Walmart’s Black Senior Managers Don’t Recommend Working There

Some high-ranking Black managers at Walmart Inc. say career advancement is difficult at the retail chain and they wouldn’t recommend working there, a recent internal survey commissioned by the company found. 

The report, which was presented to members of the company’s senior leadership late last year and seen by Bloomberg News, asked 56 Black supervisors, senior managers and directors about the barriers that made it difficult to achieve their career goals. A majority of those surveyed gave mediocre rankings for career satisfaction. 

The findings, which have not been made public before, include the following:

  • Lack of diversity in leadership deters Black employees that are looking for support and career modeling.
  • Black workers feel there is a heavier emphasis on external recruitment than developing existing talent. 
  • Unequal access to career and growth opportunities and/or information makes it difficult for Black people to thrive and progress.
  • Compared to their peers, Black staff feel that they must perform at an exceptional level and take on more complex workloads with little room for error to maintain their position.
  • Favoritism, internal politics and having to conform to unspoken social norms or present in a digestible manner negatively impacts Black employee morale and motivation.

Walmart said in a statement to Bloomberg that the study was “early research” with an “unscientific and limited sample size.” It was commissioned by one of its employee-led “shared value networks,” which were created last summer and focus on driving systemic change in areas like education and criminal justice. Those groups make recommendations to a steering committee led by Chief Executive Officer Doug McMillon. The respondents included 24 supervisors, 24 directors or senior directors, and eight senior managers. 

“Hiring, developing, and retaining diverse talent is a top priority for Walmart,” a company representative said. “While we are proud of the progress we have made, we are always looking at our own systems and processes with a critical eye for ways we can do even more.”

The sobering report underscores the significant hurdles for the world’s biggest retailer in diversifying its upper ranks, an effort that has gained urgency since the murder of George Floyd put a spotlight on systemic racism in the U.S. Walmart, like many other big American corporations, has pledged in recent months to address racial inequities. The company set aside $100 million to create a center on racial equity and has enhanced its disclosure of diversity statistics. It also helped produce a report with McKinsey & Co. that analyzed the challenges facing Black Americans in the private sector. The findings mirrored much of what Walmart’s Black leaders said, including that Black workers receive less support in advancement and don’t get sufficient mentorship or sponsorship to reach top jobs. 

Walmart’s Black Senior Managers Don’t Recommend Working There

While Black workers account for 21% of Walmart’s 1.6 million-person U.S. workforce — a higher percentage than their 13.4% share of the U.S. population — the representation is largely concentrated at lower levels of the organization. In the U.S., 8.4% of Walmart’s corporate officers are Black, about the same level as in 2015. Women, who make up just over half of Walmart’s U.S. workforce, by comparison, have fared much better.

Several levels of Black Walmart managers were asked to give a numerical ranking for how likely they would be to encourage friends and family to work there. The final scores were tallied into a “net-promoter score” on a scale ranging from -100 to 100. The Black directors and senior directors, roles that rank just below vice presidents in Walmart’s hierarchy, gave a net promoter score of -86. Senior managers, who typically report to directors, delivered the lowest possible score of -100. The hourly supervisors, who make up less than half of those surveyed, gave a score of 72, indicating they would recommend working at the retailer. 

“Positive sentiment decreases at higher levels,” the survey dryly concluded. 

The report also included blunt comments from Black staffers. “I have been here 10 years and I have never recommended Walmart to a person of color. I have recommended others to leave,” one Black director said. “Pay, benefits, not bad — but recommend? NEVER. EVER.”

Black and African-American recruits made up 28% of all new hires in the U.S. last year, but accounted for 13% of promotions from hourly to management roles, according to the company’s latest diversity report.

A dozen non-Black middle managers were also asked about the challenges they’ve had managing diverse teams. Some said they did not feel “properly equipped or trained” to address racially sensitive issues. Instead, they learned through “trial by fire.” Other non-Black managers were concerned that a “heavy emphasis on diversity may unintentionally exclude qualified individuals.”

Overall, the non-Black managers gave Walmart a score of 3.8 out of 7 on whether Walmart adequately prepared them to deal with racial inequity. They gave a higher score, 5.3 out of 7, when asked if Walmart was simply addressing racial equity.

The report did not identify the ethnicity of the non-Black respondents. Nearly two-thirds of Walmart’s managers and three-quarters of its officers identify as Caucasian, its 2020 diversity report said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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