Women Find Their Voice in the Grocery Industry

I started in the grocery industry in 1983. I was a sales representative for Nestle and was one of only three women on our region’s sales team, including 80 people across five states. I often had the distinction of being the first woman to accomplish something on the sales team. For example, in 1987, I was recognized as the “Centurion” award winner as a unit manager, managing a team of sales reps. The award winners were announced at the end of the year, and the award ceremony was scheduled for just three weeks later. Awardees received a company ring. I was the first woman to win this award, and the company didn’t even have a woman’s ring design. They had to scramble and work with the ring company to design and make a ring for me in just three weeks. 

When I attended industry events in those early days of my career, I would look around the room and notice an average of one woman at each table of eight.

I thought this ratio would change as the years passed, but it didn’t. Even today, I still look around and note the number of women in the room and the number of minorities attending industry events. I could create a long list of reasons why this might be.

Still, today I will talk about just one of those reasons and how the National Grocers Association (NGA) and Women Grocers of America (WGA), a program of NGA, are working together to provide a solution.

The business world has long been male-dominated; men have had well-established networking groups such as their bowling leagues, golf leagues, health clubs, business clubs, etc.

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It was participation in these groups, men were provided a place to network, get advice, socialize, and establish connections that could help coach them through career successes and challenges.

Because there were few women in the workplace, similar career support and advice opportunities were not available to women. Finding those resources specifically for women seeking to advance their careers was challenging. 

Women Grocers of America saw the opportunity to create an initiative to support women in the “business world,” specifically the grocery industry. I have been a WGA board member for ten years and am so proud of our progress these past two years under the leadership of Kristin Popp, WGA president and EVP of Woodman’s Food markets in Janesville, Wisconsin.

“We are beyond thrilled with the response and support this initiative has received throughout,” said Kristin Popp, president of WGA and EVP of Woodman’s Food Markets. Kristin, together with the support of NGA president, Greg Ferrara, has created the Executive Female Leadership (EXFL) share group.

“A true testament to the need for support of our female leaders as they face unique challenges in their career journeys. I look forward to gathering with these extraordinary industry leaders in a space where we can learn together, discuss industry trends, solve problems, connect, and strengthen our industry by providing these opportunities for our female leaders.”

The EXFL met for the first time in Washington, DC. Thirty-five women leaders came together to learn, share experiences, offer career advice, and create a support group for those in the industry.

How I wish a resource such as this had been available to me as I built my career. 

Women Grocers of America continues to build its support of women in the industry through regular monthly webinars focused on career and personal development and growth.

In addition, WGA is supporting students attending the NGA show and helping them see a career for themselves in the industry. There is more to come as this group is gaining support to build diversity of thought and leadership in our industry. 

It’s an exciting time to be a woman in the grocery industry. I look forward to the next industry event and hope my “count” yields a change in our industry. For information about WGA and the EXFL and how you can become a member of WGA, visit our page within the NGA website: Women Grocers of America.