster Innovation and Drive Results," moderated by Network of Executive Women (NEW) President and CEO Joan Toth and featuring speakers Bridget Lasda, vice president, national accounts, Heineken; Paul Casadont, merchandising manager, USA & Canada, Chevron Corp.; and Maura Scott, vice president, regional sales, Altria Group.
"There was a time when women and leadership were considered mutually exclusive terms," said Toth, who noted that while this is no longer true, more can be done to advance women and build business – in fact, they are one and the same. If women were a worldwide market, their global spend would be $20 trillion, according to NEW.
The five key barriers to women's advancement are institutional bias; corporate culture; lack of sponsors; work/life conflict; and the motherhood penalty, which exists independently of the number of hours worked or the amount of commitment to the job.
Toth lead the panelists in a roundtable discussion of their experiences, which included live audience questions. Lasda, who joined Heineken during her pregnancy, spoke of the positive effects that Heineken's flexibility and availability of female mentors had on her career, while Casadont noted that in addition to being good ethics, cultivating women in the business world is a strategically sound move that could give companies a competitive advantage in the c-store industry, which has historically struggled to attract female consumers.
"If everybody on the team looked like me, had the same experiences as me, they're not all needed," said Casadont.
The panel also discussed how women's leadership style tends to be more collaborative, inclusive and supportive than men's, but that this difference brings benefits with it such as shortening the learning curve for new employees.
Audience members questioned the panel on how to handle certain biases in the workplace, such as businesswomen facing the double bind of being labeled either too bossy or too nice to lead.
"What you are doing is riding that razor's edge all the time," said Altria's Scott, highlighting how women are constantly aware of how they are being perceived in a meeting, and often worry excessively about trying to balance and become the perfect leader. "What it means is you cannot be your authentic self."
To combat this and other biases, Scott recommends all people work to be more aware of their own biases, question their own assumptions and put themselves in the shoes of others.
Travel schedules that can be inefficient, resulting in too much time spent away from one's family, are another problem for women. However, the panel agreed that everyone benefits from more flexibility and the use of technology to cut down on unnecessary travel, especially in an era when millennials in particular value alternative career paths.
Ultimately, supporting women and cultivating diversity must be a long-term process that may result in difficult adjustments, but will be good for both people and business in the long run, according to the panel.
More information on the subject of female leadership in the retail world is available in NEW's Women 2020: The Future of Women's Leadership in Retail and Consumer Goods report, available for download here.