It’s All About the Journey

The NACS IDEA Conference brought honest discussion around inclusion, diversity, equity and awareness.

October 06, 2021

NACS IDEA Conference

By Sara Counihan

CHICAGO—A journey is defined as the traveling of one place to the next, usually for a rather long time, and those who participated in the NACS IDEA Conference on Monday agreed that the journey to an inclusive, diverse, equitable and aware culture is not an overnight trip.

“Everyone has used the word journey,” remarked Treasa Bowers, vice president and chief diversity officer at 7-Eleven, during her presentation. “Why do we say ‘journey’ versus ‘trip?’ Well, a trip is fun. It’s something you look forward to, but we say ‘journey’ because it’s hard. It’s a reflection of experiences that are not easy.”

The NACS IDEA Conference brought together c-store industry members who are in some way responsible for diversity and inclusion within their companies. Facilitated by Michelle Duguid, Ph.D., associate dean of diversity, inclusion and belonging at Cornell University, the conference was comprised of six, quick-fire, 30-minute presentations and a panel discussion from c-stores who shared their perspectives, experiences and plans on how they are leading the charge in diversity and inclusion in their companies.

Duguid kicked off the conference with a keynote on defining, understanding and leveraging different types of diversity and how to foster an inclusive climate. In explaining the differences between diversity and inclusivity, Duguid said that “diversity is about counting numbers, and inclusivity is making numbers count.”

Duguid asked the participants to speak in small groups about how their pasts have influenced having tough conversations about racism, sexism, ageism and other sensitive topics with their co-workers and employees. Many participants admitted that having these conversations was difficult.

“These conversations are difficult,” agreed Duguid, “but we cannot avoid them. Not anymore. It’s not good enough to say ‘oh we all know our values.’ … It may be difficult, but if we don’t address it, it may be worse.”

Next, 7-Eleven, Casey’s, EG America, GetGo Café+Market, Sheetz and Pilot each gave presentations on where their companies are on their diversity and inclusivity journey, why the companies chose to begin the journey and what they’ve learned along the way. Some organizations are in the infancy stages of their development. Some have been focusing on this topic and implementing measures for years. But everyone agreed that the journey to a diverse and inclusive culture is not about the destination.

“Every day we are one step closer. But there is not an end date. We are never done learning. We are never done being better than we were yesterday,” said James Colino, senior talent acquisition manager, Sheetz.

The conference ended with a panel discussion with four c-store representatives from Circle K, Kum & Go, RaceTrac and Thornton’s.

With some conference participants not yet on the diversity and inclusivity journey, Colette Matthews, Ph.D., vice president of global marketing, customer experience, Circle K, offered this advice: “Start with a coalition of the willing. That’s where you’re going to get a lot of your momentum and energy. That’s where you can grow from.”

When also asked how to get started on the journey, Heather Schott, diversity, equity and inclusion manager at Kum & Go, said, “You just do. You can’t afford not to get started. Start with a committee, or how you handle things that happen on your social media accounts. The key is to get started.”

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at