Mel, Store Leader, has spent 13 years with PetSmart and shares what Belonging at PetSmart means to her.
The Belonging Program’s “I Belong” Series harnesses the power of empathy through storytelling. This series is intended to give associates a greater sense of understanding, a bridge to gain new perspective, and a way to build connection to each other. To learn more about the “I Belong” Series or to submit your stories, please visit our new Belonging Fetch Page.
PetSmart’s Belonging Program leads with the phrase, “I Belong.” What does that mean for you?
Mel: “I Belong” means I never worry about whether I am seen as lesser based on factors beyond my control, like my gender or sexual orientation.
What message would you share with your peers about how to build a culture of true inclusion at PetSmart?
Mel: For my peers looking for advice on how to build a culture of true inclusion at PetSmart I would say, check your biases at the door (hopefully you don’t have any), and expect the same of your associates. You must represent zero tolerance for anything less than an inclusive environment. Address racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia (etc.) the moment it happens. As a Store Leader, you decide what is acceptable by how you react. You control the culture of your store. Lead by example!
Can you share an experience when you felt a sense of belonging at PetSmart?
Mel: For me, the sense of belonging at PetSmart came the moment I started my career. In November 2007, I walked into PetSmart for an interview. We talked about my work experience, and the manager asked me what types of activities I like to do outside of work. I started listing off some sports, and the words “my girlfriend and I” slipped out. I paused, looked at the Store Leader, hoping we were still cool, and saw zero reaction … not positive, not negative. We carried on talking about the role, and I left thinking, “wow, she was not put off at all, maybe she didn’t hear me.” Fast forward a week, I’m in for training, we are chatting, and she asks me what my girlfriend does for work. She heard me. She didn’t misunderstand me. She saw me for what I could bring to the team.
What advice do you have for your peers who want to have conversations about inclusion with their teams but don’t know where to start?
Mel: When having conversations about inclusion with your teams, it can be hard to know where to start. Sometimes we struggle with what wording is appropriate or if we have let things slide in the past that should have been addressed. Maybe we need to apologize for our own actions and hold to a stronger morale going forward. My advice is to remember the positives that come from an inclusive workspace, like higher morale, focus on work, lower turnover, etc. If you are new to actively supporting an inclusive workplace, remember we have all had a day 1. Learn and keep growing.
What more would you like to see from PetSmart? How can we help support you and your teams?
Mel: On a general level, PetSmart does an excellent job hiring talent and supporting associates without bias. I would like to see programs that help leaders identify discrimination and teach them how to react. I know the stigma around role playing, but you don’t want to be caught needing to address discrimination without the tools to act responsibly and professionally.
Is there anything else you'd like to share? What’s on your heart and mind?
Mel: It is not enough to only address inclusivity when there is a problem; we must not wait for acts of injustice to arise. As leaders, we must constantly voice where we stand in an effort to deter discriminatory acts before they occur. We owe it to our associates to be proactive about their right to inclusivity.