Walmart Outlines Diversity and Equity Efforts

Sindhu Sundar
·4 min read

Walmart continues to wade into broader national conversations on gender and racial equality.

The retailer, seeking to signal consciousness about workforce demographics and its promotion tracks for traditionally under-represented workers, is underscoring its efforts to diversify leadership ranks and to highlight its recent investments in racial justice initiatives.

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Women comprise some 55 percent of Walmart’s roughly 1.5 million workers in the U.S. and about 46 percent of its management ranks, according to the retailer’s 2020 Culture, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion report, out this week. Black, Asian, Latinx and other people of color make up roughly 47 percent of its U.S. workforce, and about 37 percent of its management ranks, the report said.

People of color comprised about a quarter of the retailer’s higher officer ranks, which include the titles of president, executive vice president, senior vice president and others, while women overall made 33 percent of its officer ranks, according to the report.

The retailer framed the report and its findings in the context of discussions around systemic disparities that corporate America at large has found itself increasingly pressured to address publicly.

“Very traumatic and public displays of racial injustice, against the backdrop of a global pandemic that was disproportionately impacting people of color, forced our nation to look directly into the face of the social systems that create inequity in a way many of us never had before,” Ben Hasan, Walmart senior vice president and the global chief culture, diversity, equity and inclusion officer, wrote in a company blog post Monday.

Walmart’s report also highlights some of its broad statistics around promotions and hiring, noting that more than half of the retailer’s 480,000 U.S. hires in 2020 were people of color, and that 49 percent of them were women. Women also accounted for about 46 percent of its management promotions in the U.S., while people of color made up roughly 39 percent of such promotions, according to the report.

“We are listening. We are learning. While we know there is much more to do this year and beyond, we are making progress for our associates and customers to live better,” said Donna Morris, Walmart executive vice president and chief people officer, echoing an oft-heard corporate refrain in a climate of heightened sensitivity around social justice.

Walmart employees have responded to the company’s moves over the past year by seeking raises for groups of workers still subject to a $11-an-hour starting wage, along with hazard pay during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and more say in workplace policies.

The worker advocacy group United for Respect has argued that despite Walmart’s recent announcements about increasing starting wages for hundreds of thousands of workers, roughly 760,000 hourly workers would still not qualify for those raises, “and likely will continue to make less than $15 an hour,” according to a recent statement by the advocacy group.

“Fact: Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer of the Black Americans, and it has built its business model on exploiting associates of color, by keeping wages low and hours down,” claimed Cat Davis, a Walmart worker in North Carolina, and a member leader of United for Respect, in response to the retailer’s report.

“Fact: Walmart’s starting wage is still only $11 an hour, meaning tens of thousands of Black and brown workers employed by Walmart continue to live in poverty,” she said. “These same workers of color put their lives on the line during the pandemic while Walmart refused to offer them hazard pay and adequate paid sick leave.”

Walmart leaders have sought to emphasize that its pay scale varies by role and geography, and that many of its workers earn higher wages. Most Sam’s Club stores workers make more than $15 an hour, and its e-commerce warehouse staff also earn starting wages above $15 an hour, company leaders have said. Walmart’s stocking and grocery pick-up workers also can make starting wages between $13 and $19 an hour, according to the company.

But workers have stressed that many in low wage roles continue to face precarious financial circumstances.

“If Walmart wants to celebrate diversity, then we need to see Black and brown workers no longer struggling to make ends meet, and instead paid fairly, promoted fairly, supported in the workplace, and thriving by the tens of thousands,” Davis said. “Until then, we will continue to organize and speak out.”

Walmart’s proxy statement earlier this month also spotlighted worker-related proposals that its board urged shareholders to vote against at the upcoming annual shareholder meeting on June 2. One includes a shareholder proposal by Cynthia Murray, a long time Walmart worker and a United for Respect member, seeking to create a Pandemic Workforce Advisory Council that would give Walmart workers more of a voice in addressing workplace safety.

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