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Women who want to be senior leaders in retail and consumer goods know the numbers are against them.
Women make up more than half of the retail industry’s workforce, but comprise just 22 percent of its global senior management, according a 2015 study by Grant Thornton. In food and beverage, women do a bit better (27 percent), but both industries lag far behind sectors like hospitality, healthcare and education.
For women of color, the numbers are even more discouraging. Black women hold only 1.5 percent of senior-level executive positions in the private sector. Hispanic and Asian women each hold about 1 percent of those roles, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
These numbers suggest the challenge. However, they don’t tell the story of the tens of thousands of women and scores of leading companies who are changing the odds and advancing women to senior leadership.
I’m talking about women like Tracy Joshua and companies like Kellogg Co., where more than 40 percent of its board directors are women.
Challenges in the Supply Chain
"Retail and consumer goods has had it challenges [advancing women], particularly in supply chain, where women have traditionally struggled to reach executive positions," says Joshua, who serves as Kellogg’s vice president for procurement indirect. "But it is a very dynamic and transformational time in our industry, especially for women."
She points to several reasons why she has few female peers and even fewer who are women of color:
- Women don’t see growth opportunities or a career path to the top.
- The supply chain, in particular, is perceived as more tactical — trucks, warehousing, operations, plants — than strategic in nature.
- Supply chain and manufacturing roles are dominated by men and favor male workstyles. "Men are promoted for their potential, while women are promoted on demonstrated results."
- Mentoring and sponsorship from the senior executive leadership team is often missing.
- Senior roles often lack work/life flexibility.
- Gender and racial stereotypes are stubborn. "My personal career barriers have become headwinds when the culture of an organization has inhibited or restricted my ability to leverage my experiences, knowledge and perceptions to benefit the company."
Her Advice: Be Authentic
Still, Joshua has not felt compelled to "cover" (or downplay) her gender, cultural or racial identity to conform to the workplace norms set by predominately white male execs. She believes she is not able to deliver great results if she’s not able to "have my own voice and share my diverse perspective."
She offers this advice for industry leaders who want to leverage the benefits of diversity:
- Pair executive leaders with women of color.
- Be intentional with career and succession planning.
- Enroll male executives and other men as change agents.
- Require annual diversity and inclusion training for all company leaders.
- Give each executive a goal that supports the growth of least five diverse employees advancing by at least two levels within five years.
The Kellogg Way
At Kellogg, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is fostered through business resource groups, including Women of Kellogg’s, Women in the Supply Chain, and Women in Procurement. The company also provides D&I training, such as GenderSpeak, which promotes effective communication between men and women; and Unconscious Bias, which offers strategies to recognize and mitigate bias and create change in decision-making and interpersonal and group interactions.
Joshua serves as a mentor and sponsor to others who want to grow their careers — regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. She participates in Kellogg’s Procurement Diversity and Inclusion Council and in diversity organizations that focus on women and veteran business owners.
"My personal goal is to be an agent for change and transformation wherever I go," she says.
She’s been delivering on that goal: In 2015, Joshua and her team spent more than $150 million with diverse suppliers.
"Inclusion fosters diversity of thought, which drives creativity, which in turn fosters innovation," she says. "Creativity and innovation are the keys to sustained greatness. None of us is as strong as all of us together."
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.