How Top Women in Grocery Get Their Voices Heard

A Grocery Impact panel pinpoints a key barrier to advancement of many women in food retail
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Headshot
Grocery Impact 2023
Moderated by Elizabeth Lafontaine (far left), Grocery Impact’s “Getting Your Voice Heard” panel session featured 2023 Top Women in Grocery (left to right) Rebecca Torpie, Kathy Scott and Jennifer Enoch.

There’s much I could write about regarding Progressive Grocer’s recent Grocery Impact event — the high-profile speakers, the triumphant procession of Top Women in Grocery and Generation Next honorees as they claimed their awards, or even the joyous Hershey-sponsored afterparty that closed out the three days of scheduled activities in a flurry of dancing, drinking and feasting on chocolate confections. What I’d like to focus on is just one of the educational sessions that we offered, featuring three fantastic 2023 Top Women in Grocery: Rebecca Torpie, director of marketing at BriarPatch Food Co-op; Kathy Scott, a store director at Balls Food Stores/Hen House Markets; and Jennifer Enoch, director of talent acquisition at Lowes Foods.

Moderated by Elizabeth Lafontaine, formerly chief retail analyst at PG parent company EnsembleIQ, the session, “Getting Your Voice Heard,” zeroed in on one of the main barriers to career advancement for women in the grocery industry and elsewhere — advocating for themselves. “I think we worry about how we’re perceived,” noted Enoch. “There’s a misperception that women can seem aggressive [and] emotional” when they stand up for themselves. 

[Nominations Now Being Accepted for 2024 Top Women in Grocery Awards]

For her part, Torpie identified “a resignation … that we are in this system that is just sort of insurmountable sometimes.” 

Thinking about what held her back early on in her career, Scott observed: “So many times that I’ve asked [a] question, I was afraid to ask it. But once I got out there … I had so many yeses that it gave me the confidence to be able to ask the question more often.”

Speak Your Piece

All three spoke about overcoming their reluctance to speak up in difficult circumstances.

“Courage is the hardest thing to find,” admitted Enoch, discussing how she ultimately confronted a manager about a role that wasn’t working for her and was promoted as a result. Scott found her courage in self-help books and professional organizations, from which she “learned to speak from the heart and not be afraid to show who I am.”

For Torpie, mature self-acceptance enabled her to assert herself.

“I think that it’s a lot easier for many of us to advocate for others rather than for ourselves because … we’re much more objective when it comes to seeing other people’s strengths,” she said. “[I]t was much easier for me to advocate … for myself once I was able to … think of myself as a multifaceted person rather than as [someone] who still needed to find pieces of the puzzle to put together.”

A self-described “natural introvert,” Torpie recounted that “for a really long time, I … attempted to be assertive and loud at the table, and it really made me anxious and … I didn’t enjoy being at work, either. [That changed] once I realized that I could lean into that superpower of introversion and those skills that come along with it, like being really good at actively listening and being a person who’s able to look at the big picture … and just being really observant and being able to identify tone and voice, and being really intuitive.”

Leadership Lessons

Another way to gain a better sense of direction on one’s career path is through mentorship, which of course goes both ways. “I think it’s really important to be a mentor for other women, but also to find one for yourself,” advised Enoch. “That was [of] huge importance to me.”

Getting ahead in one’s field comes with certain responsibilities, however. “As leaders … we need to hold space for those who don’t have a place at the table,” cautioned Torpie. “We’re in the position of being able to do that on their behalf.”

As Enoch summed up at the close of the session: “[P]erseverance … is key. And things don’t happen overnight. Sometimes we have to really work hard to get what we want, where we want. And sometimes the timing might not be exactly what we think it should be, but I’d encourage everyone to just find ways that you can grow personally as well as professionally.” 

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