Paying it forward pays dividends
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Posted by: Barbara Francella
Donna Giordano — president of Ralphs, a division of Kroger — took a part-time job
at King Soopers in the early ‘70s, there weren't a lot of women leaders in the
industry to look up to.
But the management team at
King Soopers was ahead of the curve: They recognized the importance of
nurturing female talent. And because they did, Donna stayed in food retailing after
graduating from college and made the industry her life’s work.
Donna is the first to say
she’s didn’t get to be a banner president all by herself. She went from store
manager to vice president of merchandising at King Soopers, where she was
mentored by Russ Dispense, a visionary boss who saw past gender. She was promoted
to president of Kroger’s QFC division in 2002 and named Ralphs president in
Related: "Lost leaders: Does your talent pipeline need nurturing?"
In a profile in the Network of
Executive Women’s latest Annual Report, Donna talks about how Dispense, now
president of King Soopers, sponsored her at a time when women in the c-suite
were usually answering phones for a male executive.
"Russ developed and challenged
me,” she said. "He threw projects at me that I didn’t think I could handle, but
he had faith that I could — and I did. He taught me the value of having a sponsor
and the huge difference it makes to someone’s career. It was a risk for him. I
owe who I am today to him.”
Now Donna oversees 230 stores
throughout Southern California and leads as she was led, developing talented
people regardless of gender or background. "We don’t promote women because they
are women,” she said. "We promote people because they are part of a diverse
talent pool and are experienced.”
Like her former boss, Donna mentors
and sponsors high-potential employees, a commitment she finds not just "personally
satisfying” but an "absolute business strategy.”
When a supermarket operator — or
anyone in the "pleasing consumers” business — is guided by diverse leadership, that
business connects to shoppers in a more authentic way. A leadership team that
reflects today’s consumers has greater insights, makes better decisions and knows
how to innovate and market to diverse consumers.
How to get there
But a diverse leadership team doesn’t
just happen. As a part-time King Sooper’s employee, Donna was one of the few
women who felt confident enough — and supported enough — to enter a management
program. But how many young women — on either side of the checkout counter —
see the grocery business as a good path to leadership today?
It’s a question that persists
when women hit middle management. A recent global survey by McKinsey & Co.
found that female executives are much less certain than their male peers that
they’ll reach the c-suite.
There’s a real and significant
gender gap in the grocery industry’s leadership, and that’s bad for retention,
morale, productivity — and business overall.
Before she earned her degree,
Donna learned that a company’s leadership style and corporate culture play a
huge role in a woman’s career confidence. That’s still true, according to McKinsey’s
"Moving Mind-sets on Gender Diversity.”
Women who are most confident they’ll
reach their c-suite career goals were more likely to tell McKinsey that their
companies’ leadership and culture support gender diversity. These women are
motivated because they feel they are just as likely as men to reach the top at
Unfortunately, men and women
don’t always agree on the barriers that confront women. If men don’t see a
problem, they won’t be part of the solution, and diversity efforts will fail.
Worse, they may feel initiatives aimed at closing the gender gap are aimed at
them. More than half of the men
surveyed by McKinsey (54 percent) said "having too many gender-diversity
measures or initiatives to promote women leaders is unfair to men.”
The good news is that the
business case for women’s leadership is understood: Three-quarters of the men
surveyed believe that gender-diverse leadership teams generate better company
All we need now are leaders
who will translate this belief into action and pay it forward.
Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women. This article first
appeared in Progressive Grocer.
Views expressed in signed blogs and user comments
are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the
Network of Executive Women or its Officers, Board members and sponsors.
More Memo from the CEO