Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada + OCTANE
SWIC winners. More photos to come
Convenience Store News Canada presented its annual Star Women in Convenience Awards at the International Centre in Toronto, recognizing women making a difference and demonstrating commitment, innovation and leadership in the Canadian convenience and gas channel.
Forty-eight women were honoured in the ceremony on Tuesday September 19, 2023. Sandra Parente, senior vice-president, grocery and convenience Canada for EnsembleIQ, welcomed attendees and thanked the event supporters.
Marc Goodman, vice-president and general manager with 7-Eleven Canada, gave opening remarks, and spoke about working at his grandmother’s fish and chip operation at the Canadian National Exhibition as a teen. As he described her working there each day, he says he did not appreciate at the time and the barriers she needed to overcome to succeed in a male-dominated industry.
“She was a trailblazer,” says Goodman. “All of you here have shown the same perseverance as she had, and you are blazing a trail for the next generation of leaders in this industry.”
Unstoppable Tracy, a dynamic motivational speaker, author and decorated athlete—as a quadruple amputee, she won a bronze medal in alpine downhill para-skiing at the Ontario Parasport Games and was inducted into the Canadian Disability Hall of Fame—told the winners and attendees about overcoming the barriers that existed, and still exist. She says the greatest struggle is overcoming the ‘No’ that often prevents people from moving forward. Instead, that ‘No’ should instead be a ‘Know, as one never knows what one can do and what one can overcome.
She illustrated this by recounting her first time going to school and being told that because of her disabilities she could not attend as there were no programs or accommodations available. Her mom said to the principal to give her a week and see if she was up to the challenges of being at school. The principal agreed and on the first day of kindergarten he discovered that Tracy was the first one ready for recess and was helping her new friend tie her shoes so they could go outside to play. "Uncertainty is no excuse for inaction," she told the riveted crowd, who gave her a standing ovation.
Overcoming challenges was the key takeaway from the winners. At a panel hosted by Michelle Warren, editor and associate publisher of Convenience Store News Canada, Jennifer Lai, head of category management for marketing with Petro-Canada | Suncor says, like others in the channel, her team faced a variety of challenges in recent years.
“When I reflect on what we learned it is that any company that is going through significant change and transformation, one has to be adaptable and you have to roll with the punches,” says Lai.
Naila Ansari, area leader, Calgary, with 7-Eleven Canada says that coming from a conservative country like Afghanistan she had to navigate many unique challenges and it was a friend who recommended that she look at working for 7-Eleven. “To this day, I am amazed at how far and how fast I have gone in this industry, and I absolutely enjoy making a difference and positive impact. What keeps me going are the never-ending opportunities for growth.”
Lai adds that what she is most appreciative of is how she was encouraged to take on new roles and challenges by those she has worked with. Each role provided a new opportunity for growth and a new perspective on what she could accomplish: "We all have innate strengths and we have to know how to use them to our advantage and we need to be willing to go outside of our comfort zones."
Giving back was also important to the winners, and they see mentoring and creating opportunities for others as key to their work.
Joany Nadeau, senior human resources manager with Alimentation Couche-Tard | Circle K, says she sees it as important to be there for others and to recognize talent and create opportunities for others to grow and realize their potential. She highlighted the Couche-Tard/HEC Montreal University partnership as an example of a favourite project in her career.
Nicole Dubé, manager Canada merchandising execution for Parkland Corp., spoke about constantly challenging herself to learn and grow, as well as the importance of mentors in her personal and professional life. She emphasized the satisfaction of mentoring and supporting her company's next generation of leaders.
“Giving back is a core belief of mine,” Ansari adds. “I want to give everyone equal opportunities to grow and when it comes to fostering the next generation we need to be there for them and to help them to grow further in their careers.”
The audience also heard personal and inspired stories from a number of industry leaders and SWIC supporters, including Melani Melnyk of Mondelēz Canada, Caroline Evans of JTI-Macdonald Corp. and Ron Clark from PepsiCo Beverages. Suzanne Poirier from Alimentation Couche-Tard | Circle K was on hand to help hand out the awards.