Walmart Loses Key Black Leader to Retirement During Diversity Push
(Bloomberg) -- Walmart Inc. said Twilla Brooks, a merchandising vice president who’s one of its most high-profile Black executives, is retiring from the retailer -- a blow to its apparel business and a setback to the progress it’s made this year to diversify the senior ranks.
Brooks is stepping down after almost 13 years, Senior Vice President Deanah Baker said in an internal memo Thursday. Brooks, who rose from a senior apparel buyer to become vice president of menswear and for the past three years chaired the company’s African-American Officer Caucus, said she planned to focus on nonprofit projects. She is 47, according to public records.
“She was a home-run hitter when it came to negotiating for the customer,” Baker said. “Twilla’s commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion within merchandising, as well as the entire company, has made a lasting impact.”
Walmart is pushing to recruit and retain more Black leaders, and the share of Walmart officers -- those at the vice president level or above -- who identify as African American or Black rose to 9.1% from 6.9% a year ago. But the latest figure is less than a percentage point higher than where the number stood in 2014, and companywide promotions of Black people have been on the decline. An internal survey presented to executives last year found Black managers wouldn’t recommend working there.
In a statement to Bloomberg, the retailer said it is “proud of Twilla and everything she accomplished at Walmart.” The company also spotlighted the elevation of Black and Latino employees, saying that one-third of internal officer promotions were people of color during the last two quarters and only one Black officer had left the company during that stretch.
Largest Private Employer
Walmart is the largest private employer in the U.S., with a workforce of nearly 1.6 million. The retailer is attempting to take a leadership role in corporate America in placing more attention on the advancement of Black workers and other minority groups. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company now releases data on diversity in its workforce twice per year.
In the summer of 2020, amid unrest following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon said the company has “focused on diversity, but we are not as diverse as we want to be and aspire to be.” The retailer pledged $100 million to create a center on racial equity that promised to address systemic racism.
Senior Black executives hired in recent months include Chief Medical Officer John Wigneswaran and Jennifer Jackson, senior vice president of strategy. Walmart has also promoted several Black associates into vice president positions, a spokeswoman said.
Black employees made up 13.5% of U.S. promotions at Walmart in the first half of this fiscal year -- down from 14.1% at the end of last year and 17.2% at the midpoint of 2020, according to a midyear diversity report the company released in September.
Still, Black workers made up 28.7% of all new hires from the store level on up in the U.S., up slightly from a year ago, Walmart said in the report. Black people make up about 12.4% of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Brooks will step down at the end of the current fiscal year, which falls in early 2022.
“After nearly 13 years with Walmart, I’m excited to be able to spend more time focusing on other passions -- nonprofit work and community engagement,” she said in a follow-up statement provided by Walmart.
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