Company: Walmart (WMT)
Location: Bentonville, AR
Fortune 500: 1
By Lakeram Dookoo & Pauly Rodney
The retail sector faces competition like never before from the continued growth of Amazon, eBay, and other eCommerce companies, and the world’s top retailer, Walmart, isn’t immune to consumers’ rapidly changing buying habits. With nearly 12,000 brick and mortar locations across 28 countries and 2.3 million employees of all backgrounds, Walmart believes diversity will help combat the e-commerce challenge. Walmart leverages diversity and inclusion through its multilingual outreach, its addition of ethnic products, and its focus on science to ensure employees feel included.
The Walmart supercenter in Dearborn, MI, is a great example of the company leveraging multilingual outreach to ensure diverse customers feel included. Hanging from the ceiling as customers enter are large welcome signs in several different languages including Arabic, English, and Spanish. Multilingual employees in many stores across the country are easily identified by name tags which identify what languages they speak. Employees are encouraged to speak in their native languages in order to help customers feel welcomed. These may seem like small gestures, but to the shopper with an international background, it shows that Walmart is taking extra steps to provide as welcoming a store atmosphere as any corner store or bodega where employees speak a shoppers’ native language. By embracing the diversity of its employees and customers, Walmart creates a diverse and meaningful shopping experience.
Another way Walmart leverages diversity and inclusion is by adding ethnic products to their shelves. It’s one thing to have a welcoming atmosphere in the store, but by offering the same cassava bread shoppers grew up with in Guyana, Walmart can connect and bring a bit of home back to its customers’ daily lives. Walmart collects and analyzes demographic data from communities within a 10-mile radius of each store. This data is used in part to help regions and individual stores decide what products to stock and display. Going back to the Supercenter in Dearborn, MI – Walmart’s “ethnic food aisle” includes everything from hummus, falafel, Caribbean spices, and European yogurt. The aisle helps attract shoppers with Middle Eastern, West Indian, and Greek heritage. Other Walmart stores have incorporated hair care products (such as shampoos, creams, and pomades that specifically target African American shoppers) and greeting cards that feature diverse individuals from across the spectrum. Again, what may seem like a small gesture to some is part of Walmart telling everyone in their surrounding communities – whether Asian, African American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or other – that whatever they need can be found at Walmart.
“At Walmart, the vision is to include everyone” Ben Saba Hasan, Chief Diversity Officer at Walmart tells Raines International. Promoting an all-inclusive environment – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religious views, etc. – isn’t just a feel-good thing to do, it’s a great business practice. Hasan explains, “We collect performance data from all of our stores, and can see firsthand the impact of our diversity and inclusion efforts. We share that data along with best practices to our regions.” Rather than forcing mandates from national headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, Hasan says, leadership at the regional and store level can look at the data and realize the case for D&I is a no brainer.
“The science behind it speaks for itself,” says Hasan. Walmart studied the work of Dr. David Rock, a neuroscientist who works closely with scientists, large organizations, and leadership experts to develop better leaders and managers. Walmart also worked extensively with Dr. Steven Robbins, another neuroscientist who works on the science of human behavior. Among Dr. Robbins’ many findings – people are “hard-wired to belong.” The neurons at work when an individual feels pain are the same neurons at work when an individual doesn’t feel included. “Imagine yourself in pain all day,” says Hasan. Not feeling included “can negatively hinder your performance because it makes it harder to do simple, day-to-day tasks.”
People naturally want to feel included, and employees who feel included lead to more quality interactions, more innovation and more loyalty. Customers who feel welcomed and included become loyal customers and repeat customers, helping Walmart attract and retain customers. Walmart may be facing new threats to traditional retail as customers use e-commerce as a channel to shop, but leveraging diversity and inclusion helps Walmart respond to the challenge.