Sam’s Club CEO Rosalind Brewer has received backlash after acknowledging corporate America’s very real struggle with diversity.
The part of the interview that has been slammed by the media was when Brewer shared a story about a meeting with a supplier — a meeting that exemplified the inequality at the top.
“Just today we met with a supplier, and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian male. That was interesting,” Brewer said. “I decided not to talk about it directly with his folks in the room because there were actually no females levels down, so I’m going to place a call to [the head of the supplier].”
People immediately fired back at Brewer, calling her racist and even writing #BoycottRacistSamsClub on social media.
— Nick Joseph (@camefromempires) December 15, 2015
— Mary Whittier (@marylovefreedom) December 15, 2015
The people who expressed outrage over the “racist” remarks seemed to disregard the fact that Brewer’s comments are not without merit. According to Fortune, just 1 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are Black. Only 7.4 percent of members of Fortune 500 Boards of Directors are Black. Across the U.S., Blacks only hold 4.9 percent of management and just 2.9 percent of senior management positions.
Brewer is both the first woman and first Black person to head a Walmart division (Walmart, one of DiversityInc’s 25 Noteworthy Companies, owns Sam’s Club). In the interview she expressed her personal commitment to diversity, showing that she not only speaks about diversity to others but also lives her values.
“It has to start with top leadership,” she said. “I can tell you that even with myself, I have to live it also. My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority. I demand it of my team and within the structure, and then every now and then you have to nudge your partners, and you have to speak up and speak out.”
The corporation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion does not exclude white men, either. Of Brewer’s eight executives on her team, four are white males.
In his statement regarding the interview Doug McMillon, president and CEO of Walmart, said he supported Brewer and emphasized that his corporation embraces diversity across the board.
“For years, we’ve asked our suppliers to prioritize the talent and diversity of their sales teams calling on our company,” McMillon said. “Roz was simply trying to reiterate that we believe diverse and inclusive teams make for a stronger business. That’s all there is to it, and I support that important ideal.”
Luke Visconti, CEO of DiversityInc, explained that corporate diversity makes sense because it drives better business.
“The DiversityInc Top 50, expressed as a stock index, beats the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500,” he said. “Walmart and Sam’s Club have been working at diversity management for many years and have gained a lot of ground, as evidenced by Sam’s Club’s CEO.”
Most of the social media backlash seemed to focus on the “Caucasian” part of Brewer’s assessment and not that women were also absent in the meeting.
But just like Blacks, women are also very underrepresented in the corporate world. Just 4.6 percent of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women (this number will go down to 4.4 percent in January 2016 when Carol Meyrowitz, CEO of TJX, steps down), and women only make up 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 Boards of Directors. Throughout the U.S., women only hold 37 percent of management and 25 percent of senior management positions.
“It is completely illogical to think that an all white male executive team is the best any company can do,” Visconti said. “More than half of bachelor’s degrees were earned by women in the last 30 years. On that basis alone, the average all-male executive team cannot be as good as an executive team with equitable gender representation.”