Walmart’s CEO details his journey to racial awareness
“Change actually starts from within each one of us,” Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon said last week at a keynote address at CES 2021. “Our biases, conscious and unconscious, need to be dealt with individually and collectively.”
Asked about advice for companies in scaling diversity and inclusion initiatives, he encouraged CEOs to start their own personal learning journey.
Such a journey, he believes, should extend beyond racial sensitivity training to learning more about U.S. history. He said, “Some things, for example, that I was not taught in school that are facts related to these various systems — financial, education, health care and criminal justice in particular — result all too often in inequity,” said Mr. McMillon.
Mr. McMillon’s own journey has involved multiple trips in small groups to Montgomery, AL, to speak with those involved in the ‘60s civil rights movement, visit museums and hold conversations with civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson and others on past and present race issues. Mr. McMillon said, “As you personally invest in that, you can’t help but be changed.”
A second step is having “open, transparent conversations” with your team that likely involves “taking a little risk that if you say the wrong thing and somebody criticizes you, you’ve built up enough goodwill to overcome it.”
Mr. McMillon added, “A lot of people are afraid to have these conversations because they’re worried about saying the wrong thing. But if you don’t have the conversations, you don’t make any progress.”
At Walmart, both those steps have led to bigger commitments to work with Black-owned advertising agencies and banks, changes to the promotions process, and more transparency around pay.
Finally, the third step is similar to any other initiative: use data to support transparency, set objectives and measure progress.
Mr. McMillon said Walmart is learning that such initiatives are “not a zero sum game” as diverse teams have proven to be more successful. He concluded, “If you grow the company and you grow the pie, everybody benefits, even if you’re a white male like myself. So I think you just have to continue to press forward to make it a priority.”
- Walmart Keynote – CES 2021
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What’s holding back faster progress for retailers with diversity and inclusion programs? Do you have any insights to add to those offered by Doug McMillon?