Advantage Solutions expands partnership with NextUp as part of commitment to elevating women in the workplace

Michael Browne

Despite decades of progress and great strides in recent years for women in the workplace, women still face inordinate challenges in corporate America.

Trends for women in the global workplace show the pipeline for top leadership positions still hasn’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Women held just 14% of senior leadership positions in 2023, down from 18% in 2019. In 2020, 5 million women in the U.S. alone lost jobs. Many still have not come back to work, and many of those who have are often returning at lower professional levels than when they left.

That’s a problem. And it’s one Advantage Solutions is actively seeking to help solve.

Driven by its commitment to elevating women in the workplace, Advantage is expanding its partnership with NextUp, a nonprofit network of women, men, allies and corporate partners working together to eliminate barriers for women in the workplace. This year, Advantage has significantly increased its investment in sponsorship, moving from Supporter level to Advocate level, which allows more available memberships for teammates and increased speaking and networking opportunities at NextUp events.

“This partnership is a tool to help us provide equitable development opportunities to the women in our organization so they can rise into those director and VP and above roles,” says Rebecca Grey, vice president, belonging & impact, DEI & ESG. Developing women’s careers and expanding the number of women in leadership roles – particularly where representation of women declines –  is a priority and necessity at Advantage, Grey says.

In a country where women comprise 50% of the population, Advantage is a leader in women’s representation in the workforce with 65%. But that number decreases as it rolls up to the director and VP level, Grey says.  

“All dimensions of diversity offer unique experiences that impact a teammate’s career journey. So it’s important as an organization that we recognize that, meet people where they are, and give them the tools and resources that they need to achieve their personal and professional goals and in an equitable way,” Grey says.

The company’s expanding partnership with NextUp is a key lever. NextUp, which offers leadership training and development programs for members and, significantly, the opportunity to network with women leaders from different businesses on a national scale through online and in-person events, grew its membership to a record 17,131 in 2023.

It now has more than 100 corporate partnerships, with Advantage ranking in the top three in terms of engagement, says Lisa Baird, the organization’s CEO.

For Advantage, which has invested heavily in internal Belonging & Impact initiatives and employee resource groups such as its Women’s Interactive Network (WIN), the partnership with NextUp expands the opportunities available to its teammates to grow and develop their careers.

“Companies have done an extraordinary amount to build internal development programs, and we work with them to supplement and create programs that are complementary,” NextUp’s Baird says. “What an internal program can never replace is the awareness and the ability to learn in the context of other people from other companies that a national organization like NextUp offers. It presents a very special opportunity to grow in new ways because you expand your lens.”

Michelle Tonner, director of client services for fresh foods at Daymon, an Advantage business, is a longtime NextUp member. She says her involvement with the organization has allowed her “to take hold of my own development plan and build a leadership platform by using their resources and tools.”

“There’s always an opportunity to learn from the outside and to work with people who are like-minded in our industry but may be at different points on the path,” Tonner says. “They’ve got different experiences and may have been through some things that can help you understand what some of the challenges are.”

With its collection of webinars, in-person events and in-depth leadership training and learning programs, NextUp aims to prepare women with “the capabilities to stay in the workforce and advance through the corporate ladder, if that’s what they choose,” Baird says.

A career-changing opportunity

For Advantage’s Ericka Prentice, being a NextUp member proved a critical stepping stone into a new corporate role. After joining Advantage eight years ago as a part-time field engagement trainer, Prentice worked in a variety of sales roles across the company. An active member of WIN, Advantage’s employee resource group for women and allies, she was invited to speak at last year’s NextUp Summit.

The Summit was where Prentice was able to connect with members of Advantage’s executive leadership team, including Grey and CEO Dave Peacock. After meeting Prentice and hearing her speak on stage, Grey invited her to join her team as manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging — a dream job.

“The exposure that NextUp gave me between speaking there and being able to network with our own leadership made all the difference in the world,” Prentice says. She’ll be onstage again at this year’s Summit, sharing the story of her experience.

A self-described “learner,” Prentice joined NextUp two years ago and took full advantage of the organization’s training, courses and self-assessments. She estimates that those programs would have cost her thousands of dollars on her own. But with Advantage investing in career growth across levels, she was able to participate for free.

Speaking at the Summit in front of more than a thousand attendees “was one of the best experiences I ever had,” Prentice says. “Not just because I spoke, but to be there and experience the variety of speakers and topics, and to network with these leaders at the breakout sessions, to even interact with your own coworkers.

“Some of the women I’ve met at the NextUp Summit, we still meet once a month to talk about different issues that may be coming up within our companies and to brainstorm,” she says.

Advantage’s partnership with NextUp sends a strong message to people across the organization that the company’s leadership values their growth and development, Prentice says. “We want you to grow within your career with Advantage and we want you to stay.”

Dianne Galang, vice president of operations for Daymon and a NextUp board member, says the partnership “shows that we’re really leaning into diversity — and not just women, but overall diversity. NextUp isn’t just about women, it’s about promoting diversity in business.”