In the wake of the George Floyd protests, Walmart pledged to boost diversity within its own ranks and contribute $100 million over five years to help fight systemic racism across the country. Last week, the company gave an update on that effort.
Walmart and its foundation will distribute the first $14.3 million to 16 nonprofit organizations. The grants will go toward groups that are tackling racial inequities in various ways, such as educating communities of color about the Covid-19 vaccines, reducing debt for students at historically Black colleges and universities and providing internet access and technology to children who are attending school remotely.
Walmart is one of many companies that promised to throw its money and weight behind addressing racial disparities after Floyd’s killing on Memorial Day. Yet as the country’s largest employer and retailer, its actions have additional significance. CEO Doug McMillon also leads the Business Roundtable, a powerful corporate voice made up of many of the country’s most prominent chief executives.
When the company made its initial pledge in June, McMillon acknowledged that corporations — including Walmart — must do more than simply write checks. He said the company would do better within its four walls, too, by recruiting and supporting diverse talent.
Black employees make up about 21% of Walmart’s 1.5 million U.S. workforce, according the company’s most recent diversity and inclusion report. However, that diversity fades in the top ranks of Walmart. About 12% of the company’s managers and 7% of its officers are Black.
Walmart tapped longtime employee Kirstie Sims to lead the company’s Center for Racial Equity, which will focus on inequities in four key areas: finance, health care, education and criminal justice.
Sims started working at the big-box retailer as a way to pay off student loans and planned to switch to the health-care industry. At Walmart, however, she said she discovered she could build a 20-plus year career and advance to leadership positions — something she hopes to make possible for other employees, including other Black women. Prior to her new role, she was senior director of global ethics and compliance at Walmart.
Walmart has made other changes to advance racial equity in recent months. It will share a diversity and inclusion report twice a year instead of annually. It will work with the country’s largest historically Black university, North Carolina A&T State University, to increase the number of Black college graduates entering highly demanded fields. It opened two new Walmart Health locations, which offer low-cost medical appointments, in Chicago in November. It also signed joined the One Ten Coalition, a group of U.S. companies pledging to train, hire and promote 1 million Black Americans over the next decade.
Sims said Walmart is also looking at how its business practices can make a difference. For example, it can expand access to affordable medical care in needy communities by opening Walmart Health locations, elevate Black-owned businesses by using more as suppliers and give second chances to job applicants reentering society after involvement with the criminal justice system.
“Progress sometimes is slow, but with the work and the power and the commitment behind it, we’re going to make change,” she said.