Many people don’t know that I spent a year working for Whole Foods Market, first at the new store in Short Pump, Virginia (near Richmond), and then at one of their oldest stores in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was reluctant to tell people because everyone that knows me knows me as “Power Connie,” or “ABC”―All Business Connie. I didn’t think they would understand.
I had very specific reasons at the time for joining the company:
- I was working through the graduate program in Sustainable Technology and Management at Arizona State University, and wanted to gain some experience in a company that visibly practiced sustainability values and practices.
- Whole Foods is headquartered in Austin, Texas, and I thought if I could move through the company it would be easy to transfer back to my home state.
- It’s been listed in the top 25 of Fortune magazine’s 100 Best Companies to Work For since it has been a public company.
- I love the store, and thought it would be a healthy, cool place to work.
The caveat is that in order to move up and through the company you pretty much have to start at the bottom. It’s difficult to get in, so when I was actually offered a job I swallowed my pride, moved my designer shoes to the back of my closet, and went for it! And after a year, I am now sharing my experience, my confirmations about my impression of the company, and my disappointments.
Because I was in graduate school and was active in my own marketing business, I was able (but barely) to go into an entry level job for $10 an hour. I don’t think I’ve ever made $10 an hour...ever! But secretly I was hoping (and quite frankly, expecting) that someone in management (or store leadership as WFM refers to it) would quickly take notice of me and think, “We need to do something with her! Between her marketing experience and knowledge of sustainability, there are a lot of places in the store, the region, or the company where she could contribute.” It was not to be.
The first six months I kept a low profile, observing the workings of the company. After we left for the summer and I came back to the Charlottesville store I became more aggressive about applying for positions―particularly marketing and communications jobs in the Texas region― and inquiring about opportunities to work with the Green initiatives at the store level. I never even received a chance to interview for any of them! In fact, in one preliminary discussion the hiring team leader said, “But you don’t have any food experience.” Uh...except that I had been working for Whole Foods for a year; not to mention that I had twelve years of catering and convention management in the hotel industry! I was also denied the chance to contribute to the Green team. Here were the credentials I presented each time:
- I know and understand Whole Foods Market and am committed to the values and business practices of the company. This is demonstrated by the fact that I was willing to join the company at the most entry-level position and earn a wage that I have never experienced in order to learn the company and be able to explore positions that better fit my professional and educational background from the inside. I’ve worked in two stores, one brand new one in Short Pump, VA and one very old one in Charlottesville, VA, so I understand the workings and challenges of both.
- WFM Dallas/Short Pump/Charlottesville/Austin and the company as a whole will benefit from my recent graduate studies through the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. Many of my research projects and areas of study focused on global food issues, sustainable agriculture, urban agriculture, and global organic farming practices. I can contribute a perspective that includes the importance of WFM’s impact on the food industry worldwide!
- My marketing experience has spanned several industries, from sustainable building products, to individual branding and publicity, to non-profits. I’ve held big director-level positions, volunteered with community non-profits, and own my own consulting practice. Specific to this position, I practice a level of excellence in managing creative efforts, community public relations, communications, copywriting and editing, budget management, and social media marketing.
How does a company with the reputation and success that WFM has enjoyed not even respond to this? Who is going to have more to contribute than me? And why would they rather have me standing at a cash register?
But when I came to the realization that there would be no opportunities for me and I chose to close the door on this endeavor and go full-time with my marketing agency, I actually recommended that my husband apply for their management training program. With that, he would be able to go right into Store Leadership. His background, personality, and experience would be perfect for Whole Foods. Again, it would be a step-down from what his prior positions were, but the benefits and enjoyment of the company and the job would be worth it! He actually received a phone call and interview. He proceeded to follow-up consistently. His responses to the phone interview questions and written interview questions were exactly what the company looks for in its store leaders. 8 weeks later, he has still not heard a word.
And I have witnessed example after example of talented, educated, experienced people with so much to offer be passed over for no apparent reason. Even those of us willing to work for the low wages just to work within the company!
They tout a “team” environment, where the team makes all of the decisions related to its department, but what I witnessed were team leaders who had their own agendas, and chose who they wanted, or supported who they wanted, and let those like me go away.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, “How sustainable are Whole Foods’ sustainability initiatives?”