HERSHEY, Pa. — Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has long been on the radar of The Hershey Co., but following the profound events of the last 18 months or so, the company has doubled down on its DEI priorities and realized how much more it could and should be doing.
To learn more about the supplier’s efforts, Convenience Store News recently caught up with Alicia Petross, chief diversity officer for The Hershey Co. and a charter member of CSNews’ new, industrywide Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board.
CSNews: Can you describe Hershey’s historical commitment to DEI and what changed these last 18 months?
Petross: At Hershey, DEI is a priority — it’s part of what makes us a leader in the industry, a great place to work, and a company people want to do business with. Prior to 2020, DEI was always on our radar and top of mind, but following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we doubled down on our DEI priorities and realized how much more we could and should be doing. In the wake of these tragic events, we accelerated our commitments and shifted our lens internally to take a hard look in the mirror.
Our call to action became clear — we needed to pause, engage with our employees, and refresh and strengthen our inclusion strategy to put DEI at the forefront of all that we do across our company and supply chain.
Over the last 18 months, it’s been clearer than ever before that action must be made with intentionality. As such, our executive team has embraced the mindset of “leading with bold transparency” to be allies to our employees and the greater community.
We have placed a clear focus on engaging the hearts and minds of our people, asking the difficult questions to define the next steps needed to embark on an ambitious pathway to equity, and have doubled down on the areas where we’re already leading the way.
CSNews: When did Hershey launch The Pathways Project and why? Who was involved?
Petross: We identified core areas across the enterprise through honest, candid discussions with a variety of stakeholders to determine where to focus our DEI initiatives. The effort is truly an example of co-creation alongside our employees, including members of our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) — Abilities First, African American, Asian & Pacific Islander, GenH (Generations), Latino, Prism (LGBTQ+), Veterans, and Women.
We specifically identified areas that needed attention such as training and education, hiring and career development, supplier diversity, consumer, and corporate social responsibility strategies. These interwoven initiatives became The Pathways Project, our five-year plan to make Hershey even more inclusive.
CSNews: What changes have been implemented with The Pathways Project, and what are the goals of the project?
Petross: We first realized that we must ensure all recruitment efforts reflect our path forward. As such, we assessed how we attract and recruit top talent. It became clear that we needed to reconsider how candidates are discovered, assessed and ultimately join our company and corporate culture. In collaboration with our employees, we set ambitious goals to ensure:
Interview slates are 50 percent diverse;
Interview teams consist of at least 50 percent diverse employees; and
50 percent of total search volume is conducted by diverse-owned firms.
Our employees also shared that a lack of access to educational opportunities for underrepresented communities creates a huge barrier to success. Listening to this feedback, we committed to a historic $1.5 million investment in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), establishing a scholarship endowment that will reach $3 million over the next 10 years to subsidize students pursuing degrees in food science — the first time a company has ever committed to endow a TMCF scholarship for a specific area of study.
We also assessed how we identify budding talent at the entry level and made the decision to prioritize 15 historically black colleges and universities, as well as 15 historically Hispanic-serving colleges and universities for recruitment; and achieve a college recruiting portfolio that is at least 50 percent diverse.
In the past, as a company, nurturing diverse talent was not a priority. However, through The Pathways Project, we are committed to changing this. We are improving access to training and educational resources on leadership, racism, unconscious bias and well-being to ensure our workplace is regularly incorporating the learnings into behavior. We are also continuing to invest in early-in-career and mid-career development and training to develop commercial skills and career-building for people of color and women.
Looking ahead, our long-term goals through The Pathways Project include:
Evaluating global pay equity for salaried employees worldwide by 2025;
Increase representation of our employee population based on aspirational ranges so that 47-50 percent of our employees are women and 30-40 percent are people of color; and
Increase representation of leadership roles based on aspirational ranges so that 15-22 percent of People Leader roles are occupied by people of color and 40-42 percent by women.
CSNews: How do you keep these long-term commitments front of mind in the short term?
Petross: Given the size of these commitments, each is paired with internal short-term goals that seek to pace our progress in targeted areas, including better representation of Black and Latinx employees among our salaried and hourly workforces, improving the representation of women, Black and Latinx talent among our People Leader positions, and ensuring that DEI topics are a regular agenda item for Executive Committee meetings with metrics to reflect our progress.
We are continuing to expand conversations with employees during #ListenAndLearnMoments, which provide a constructive, open platform to discuss personal experiences, current headlines, and areas of self-betterment.
CSNews: You’ve previously discussed Hershey’s commitment to equal pay. Can you tell me about your progress there?
Petross: Hershey is proud to have achieved 1:1 aggregate pay equity amongst salaried employees for gender and for people of color. And we’re not stopping there. We are continuously looking to advance pay equity across all jobs and geographies of our organization.
CSNews: Any advice for other leaders looking to create similar change across their organizations?
Petross: For us at Hershey, in listening to our employees and establishing The Pathways Project, it became clear that this progress was made possible through the conscious decision of many — making the choice to speak up and be vulnerable.
While this journey is not unique to Hershey, if you take one thing away from reading this post, I hope that as leaders you join me in helping to create safe environments for your employees that provide opportunities (both structured and unstructured) to share feedback about their experiences at your organization.
And as a leader, it is also crucial to be vulnerable with your teams. This will require a change in mindset but, in return. you’ll be able to see through the eyes of the people you lead. Being vulnerable does not mean you have to share your deepest personal secrets. It means letting your guard down, putting judgement aside, and bringing your full self to work.
Convenience Store News is partnering with founding underwriter, Altria Group Distribution Co., and supporting firms The Hershey Co. and WorkJam, on a new convenience store industry initiative around diversity and inclusion. This new platform is a multi-touch digital and print program that focuses on the business case for greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the c-store channel and is designed to be a catalyst for discussion, innovation, engagement and action.