PLEASANTON, Calif. -- Safeway here is making a deliberate effort to encourage female employees with ambition to move up the corporate ladder to achieve their goals through a formalized mentoring program, according to Larree Renda, the company's top female executive.
Renda is executive vice president, retail operations, human resources, public affairs and labor and government relations -- one of four EVP's positioned just below Steve Burd, the chain's chairman, president and chief executive officer.
"Through a mentoring program, we're able to identify women and others with high potential who are working in low-level jobs, and link them with people who want to help them with information and career advice," she explained.
Although Safeway has had a mentoring program for years, it's only in the last 18 months that it formalized the process, developed best practices, and rolled it out companywide, she explained, "by assigning mentees to mentors and making them accountable through formal reporting that tracks what they have learned, what kind of progress they're making, and what their next career step should be."
Safeway has been "very happy" with the results, Renda said, "because now we're able to find, identify and select women and others we didn't know had these kinds of aspirations and abilities, and point them in the right direction for advancement."
Safeway has also developed separate networking programs for women and African Americans, and is about to start one for Hispanics -- groups that meet once a month to discuss various topics "such as how to remove obstacles and how to use their unique skills to make the company better," Renda explained. "But we're careful not to allow these to become complaint sessions."
Renda started working for Safeway as a bagger at age 16, and although she said she ran into skepticism from some men along the way -- mostly because of her age rather than her gender -- "more doors were opened to me than were closed, and I got more encouragement than discouragement.
"But I also pointed myself in the right direction to get more responsibility, rather than relying on anyone to nudge me along. And I made sure I didn't do anything half way. I knew I had to give 150%."
While Safeway does what it can to encourage women, women need to step up on their own to become successful, Renda added. "They need to take control of their own destinies. They need to take the initiative, set high goals for themselves, and have good communication skills, just like all people.
"But women also need to have extra courage because they can sometimes be challenged a little more, so they need the courage to stand up for themselves. Don't assume the people around you understand where you want to be -- you've got to speak up and make that known.
"And you don't get to the top levels of a company by doing what's expected of you. You have to move above that and take on additional areas of responsibility, and then over-deliver."
Given the nature of the retail grocery industry, "women are a natural for this business because many professional women are also part-time homemakers," Renda said. "I do the grocery shopping and the cooking for my husband and three teenagers, and I see things in the store differently than a male executive might. At least 70% of our customers are women, and the way I look at the stores in my professional capacity is in line with the way most of our customers see the stores because I am one of them."
More women are popping up at the executive level of supermarket companies because of planning and initiatives that began 10 or 20 years ago, Renda said, and that trend should accelerate over the next few years.
Larree M. Renda executive vice president, retail operations, labor relations, human resources, public affairs, government relations and reengineering
Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif.
Larree M. Renda is the top female executive at Safeway.
She also manages the company's relationship with Casa Ley, a joint venture in Mexico in which Safeway has a 49% interest.
Renda, 45, began her career as a bagger at Safeway in 1974 at the age of 16, and progressed through the retail ranks, becoming the youngest store manager, youngest district manager, and youngest retail operations manager in the company's history. In 1994, she became the first and youngest woman promoted to senior vice president. She was named Safeway's first female executive vice president in 1999.
Renda is a director and member of the audit committee of Household International and a trustee on the National Joint Labor Management Committee.