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.
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.
We meet with key leaders and go through representation, new hires, promotions, departures. We look at the pipeline of management. Women, women from traditionally underrepresented groups, men from traditionally represented groups and total people from traditionally underrepresented groups are some of the typical diversity metrics.
We look at turnover. I am always very interested in women turnover compared with men, and also minority compared to non-minority, to see how we are standing.
Visconti: The organization has changed things over the years. What are your next steps in terms of measurement and what you’re going to do about it?
Orlopp: We are spending a lot of time talking about what’s next for diversity and inclusion. It seems like a lot of chief diversity officers are doing that right now.
We’ve had a program in place for the last eight years. We may move away from good-faith-effort activity, move away from diversity events and activities, and really incorporate diversity and inclusion into each business unit’s strategic plan and then measure against that.
Each business unit has different diversity needs. Each of them is in a different place on their diversity journey. Having them come up with what their specific plan is that links to their business strategy and then measuring against that is what we are looking at for next year. We are trying to flush out the template and how that would work.
Visconti: What specific things would you put in their individual strategic plans?
Orlopp: It would be a combination between quantitative and qualitative. There have to be some quantitative measurements, probably around representation, retention, promotion, etc. Then qualitative measurements would probably be around mentoring, recruitment and other diversity initiatives.
Accountability for Workplace Diversity Gains
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 two 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.
Visconti: Can people ask for help if they are not making their goals and they have self-identified?
Orlopp: We have a helpline. We have email access, phone access. The reporting is available all the time. People know where they’re trending.
We do a lot of follow-up. We watch very closely who’s not hitting their metrics and we do one-on-one phone calls. We also reach out to some parts of the organization that may be having concerns.
Visconti: Then you coach them and help them. How deep down is this going in the organization?
Orlopp: It goes all the way down to the assistant managers in our stores and clubs. We track 60,000 people.
On specific turnover in a store, there are HR people out in the field that would probably notice that and call them. We’re looking more for how their good-faith efforts look. All the HR representatives and all the business units pay very close attention to it and are helping drive it and have those discussions.
Visconti: Do you ever get a chance to speak to senior management?
Orlopp: All the time. We meet with them regularly on their metrics. Half of my job is diversity, inclusion; another half is corporate HR. I support five of our CEO Mike Duke’s direct reports. I have regular face time with them.
Diversity Metrics: Measurable Talent-Development Results
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.
Last year, our EVP promotions for traditionally underrepresented groups were 100 percent from within. We’re just seeing people moving through the talent pipeline, and the same with entry-level management on up to the various levels of management and in clubs and stores.
Visconti: Do you think that’s changed your sales in the stores? Have you been able to track an effect yet?
Orlopp: We haven’t been able to track an effect. But I think it makes a difference from a customer relevance and from an associate relevance. Our associates are from all over the world, from so many different backgrounds, and the same goes for our customers.
You have to have an associate population that serves them in order to be relevant. We currently don’t have any tracking mechanisms that say because we’re more diverse it’s driven sales up.
A Family of Advocates
Visconti: What in your background led you to this job?
Orlopp: When I was growing up in Colorado, my parents were very strong advocates of the civil-rights and women’s-rights movements. When I was 12, they made one of the most purposeful parenting decisions that impacted who I became as a person: They moved us to a neighborhood that was predominantly African American and Hispanic.
I was the only white girl there. We weren’t welcome in the neighborhood. We had our yard set on fire, our home vandalized. My parents had a small landscaping business in the community; it was also vandalized.
Our family lived in that neighborhood for 30 years. I was never afraid, even though all this was going on. I just wanted to make friends.
My parents said whatever you learn socially will far outweigh anything else. I think it made me the person that I am. It made me a champion of diversity. It gave me this internal radar whenever I feel people are being excluded. I feel like I lived through it a little bit. I spent about 25 years supporting this industry. I am comfortable if I’m the only woman in the room, the only white person, the only straight person. You just have to be comfortable with who you are but also be loving and accepting of everybody else.
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.
We talked to the people in the community. We talked to our customers. We talked to people who had walls right in their backyard. We went up and felt the wall. That was really powerful and interesting. We had a lot of associates share their personal stories about coming into the country and what they went through.
The third one was around women. We met with Indra Nooyi [chairman and CEO of PepsiCo] and talked to her about her role and raising two daughters.
Then we did a trip to San Francisco around people with disabilities. We went to Lighthouse for the Blind. We went to this place where they make bicycles for people with different disabilities. We all rode different types of bicycles.
That creative approach to helping people understand led me to the path that came here. I want to take it to the next step, whatever that is, but I feel like we have a great story to tell. We still have progress to make, but it’s time to take it to a different level, and that’s what I am excited about.