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Adaptability and empathy. Industry leaders reflect on the bright spots of COVID

Former Star Women in Grocery winners discussed some of the lessons they’ve learned over the last 18 months during a recent webinar hosted by Canadian Grocer

The impact of COVID-19 has been widespread and though it has been a challenging time, it has brought about some positive changes in the way the industry operates and its treatment of employees.   

Increased empathy, flexibility and a focus on mental health are some of the bright spots over the last 18 months, as highlighted by former Star Women in Grocery winners during a recent webinar hosted by Canadian Grocer.  

Adaptability is also a skill Erin Rooney, VP sales and marketing consumer products at McCormick Canada, will take with her as companies attempt to find their post-pandemic footing and life returns to a greater sense of normal.

At the very start of the pandemic and within a 24-hour timeframe, employees were suddenly working from home and in some cases juggling kids, school and pets, too, but they quickly found that work-life balance, said Rooney.

“We never in a million years would have got there if we tried to do it as a process, but being forced on us I found it amazing how adaptable (people were) … Adaptability is a lesson we can all take (away from the pandemic). We can handle it, we can handle whatever comes and be open and go for it.”

With COVID came a greater acceptance and understanding of work-life balance, said Rooney. With home life and work under the same roof, the struggle to manage it all is now on display for colleagues and employers to see.

“I think the next generation post pandemic, work life balance is going to be easier because those things are a little more accepted than they used to be. If I think about what will stick around I think working remotely and flexibility,” said Rooney.

Joining Rooney for the hour-long panel discussion around leadership and the changing grocery industry was Naniss Gadel-Rab, VP customer development at Unilever Canada; Kathlyne Ross, VP product development, innovation & sustainability at Loblaw; and Sandra Sanderson, SVP marketing at Sobeys.

Gadel-Rab echoed Rooney’s thoughts, saying: “We learned to pivot and adapt. To move quickly and the reality is, it’s not the smartest or strongest that survive but the ones that can adapt who survive.”

Because everyone’s experience during the pandemic has been different, Ross stressed the importance of having one-on-one conversations with team members and understanding their circumstances as the company tries to navigate a post-pandemic work environment.

Even as Loblaw works on getting some of its employees and supplier partners back into the office for in-person meetings, the company continues to explore flexible work options and continues to offer mental health support as COVID-19 drags on.

“We need to make sure we’re always speaking to our folks, keeping that flexibility of their schedules and know that everyone’s situation is absolutely different and we’ll never be back to a place where we’re back in the office 100% of the time,” said Ross.

And, as evidenced over the last 18 months, COVID-19 has also changed consumer shopping habits. But this extends beyond a switch from discount to conventional, or from in-store shopping to online.

Increasingly, consumers are shopping for brands that reflect their personal values and they expect companies to stand for something more than just its products and services, said Sanderson.

“Consumers want to engage with and to buy from brands that reflect their values and they’re expecting companies like ours to step up and take a more active role in making the world a better place,” she said.

But wait! There’s more. If you missed the Star Women in Grocery Leadership Panel, you can watch it on demand.

And don’t forget to register for the Star Women in Grocery virtual awards ceremony on Oct. 20, where we’ll celebrate this year’s winners.

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