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CSW Industry Perspective: Patricia Coe

Why an event like Convenience-Store Women is so necessary now
Patricia Coe
Photograph courtesy of Patricia Coe

When I was in junior high school, my friends and I successfully petitioned the principal to eliminate the home economics class requirement for girls. Having combined our voices to land a victory, we were thrilled.

We were unprepared, however, to answer the principal’s next question, “What class alternative are you proposing, joining the boys in shop class?

But because his question was delivered with sarcasm, we immediately responded, “Yes, of course that’s our proposal.” 

It was the first time I took a position to reject a gender-based norm. I won that round, but I learned that it’s easy to call “foul;” it takes foresight to propose meaningful alternatives. 

Early in my business career, I led a sales team to deliver double-digit revenue growth for six consecutive years while containing costs in the sales and marketing budgets. I was also consistently asked to be “the cheerleader” for all of our soft initiatives. I’d bristle every time, then look around the room at my unresponsive male colleagues and do it anyway.

One day, I declined and suggested offering the opportunity to more junior associates who could benefit from the leadership experience. By distributing the responsibility to shape the company’s culture to middle managers and their teams, the term “cheerleader” quickly vanished from the vocabulary.  

In both instances, sharing my experience with other women helped me navigate a path forward to reject a gender-based assumption of my interests and aptitudes. Although the business environment has evolved, the measure of equality and gender parity in the workplace often still begins with representation.

Women in the convenience-retail industryare underrepresented throughout the talent pipeline—from entry level to the c-suite. Women of color are virtually non-existent. Despite the lack of visibility, an event such as Convenience-Store Women signals that it’s time for leaders to address gender diversity in the industry.

It will take allies like the senior vice president at Advantage Solutions, who placed me on a National Association of Convenience Store (NACS) committee where I worked my way up to a board position, to pave the way for real, lasting change. It will take events like Convenience-Store Women (CSW) and others to raise awareness and educate. It will take the collective voices of our employers, as well as a forum to share how our organizations are building more equitable workplaces to drive change.

At Advantage Solutions, I’m proud of our progressive diversity agenda and our women leaders who are in visible and substantial levels of decision making. For our industry to start looking like some of our own companies, let’s acknowledge our collective obligation. Then let’s get to work. 

For women in the convenience industry, it’s time to “call in” our male allies and partners, as well as women from all levels of their career journeys at retailers, distributors and suppliers. To begin, let’s recognize and activate the champions among us who actively address bias and enable women’s career momentum. Let’s leverage our ability to create a powerful and inclusive culture where diversity and equity thrive, business goals are met or exceeded and companies become employers of choice for women.

We have a long way to go, but when a couple of 15-year-old girls can successfully eliminate a sexist academic requirement, progress is possible. When we use tactful language to address microaggressions in the workplace, it’s progress.

Now, with an industry event titled, “Convenience-Store Women,” it’s time to begin measuring outcomes for women’s representation, leveling the playing field by uncovering inequities in pay and promotion, and doing the hard work to put the “I” in DE&I for all of us.

Patricia Coe is senior director of sales at Advantage Solutions.

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