Retailers

All In: How Walmart, Albertsons and Target Are Accelerating Change

An industry sets ambitious goals for diversity, equity and inclusion
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Illustration by John Tomac

The companies making the greatest progress in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are taking action, effecting change, engaging all employees at every level, and doing so with the understanding that this critically important work is never done.

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In grocery, companies large and small, global and regional—including Walmart, Target, Albertsons and PCC Community Markets—are leading the way to more inclusive environments for their employees, customers and communities alike.

“Although Walmart has been on the [DEI] journey for 16 years, we are still on the course of learning,” says Donald Fan, senior director of Walmart’s Global Office of Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “Achieving racial and gender equity is far beyond just a statement and philanthropic giving. It calls for unwavering efforts and actions that touch and change people’s mindsets and behaviors.”

“[And] it starts from the top of the house because CEO and C-suite executives set the tone and aspiration,” he continues. “Leaders must role-model what they preach, knowing the way, showing the way and leading the way.”

Walmart’s Doug McMillon is a CEO who leads by example. In late May 2020, as the country grieved, outraged by the brutal and senseless killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, McMillon was charting a course for change.

In an email to Walmart associates on June 5, McMillon wrote: “As an associate at Walmart, you are expected to truly, authentically and more deeply embrace inclusion. We must work together to actively shape the culture to be more inclusive and not just accept our differences but celebrate them—all the time—within every team. We have made a difference in the world in so many ways. We can make a meaningful, lasting difference in racial equity too.

McMillon went on to write that Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart’s work to recruit, develop and support African Americans and other people of color “will be even more of a priority” moving forward.

In June 2020, Walmart’s CEO also announced a five-year, $100 million commitment to establish a center focused on racial equity. “The promise is part of an ambitious effort to influence and lead change in society more broadly by investing resources and developing strategies to increase fairness, equity and justice in aspects of everyday life,” Fan says.

The center’s investments are focused on racial equity in four key areas: the nation’s criminal justice, education/workforce, financial and healthcare systems. “We will find the areas where our core business can help change systems that perpetuate racism and discrimination. This is in addition to the work we have been doing to build a more inclusive company,” Fan adds.

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Women in Retail

Women have suffered the most job losses since the start of the pandemic, according to a report from the National Women’s Law Center, citing data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and particularly so in the retail sector. Women gained only 43.9% of the jobs added to the economy in October, while making up about half (49.7%) of the workforce. And while the retail trade sector gained 103,700 jobs in October, women accounted for only 11.4% of those gains, despite making up nearly half (48.4%) of the retail trade workforce, according to the report.

  • Click here to read about Gender Fair’s efforts to simplify the acceleration of equality for consumers and businesses. 

A Walmart-sponsored study conducted pre-pandemic, titled Advancing Front-Line Women: Realizing the Full Potential of Retail Workforce, reveals women in retail are overrepresented in front-line positions and consistently underrepresented in higher-paying management roles. “By advancing women into management roles, companies can improve retention rates, reduce the cost of turnover, improve customer loyalty and strengthen [retail] performance,” Fan says.

As of November 2020, Walmart reported that women represent 55% of its U.S. workforce, with 47% in management roles and 31% at the corporate officer level. The company’s associates of color representation is 47%, with 37% in management and 26% at the corporate officer level. And while Walmart was ranked 32 on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity list in 2020, the company knows there is more work to be done.

“We need to further our efforts to hire women and associates of color across all levels and positions,” Fan says. “We need to ensure we invest in them, help them remove barriers, and achieve their career aspiration. And we need to make sure that our people-decisions, policies, processes and practices are bias-free, fair and equitable.”

Walmart has also made strides with its Live Better U (LBU) program. Since its launch in 2018, the program—which includes the company’s $1 a Day for College Degree Program, tuition-free high school diploma or GED completion, tuition discounts on advanced degrees, free foreign language learning courses and more—reports that more than 60% of program participants are women and 47% are associates of color.

“We will concentrate on listening, learning and elevating our associates’ voices, ensuring that we drive changes that will create a Walmart where everyone feels included, valued and has an equal opportunity for growth, development, rewards and impact,” Fan says. “Not just hoping for that change, we are acting boldly to create that culture change.”

  • Read more about how Walmart is fostering a workplace where everyone is included. 

 

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Diversity Drives Success

In its report, 7 Strategies to Create and Foster Workforce Diversity and Inclusion, TalentReef, a provider of social recruiting and talent management systems specifically built for the hourly workforce, details steps for getting started with and reaching DEI goals—steps that it finds lead companies to greater success.

Companies with diverse leadership are 45% more likely to improve market share and 70% more likely to capture new markets, says TalentReef, citing the Harvard Business Review. Diverse companies also have 22% lower turnover, 22% greater productivity, 27% higher profitability and 39% higher customer satisfaction, according to a 2018 Deloitte report.

Some companies may wonder where to begin in establishing a path to greater DEI. TalentReef’s seven strategies recommend that businesses start by “defining why inclusion and diversity are important for your team, your company and your people.”

TalentReef’s platform can also help companies to promote their DEI efforts and ensure that job seekers and the market understands what the company is doing to support DEI. This may include adding statements to company career pages, launching a microsite dedicated to DEI or creating content for the company website or videos designed to train and share policies with management or the entire staff, says Tim Leonard, chief strategy officer of Denver-based TalentReef.

Once someone has applied for a job, TalentReef offers additional tools, including automated guides that standardize interview questions to reduce hiring manager bias. “However, gender- and race-neutral questions will only be as good as the level of involvement from the diverse workforce that participated in their creation,” Leonard says.

For the past seven years, TalentReef has conducted concentrated research on HR trends. Every year, companies list diversity and inclusion among their top three goals, yet this focus isn’t always reflected on their corporate websites, says Leonard.

“The reality is some companies check a box and others make a massive commitment to diversity and inclusion. I think the companies that don’t follow through on their commitments are going to suffer,” he continues. “They’re not going to win best place to work, they’ll have a hard time competing for talent, and they will also negatively impact their brand.”

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Target Advances Change

“Target has been committed to diversity and inclusion for decades, and inclusivity is one of our company values,” says Jessica Carlson, senior communications manager for Minneapolis-based Target. In response to last year’s movement for social justice sparked by the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, Target established the Racial Equity Action and Change (REACH) committee to advance its diversity and inclusion work at “a very critical moment in time.”

REACH, Carlson says, is focused on accelerating Target’s diversity and inclusion efforts and advancing racial equity for Black team members and guests. Since last summer, Target has taken actions to move REACH forward, including the launch of an online shopping guide with icons to help its guests find and support Black-owned brands and company founders when they shop.

Target is also focused on effecting change in its hometown of Minneapolis, together with the Target Foundation committing $10 million to support rapid relief and rebuilding, address inequity in Minneapolis, and effect long-term change through national social justice initiatives, says Carlson, who notes that as of September 2020, more than $3 million has been invested in communities across the country, including $1 million in Target Foundation grants to nearly a dozen Minneapolis-St. Paul-based nonprofits that support Black-, indigenous- and people of color-based small businesses.

“As we look to promote police reform, our first step in examining our partnerships with law enforcement was signing the Minnesota Business Partnership pledge calling for state lawmakers to adopt reform that addresses police misconduct and accountability,” Carlson says. Additionally, Target CEO Brian Cornell has joined the Business Roundtable’s Equitable Justice Subcommittee to help address inequities in the U.S. law enforcement system.

Target is also partnering with Minneapolis-based vocational training school Summit Academy OIC to introduce a new workforce development center to North Minneapolis in support of equitable advancement. Meanwhile, its team members are providing 10,000 hours of pro-bono consulting services for Black- and people of color-owned small businesses in the Twin Cities. 

In 2020, Target released a Workforce Diversity Report highlighting the racial and gender breakdown of its team across all levels of the organization. “Along with issuing the report, we also announced plans to increase representation of Black team members at every level by 20% over the next three years, by sharpening our focus on advancement, retention and hiring,” says Carlson. Target is also a founding member of OneTen Coalition, the overarching goal of which is to close the economic gap facing many Black Americans.

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Community Lessons

When Seattle-based PCC Community Markets, a co-op market dedicated to organic and natural foods, opened its newest store in the city’s Central District in June 2020, its focus was as much on providing the community with fresh and healthful foods as it was educating employees about retail racism.

“With the opening of the Central District store, we initiated a larger-scale diversity, equity and inclusion training program that we are rolling out as we open new locations,” says Marissa Esteban, staffing diversity, equity and inclusion manager for PCC. “We provided this training at the Central District and also at our Bellevue location and plan to bring it to our other new locations.”

To guide the implementation of the training program, PCC Markets enlisted the support of Seattle-based consultancy Becoming Justice, the mission of which is to collaborate with organizations to ignite and facilitate transformational leadership and systemic change.

PCC says it is tailoring the training for each store based on its needs and on a range of topics from retail racism to implicit bias and micro-aggressions. “As a foundation to store training, since June, we provided leadership training for all of our store leadership through a two-day session that focused on the foundations of race and racism with the goal that this team start applying their learnings to their job,” says Esteban, whose position was created to prioritize this work.

As it is for Walmart and Target, PCC’s DEI goals represent a journey and a process. Our training sessions have been powerful, in that they opened many discussions and conversations about race and racism amongst our staff,” she says. “It is our hope that it empowers them to take individual steps to address their own implicit bias and privilege.”

“One of our most important lessons learned was that it’s important to take a step forward and get started,” Esteban continues. “We won’t be perfect, but by working together and learning along the way, each step adds up to impactful progress toward equity.” 

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Albertsons’ Aspiration

In June 2020, Albertsons Cos. announced a $5 million donation to social justice organizations and those on the front line of the fight for equality, forming a Racial Justice and Equity Advisory Group to determine which social justice organizations to support. 

Since that time, Albertsons has made several significant contributions, including $1 million to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense and Education Fund; $500,000 to the National Urban League; and more than $1 million in other expenditures to advance social justice, the company says. Additionally, the Boise, Idaho-based grocer has committed $5 million in food support to communities of color that it serves.

To address Albertsons’ specific goals with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion for 2021 and beyond, the company has formed an aspiration, says Jonathan Mayes, chief diversity officer.Our management will reflect the rich diversity of communities we serve. Everyone will be celebrated, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and be able to fully contribute to their and our company’s success,” he says.

To accomplish the aspiration, Albertsons says it is focused on six key elements: inclusion and belonging; hiring and promotions; talent development; impactful associate resource groups; community engagement; and metrics with specific targets for women and people of color.

“Courageous conversations can lead to bold actions and push the societal change we need,” said Albertsons President and CEO Vivek Sankaran in a June 10, 2020, press release, which further  outlined initial conversations between Albertsons’ leadership and Black associates.

After these initial conversations with many of its Black management associates, the company launched a two-hour, interactive series of courageous conversations called, Leading With Inclusion. 

“To date, we’ve held over 50 sessions with over 2,000 leaders,” says Mayes, adding that in the coming months, the company plans to continue these conversations with more than 3,000 additional leaders. Albertsons has also formed a National Diversity Council chaired by Sankaran, along with more than 15 division and department diversity councils.

 

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