Building a Solid Foundation for Your Diversity & Inclusion Journey

Recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, but also makes business sense, according to industry leaders.
Melissa Kress
Executive Editor
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Building blocks for a diverse workforce

CHICAGO — To take the pulse of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in the industry, Convenience Store News recently fielded a survey among convenience store retailers and the distributors and suppliers that serve and partner with c-store retailers. From the results, it is clear more work needs to be done across the channel.

According to the survey, just 24 percent of participants said their company has a diversity and inclusion (D&I) program in place now, and 7 percent said one is in development currently. Nine percent said a D&I program is part of their company's future plans, while another 23 percent said they were unsure.

Notably, the largest group (37 percent) said their company does not have a D&I program in place, nor are there plans to develop one. When asked the reasons why, an equal number said diversity and inclusion are not issues their organization is concerned about, and/or the company does not feel it is a corporate responsibility to get involved in diversity and inclusion issues. 

There is also a group that sees D&I as a big company initiative as they cited their company isn't large enough to have a diversity and inclusion program, CSNews Editor-in-Chief Linda Lisanti noted during a recent webinar titled "Build Your D&I Foundation Beginning With a Diverse Workforce."

Going All In at All Levels

Panelist Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer at Yesway, acknowledged that he was disappointed when he first saw the findings showing that a significant portion of the industry still does not think D&I is a corporate responsibility. But he understands it.

"I think there is a lot of fatigue with the issue — which truthfully is something that is hard for me to digest and hard to process," he said. "I would challenge those leaders who responded that way to be more candid with themselves, with their company and with their team members, and recognize that it is an issue. It is something that we need to do our collective part to try to fix."

Gaskins sees a major impediment in the convenience channel being the disconnect between the stores, or operations, and the corporate office. "It is glaring when you see the disconnect between leadership levels within both sides of the house — whether a supplier or a retailer," he pointed out, adding that change is hard, but there must be buy-in at the corporate level for real change to occur. ​​​​​​

Fellow panelist Karen Jones, vice president of learning and partner solutions at NextUp (formerly, the Network of Executive Women) is in agreement. She noted that a grassroots D&I movement can benefit the stores, where people have been trained and equipped to deal with consumers. She believes store leaders need more training now than ever before to better understand how to serve diverse customers. 

Talent Search

Building up representation at both the store and corporate levels is easier said than done. Noting the hyperpolarized climate of today, Gaskins said there's been some backlash geopolitically. There is also fatigue — people are tired of talking about it.

Knowledge breaks down those barriers, he said, explaining that collectively, the pie should get bigger and everyone should get a bigger piece.

According to Jones, there are several effective recruitment strategies companies can utilize to build a diverse workforce:

  • Open up in regards to where you recruit;
  • Challenge your human resources executives and talent acquisition managers to look at different sources for recruitment;
  • Make sure who you are hiring reflects your customer base; and
  • Work with different organizations to find talent that has diversity of thought.

She cautioned, however, that finding the talent is only one step in building a diverse workforce; an organization needs to have the leadership to foster a company culture where all people have the opportunity to advance and grow their careers.

"You can recruit as diverse talent as you want to, [but] if that climate and culture is not created, it's a revolving door for your talent," Jones said, explaining that company leaders and managers must understand diversity and inclusion, and not be afraid to have the tough discussions that need to be had.

Spelling out pathways for advancement is key as well, although succession planning in the c-store industry is "marginal at best," according to Gaskins, To change this, he said each company should start looking at the depth of its bench and be intentional about building a team that brings different attributes to balance and lend a different voice.

"In retail, there is a lot of turnover in the store, but when you get to the manager level, it starts to get better," he said. "Build that bench and have candidates that are ready to step in and move up."

A replay of this webinar, "Build Your D&I Foundation Beginning With a Diverse Workforce," can be found here.



Convenience Store News has launched an industrywide initiative to facilitate engagement among all stakeholders in the convenience channel around diversity and inclusion (D&I), with underwriting support from Altria Group Distribution Co., The Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co. and WorkJam. This platform is designed to be a catalyst for discussion, innovation, engagement and action. 

About the Author

Melissa Kress
Melissa Kress is Executive Editor of Convenience Store News. Read More