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    Paying It Forward Pays Dividends

    Donna Giordano had a wise mentor ? now it?s her turn.

    By Joan Toth
    Donna Giordano, president, Kroger’s Ralphs division

    When Donna Giordano, president of Cincinnati-based Kroger?s Ralphs division, took a part-time job at King Soopers in the early 1970s, there weren?t a lot of women leaders in the industry to look up to.

    But the management team at Denver-based 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 didn?t get to be a banner president all by herself. She went from store manager to VP 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 Bellevue, Wash.-based QFC division in 2002 and named president of Compton, Calif.-based Ralphs in 2011.

    In a profile in NEW?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 says. ?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.

    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

    Despite Donna?s success story, 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 New York-based McKinsey & Co.?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?re just as likely as men to reach the top at their companies.

    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.? Ouch.

    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 performance.

    All we need now are leaders who will translate this belief into action and pay it forward.

    Donna is the first to say she didn?t get to be a banner president by herself.

    By Joan Toth
    • About Joan Toth Joan Toth is president and CEO of the Network of Executive Women (NEW), a learning and leadership community with more than 8,500 members representing 750 companies, nearly 100 sponsors and 20 regions in the United States and Canada. For more information, visit newonline.org.

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