April 4, 2022

Career development programs that help women thrive

career progression

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In both PWC’s Future of Work report and additional research done on what women want in the workplace, career development was cited as one of the top five benefits people look for from a workplace. Women (and all employees) want to know they will be able to grow, develop and meet their ambitions. 

In order to build an engaged workforce with a pipeline of talented leaders, companies need to focus on their career development strategy. And knowing how important it is to employees, development pathways are critical to retention. 

One of our Endorsed Employers, Coles Supermarkets, understands the importance of developing their people. We spoke to them about their development program and heard from some of their employees about their experiences.

Coles’ Store Manager Accelerator Program

Coles have a Store Manager Accelerator Program (SMAP), specifically to bring in high-performing women from outside the organization and build a pipeline of women ready to undertake leadership positions in stores. 

Many store managers come through a traditional career path, working their way up within the store. But Nina Pollard (she/her), Head of Talent Management, shares that there are limited numbers of women who have taken this traditional career path to store manager, meaning women can be underrepresented in these store-based leadership positions. Making the SMAP an inspiring solution.

Additionally, there are a large number of processes and systems that are used in-store and are normally learned on the job. So, external candidates can have a technical knowledge gap that needs to be filled. Nina says, 

“The SMAP program gives candidates an opportunity to learn these systems and processes in an accelerated manner and be better equipped to take on leadership roles within the store.”

How SMAP supports women

The SMAP is designed specifically to attract and retain women into store leadership positions. Women are supported and trained so they are ready for leadership positions and have plenty of on the job training.

SMAP features include: 

  • A six month fully-funded program to allow sufficient time for participants to understand Coles and the specific technical elements of a store manager’s role, including key systems and processes, without the expectation of autonomous performance from day one.
  • A support network consisting of Line Manager, Buddy, and the Emerging Talent team in addition to having the peer-to-peer support of the other members of the cohort.
  • Opportunity to experience multiple store settings and locations to help create a network and build credibility with other team members before taking on a formal leadership position.
  • Centrally coordinated training and development.

By the end of the program, team members will have been exposed to a number of important learning opportunities. They have the chance to rotate through three different stores, spend time at the Store Support Center understanding the function support areas and shadow a Regional Manager to understand the crucial importance of the Store Manager role. 

Women come out of SMAP well-rounded, with the technical skills, network and growth mindset to support their careers as Store Managers. 

The impact of focusing on women

Nina shared that the SMAP is already having a material impact on the number of women in leadership positions. They’re going to continue running the program and building their cohort of women in leadership into the future. 

“The inaugural SMAP saw 14 talented female leaders join the business and develop during the six month program in readiness for taking on their own Store Manager position. At completion, participants were either formally appointed to SM roles or into caretaking SM positions, awaiting appointment to their own store at the next vacancy. The success of this program had a material positive impact on the female representation in operations leadership positions in 2021.”

Anita Cook (she/her), Store Manager has been with Coles for one year, having joined via their SMAP. She had previous experience in leadership and managing large teams, and Anita fit the bill despite never having worked in retail before. 

“I was extremely excited to take on this role, as it was a completely different direction from my previous role running a National Contact Center and I was up for new learnings and challenges.  This first year has been a big learning curve and one that I have enjoyed. The role is more hands-on than I had expected but it’s been a great way to understand the business and lead by example.  

“I’m very passionate about building an inspiring work culture by bringing in healthy competition, fostering teamwork, bonding, and thereby helping the company grow to its full potential. I have made the time in each of the stores I have worked in over the 12 months to get to know my team and what best motivates them, being a good listener and offering support and guidance. 

“A role in retail leadership is very rewarding and one that I have so far found I can bring in my leadership style to influence others to strive for the best.” 

A career in retail

Not only does SMAP give Coles the opportunity to attract women without a retail background, they are also keen to attract women with retail experience who can add to processes and culture at Coles

Ashleigh Harrison (she/her), Store Manager in Coles Goonellabah is one such success story. Ashleigh shares her experience of a career in retail and what it’s like at Coles

“For a child that dreamt of being a psychologist, becoming a Store Manager for Coles didn’t seem like a likely pathway. My journey has led me to realize that my goals and my reality have more similarities than differences.”

She started her career at age 16, as a casual team member at Big W. By remaining open to opportunities, she was rewarded with her first leadership role. All the while, she had her mind on studying for what she believed was her dream career.

“I realized that my purpose was to help people. But I could pursue this from within the team I was already supporting.”

Ashleigh got her first store manager position at another large retailer, in a period she was also raising two daughters at home.

“I know that balancing a career and being a mother can be difficult but beyond anything, it is immeasurably rewarding. Over the years I have not let being a mother deter me from pursuing opportunities. Leading large teams and creating a positive culture within stores gives me a sense of pride when I see the results we deliver.

“I see challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and show that I’m truly capable. I believe in myself and my process, whilst also being empowered by the creativity and ingenuity of the team around me.”

Ashleigh joined Coles last year on their Store Manager Accelerator Program.

“This program has fast-tracked my learning and development within Coles and as a result, I was appointed Store Manager in six months. I created a network within the cohort of other leaders participating in the program and built a support system to utilize as I continued my progression. The exposure I gained across all fields has played a key role in my successes during a short time.”

“Since starting a career with Coles, I feel I have gained another family. The support and recognition I have received over the last 12 months have inspired me to continue my pursuit of growth for both myself and the business. Over the coming years, my goal is to build my knowledge of the support roles within Coles and progress into regional/state positions. During this time, I will be pursuing opportunities to lead projects, connect with mentors and build on my capabilities as a senior leader.”

Ashleigh sees challenges as an opportunity to learn, grow and remind herself just how capable she is. 

“I believe in myself and my process, whilst also being empowered by the creativity and ingenuity of the team around me. In moments of uncertainty I remind myself I can, I have, I will.”

Supporting women beyond SMAP

While SMAP has been created specifically to drive women into leadership positions, it’s just one way Coles are committed to ensuring women progress in their careers. 

Jaclyn Sanderson (she/her) is a Regional Manager who’s been with Coles for almost 25 years, having started part time on the checkouts while she was still in school. In contrast to Anita and Ashleigh, she worked her way up internally through the retail business into management. 

When Jaclyn finished school, she was offered a Retail Management traineeship and worked her way up from a casual team member to Department Manager, Store Manager and now the Regional Manager role she has been in for almost five years. 

“I have a great team in my region who I really enjoy working with. They are very supportive and help achieve the results that we do. I also have a supportive Line Manager which makes my role achievable and enjoyable. My family is also very supportive of my career. 

“My advice [for other women looking to grow into leadership positions] is to be open and honest about what your needs and commitments are. Don’t be afraid to discuss these, whether it is a personal activity, having the flexibility to care for your child or going to the kids’ school for an event. Lastly, back yourself and believe in yourself. If you put your mind to something you can achieve it.”

Taking women on the journey

We know that women want to work where they have opportunities to learn, grow and progress their careers. Coles understand that too, along with all the benefits of having women in leadership positions. Their SMAP is one way they attract and develop women, but they also have a track record of promoting women internally. To find out more about SMAP and Coles’ other benefits, see their Endorsed Employer page here

Do you want to see how far your career could go with Coles?

Check out all their open roles today.

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About the Author
Samantha Sutherland is the Chief Storyteller at WORK180. She is a Diversity and Inclusion specialist with an analytical background, making her work evidence-based and data driven. Host of WORK180’s Equality Talks podcast and her own Women at Work, Samantha divides her time between interviewing amazing women for WORK180, mentoring and coaching women in, or aspiring to, leadership roles, and providing high-level advice on diversity practices to Australian corporations. You can learn more about the Samantha Sutherland consultancy at samanthasutherland.com.au.

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