How Walmart’s Chief Diversity Officer Gets Talent-Development Results

DiversityInc, August 1, 2012

Walmart’s Global Chief Diversity Officer Sharon Orlopp believes that to truly advance your diversity awareness, you need to walk in someone else’s shoes. It’s the philosophy that’s helping her drive diversity management to the next level—beyond good-faith efforts.

Sharon Orlopp

This includes a hands-on diversity immersion course for Walmart and Sam’s Club managers, which gives associates a firsthand tour of civil-rights and other historical venues for diversity and inclusion, such as trips to Martin Luther King Jr.’s house in Montgomery, Ala., and to see the effects of border-patrol regulations on Latinos in San Antonio.

Orlopp discusses the importance of diversity immersion during this interview with DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti, as well as her current responsibilities to improve global diversity and inclusion for all employees and Walmart’s plans for increasing accountability for its diversity goals.

Luke Visconti: You’ve been chief diversity officer for a little over a year, with a team of 14 people. What do you track on the diversity part?

Sharon Orlopp: We report once a quarter to the compensation, nominating and governance committee of the board. We track against our diversity-goals program. We look at the applicant pool compared with placements for our field for Walmart and Sam’s Club for quite a few goal positions. We look at representation. Then we look at our good-faith efforts and our mentoring programs.

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Visconti: Since you are just starting, to what degree will you be tracking accountability for accomplishing these goals? Where would that reside?

Orlopp: One of the discussions we want to have is whether there should be both a carrot and a stick. We’ve had just the stick for the last eight years. We want to look at that piece and figure out what pieces are individual versus which are group-unit goals. I think you could do it both ways: have an overall goal and then an individual goal.

Visconti: What kind of stick have you been using in the past, and where do you think you are going to go with the carrot?

Orlopp: In the past, there were two components: the good-faith effort, which includes mentoring to associates and also attending diversity events, and the other component for our field organization, applicant pool versus placements.

We look at the end of each year whether there has been any disciplinary action around inappropriate comments, language, behavior in the workplace. If someone has met their good-faith efforts and attended their diversity events and mentored associates, done all that’s required of them, but their behaviors haven’t demonstrated it, they get marked that development is needed in that area. They can’t pass that performance-evaluation section.

The performance-evaluation accountability is 10 percent. The bonus accountability is up to 15 percent. If people fail to meet their goals on that, then we do both a quantitative review and qualitative review. 

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Visconti: What has this discipline resulted in over the years?

Orlopp: We made a lot of progress in talent development in our Walmart stores and Sam’s Clubs. Some examples: When you look at our management-trainee program over the past five years, we’ve put about 12,000 women through that program. It’s entry-level management. Eighty-five-hundred people from traditionally underrepresented groups have gone through a management-trainee program over the last five years.

Walmart has more than 3,000 stores in the United States. Our percentage of female store managers has grown 39 percent in five years. Our percentage of people-of-color store managers has grown 31 percent. Our female assistant managers [percentage] is 47 percent. Those are huge increases on a huge base.

It’s a combination of very strong, strategic recruiting efforts, but a lot of internal development. We’re seeing people being pulled through the talent pipeline. 

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Diversity Training Through Experiential Learning 

Orlopp: I came here nine years ago. I was head of HR for Sam’s Club and Doug McMillon was the CEO of Sam’s Club. I kept thinking about how I could teach adults about diversity and inclusion. I kept going back to my childhood: My parents immersed me in the situation.

I kept asking how I could give them these “aha” moments or how I can teach them from my heart so that it changes behaviors. I came up with what I call diversity-immersion trips.

Our signature trip was to Montgomery, Ala., for two days. We took the CEO of Sam’s Club, all his leadership team, about 20 to 25 associates, a very diverse group [in position] as well as ethnic, gender and background. We started with the Rosa Parks Museum. We went to the Martin Luther King church, his home where he lived. We went to the Interpretive Center where the voting-rights march was done. Everyone on this trip was incredibly moved. Our CEO came back and said he wanted to put every single Sam’s Club manager through it.

We host two annual large manager meetings, and he said to see if we can do it in Montgomery and let’s go to all the venues.

When we had gone on this tour, we met a young man. He had been 15 in the voting-rights march with his 16-year-old brother. Their parents were sharecroppers. When they returned from the march, they got kicked off the land. The family of five lived in a tent for two and a half years. (At this Interpretive Center, there’s a big plot of land where a lot of families lived in tents since 1965.)

This man came to speak for us at Sam’s Club in Montgomery. We turned the stage into a tent and he showed photos from when his family lived in a tent.

We brought in Morris Dees, the founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. We did a 90-minute training session about what this trip had been like. Later, we showed that same training program in the home office and broadcasted it to clubs and stores. About 6,000 people went through it.

Every six months we held a different diversity-immersion trip. The next one was on Latino culture. We went to San Antonio and then we went to McAllen, Texas. We worked with the border patrol and they took us to the wall that was being built between Mexico and the United States. Because of labor cost, the wall is being built by people of Mexico to keep people in Mexico out of the United States.

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