From Preparation to Practice: Transformation of the Retail Ecosystem

“Equity is both a process and a goal.” – Jerry Hawkins, Director of the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Initiative.

In partnership with the National Fund and Central Iowa Works, Hope Street Group convened members of the Retail Opportunity Network in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 7 and 8, 2018. The convening, From Preparation to Practice: The Transformation of the Retail Ecosystem, brought together over 60 organizations working collectively to drive systems change for the U.S. Retail Sector. The convening offered an opportunity to discuss actionable steps toward preparing for change in the retail ecosystem with a focus on equity across race and gender lines.

The convening kicked-off with a tour of Hy-Vee[1]’s Training and Education Center and Online Fulfillment Center located in Urbandale, Iowa. There, attendees heard about the rapid evolution of the grocery industry and the effect of this change on frontline jobs. The visit jumpstarted the conversation around equity and investing in all workers for the jobs of tomorrow, which was highlighted by keynote speaker Jerry Hawkins of the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Initiative. The convening continued with presentations from RON members, along three tracks followed by small-group discussions to brainstorm concrete ways to apply what was learned. The tracks focused on supporting changes in employer engagement, lifelong learning, and the power of using a proven signaling system- an effective and recognized system of credentials that are competency-based, unbiased, and portable- as ways to build the infrastructure needed for upskilling retail workers.

“It’s always helpful to look at this work from the various perspectives of the people in this room and it’s helped me to navigate the topic of equity with our employer partners.  There really isn’t another venue where organizations at various levels can get together and talk about these issues that are so important to so many workers.”  Soneeta Mangra-Dutcher, CIW Operations Director, said of the RON convening.

Attendees left Des Moines with three main takeaways. First, the importance of finding strategies for broaching the equity conversation with employers in today’s retail environment. Attendees also gained a better understanding of what equity means and the need for disaggregated data as a starting point. Lastly, understanding the need to incorporate worker voice into all spheres of work is critical during this transformative period in the retail industry. As attendees returned home to their respective communities, the lessons learned in Des Moines will continue to impact the work being done to advance frontline retail workers in a more equitable way.

[1] Hy-Vee is an employee-owned chain of more than 245 supermarkets throughout the Midwestern United States and has been engaged with CIW’s growing Retail Industry Partnership, a component of their Retail Pathways Project.


Ana Hageage

-- Program Director, National Fund for Workforce Solutions