News Column

Wal-Mart a Proven Diversity Leader

Sept. Issue

Rob Kuznia--HispanicBusiness Magazine

Wal-Mart a Proven Diversity Leader

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, is no stranger to controversy.

The company is often at the center of discussion regarding affordable goods and employee wages.

But lost in the headlines of mainstream media, is Wal-Mart's stellar diversity record.

This year, like last, Wal-Mart ranked 4th on HispanicBusiness magazine's annual list of the nation's 60 most diverse companies, according to an extensive survey administered by HispanTelligence, the research arm of HispanicBusiness Magazine.

"Diversity and inclusion to us is a business imperative," said Donald Fan, senior director of the company's five-and-a-half-year-old office of diversity. With the demographics of the nation changing, he added, "we've got to represent or reflect that change, and to get ready for cultural shifts as well. We've got to make sure our workforce truly represents the communities we serve -- the customer base."

On minority hiring, Wal-Mart performs slightly above average. About 12 percent of the company's 1.4 million employees are Hispanic, and 17 percent are African American. All told, 35 percent of its employees are minorities -- 1 percentage point higher than the industry average.

But in the upper echelons, Wal-Mart's diversity record stands out.
Two of the company's top 10 executive officers -- and six of its top 50 executive officers -- are Hispanic, according to the survey.

On both measures, Wal-Mart posted the second-highest score of the 500-plus companies surveyed by HispanTelligence, which uses the results to compile HispanicBusiness Magazine's annual list of the nation's 60 most diverse companies.

Also, the company's percentage of vice presidents and corporate officers who are Hispanic -- around 6 percent -- fared in the top 20. (About 7.5 percent of Wal-Mart's vice presidents and corporate officers are African American.)

On philanthropy, Wal-Mart has a built-in advantage. As this year's No. 2 company on the Fortune 500 list, Wal-Mart can afford to give more. The important thing, though, is that it chooses to do so.

In 2008, it certainly made that choice, according to the HispanTelligence survey.

Last year, the retail behemoth dwarfed its competitors on philanthropic giving, devoting $423 million to charitable causes -- nearly double the amount of the next best company. In all, just four of the 500-plus companies surveyed surpassed the $100 million mark.

Much of the money is spent on education. For instance, the Wal-Mart Foundation last year awarded a $4.2 million grant to the Institute for Higher Education Policy, which will use the money to help send first-generation immigrants to college. And the company gives $100,000 to each of 20 colleges -- for a total of $2 million -- to help those schools support students seeking to become the first members of their families to graduate from college.

On marketing, the company is making a concerted effort to reach out to Hispanic consumers. In Houston this summer, Wal-Mart opened its brand-new Mas Club, which is modeled on Sam's Club, but aimed at the Hispanic community -- particularly to the owners of small businesses.

Wal-Mart has also been credited for its commitment to supplier diversity. The retailer is among 15 members of the "Billion Dollar Roundtable," a list recognizing the U.S corporations that spend at least $1 billion with minority- and women-owned suppliers.

In 2008, Wal-Mart committed $6 billion -- a 25 percent increase over 2007, Mr. Fan said. However, let's not forget that the company last year took in a mind-bending $405 billion in revenues.

Still, the company is regarded by some leading Hispanic advocates as a good partner.

"While we do not agree 100 percent on absolutely everything they do, they have always been incredibly responsive," said David Ferreira, vice president of government relations for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. "Their relationship with Hispanics and Hispanic small businesses has grown by leaps and bounds over the years."

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