CHICAGO — Diversity, equity and inclusion — collectively known as DEI — are no longer buzzwords in the corporate world. DEI has become an integral part of organizations' culture, and the convenience store industry's retailers and suppliers are increasingly taking notice and taking action.
A recent webinar hosted by Convenience Store News, entitled "TWIC Talk: Empowering a Companywide Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion," discussed important issues related to DEI practices, including eliminating barriers in the workforce for members of diverse populations, and creating a culture that empowers a companywide commitment to DEI.
A panel of representatives from three c-store retail companies, including Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K, GetGo Café+Market and Casey's General Stores Inc. — all of which are actively working to advance DEI in their workplaces — shared their insights. Panelists included:
Letty George, director of global communications, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (ACT)/Circle K
Erik Moore, director, human resources business partner, GetGo Café+Market
Creating a Values-Driven Culture
Convenience store retailers know establishing a strong company culture that encourages and supports equitable and inclusive environments is a must, but that culture can be a very challenging thing to change.
George acknowledged that it's not an easy task to enhance a company culture, but noted that Laval, Quebec-based ACT and Circle K are committed to leveraging its team members' voices and making a meaningful impact on its workforce.
At the company's first Global Leadership Forum, which is an internal development program for potential leaders, ACT President and CEO Brian Hannasch challenged the team to think: "How can we define, secure and communicate our culture?"
"Participants came back with a clear answer: We need to have values in place to articulate our behavior and what we expect from one another. It's those collective behaviors that make up our culture and what Brian refers to as our 'secret sauce,'" she said.
Starting with the Global Leadership Forum and passing through other versions and task groups, ACT came up with "the values we live by" that capture the company's culture. They are:
Be one team;
Do the right thing;
Take ownership; and
Play to win.
"That approach ties into our journey in becoming a more inclusive and diverse workplace by listening, learning and engaging with our team," George explained.
Although newer to the DEI journey, Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores took a similar approach to learning from its team members and readdressing its values through what Stephenson described as "grassroots-driven development." Through surveys and focus groups among the retailer's 44,000 team members, Casey's enhanced its culture by moving away from "attribute values" and to "behavioral-based values."
"The focus became going one step past the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated to treating others the way they want to be treated. Then, we asked how that mindset shows up across organizational policies and processes," Stephenson said. "Through Casey's resource groups, we're able to gauge from teams and adjust accordingly."
Moore noted that GetGo team members knew about DEI and the efforts the company was pursuing, but one area in which they sought insight was understanding what others go through.
"Through this journey, we've educated ourselves and our team about shared experiences," the HR director expressed. "That was a huge eye-opening moment for our team as they learned a little bit of empathy. The difference between sympathy and empathy sat with us. Being able to empathize with those around you and who are closest to you, and understanding the experiences that they've had, motivated and energized our team to want to go after our goals."
Another area of DEI that can be difficult to achieve is ensuring the commitment permeates every level of the organization. While many companies have an appointed DEI director or leader, ACT, Casey's and GetGo do not. Instead, all three c-store retail companies have executive leaders who sponsor employee resource groups (ERGs), which play an integral role in driving engagement and encouraging change across their organizations.
At ACT, six ERGs and business resource groups (BRGs) foster a sense of belonging and inspire conversation, according to George. For example, the Women's Council rolled out unconscious bias training as part of required training for all employees; the Race & Ethnicity BRG launched a business leadership development program built to accelerate minority talent; and the Care BRG, a disability and inclusion group, introduced a program to make hearing aids affordable.
Casey's ERGs are sponsored by executive leaders who have the ability to make rapid changes within the organization. The groups meet regularly to discuss and identify any cultural items and policy changes that should be addressed.
"Employee resource groups are the grassroots initiative for us that tells us what changes we need to make in order to make sure our team members are as happy as they can be," Stephenson noted.
GetGo's eight ERGs are responsible for creating conversation, action and community. Among their efforts, the groups have created educational and discussion guides that each store can use, and increased awareness through activities centered around celebratory holidays or at volunteer events.
"It's inspiring to see what they can accomplish by coming together. Many voices are stronger than one voice," Moore said.
To ensure culture change reaches the store level as well as the corporate level, the panelists collectively agreed that the following are effective tools at communicating DEI accomplishments internally and externally:
Social media — George, Stephenson and Moore echoed one another that LinkedIn is an important outlet, and there tends to be a greater return on engagement if a corporate leader posts to social media from their account to share news.
Town halls — These open platforms help connect team members with corporate leaders who they may not otherwise engage with on a day-to-day basis. Team members can also see what progress is being made.
Employee intranets — These internal sites engage and connect team members in one place.
Frontline communication technology — Mobile applications such as WorkJam connect members globally in real time.
Measurements of Success
All three panelists acknowledged that change is a process and cultural shifts take time. For this reason, DEI initiatives can be difficult to measure, so Moore encourages c-store retailers to celebrate any progress made within this space.
"Progress over perfection. Through DEI, representation fixes representation," he expressed, noting that retailers will measure success by numbers, goals and check-ins, but other factors to consider should be asking what their stores' succession plans are, and what the makeup of those stores look like. "The measurement of success is making progress instead of stepping backwards or staying stagnant."
In a more calculated approach, George advises retailers to set benchmarks and track progress to assess how efforts are moving the needle, and evaluate what strategies are working and which need refining. Then, hold leadership accountable for those actions.
The "TWIC Talk: Empowering a Companywide Commitment to Diversity & Inclusion" webcast was sponsored by Altria Group Distribution Co.