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At grocery conference, more women working in the supermarket

Star Women Conference looks at how retailers are adding females to their ranks

The grocery industry has long been aware that women make 80% of all purchase decisions in grocery stores.

But it has taken longer for the notion to take hold that women should do more than buy stuff in a grocery store; they should work there as well and, more importantly, hold senior in-store and executive positions.

But the tide is turning, according to several speakers at Canadian Grocer’s Star Women in Grocery conference, held Tuesday in Toronto.

READ: Meet Canadian Grocer's Star Women of 2013

Loblaw, for instance, has achieved a 54% increase in female store managers through its Women at Loblaw program and other initiatives, said Wendy Cukier, founder of the Diversity Institute and a vice-president of research at Ryerson University.

“If you’re workforce does not represent your consumers, you’re missing out,” she told the crowd of retailers and consumer packaged goods manufacturers at the International Centre.

The customer-facing natural of retail makes it doubly important to have a diverse workforce inside stores, she added.

For women, the challenge has been to go beyond the cashier, bakery and deli counter jobs that have been their traditional workstations in the supermarket.

Retailers are trying to make that happen.

Loblaw is training more women in fresh departments because fresh experience is key to becoming a store manager, Leah De Santis, Loblaw’s senior director of talent and diversity, said.

Similarly, when Walmart started its Women in Retail in 2010, it launched the program first at store level, rather than head office “in order to get more women frontline managers and store mangers,” Diane Willemse, vice-president of organizational capabilities at Walmart Canada noted

The effort has paid off with a 44% increase in female store managers at Walmart in the last three years.

Both Loblaw and Walmart have put in place programs to that give up-and-coming women in their organizations greater access to senior leaders and get mentoring.

More women, and more diversity in general, at work has been proven to be a good thing, Charlene Press, senior vice-president of human resources at Nestle Canada pointed out.

VIEW: Photos from Canadian Grocer's Star Women conference

“Research has shown that gender balanced teams are more creative,” she said.

Cukier said grocery companies should have a strategy in place to attract and promote more women within their companies. These should include appointing a chief diversity officer at the executive level, having highly visible female role models with the organization and offering mentorship programs for women.

She added that companies should set targets to number of women in their organization, especially at the managerial and executive level, but she stopped short of suggesting companies set hiring quotas.

This was Canadian Grocer’s second annual Star Women conference and part of the magazine effort to highlight the accomplishments of women in grocery.

Fourteen winners of the magazine’s 2013 Star Women in Grocer Award were recognized at the event. See a full list of the winners here.

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