In an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, President and CEO of Sam’s Club, Rosalind Brewer, made it clear that diversity is important to her. And as a person with enough power to encourage it, she does, wholeheartedly. While that should have been something to applaud, somehow she stepped on a few toes.
This is what Brewer said in response to this question from Harlow:
Poppy Harlow: You are a rarity in the corner office in America. And it is something that so many people want to see change. Not only are you a female CEO, but you’re a minority CEO. Where do you fall on who has to make the change and how it is going to happen so that there are more women like you represented in the top echelons of corporate America?
Rosalind Brewer: So I totally agree with you, but it starts with the top of many companies. It has to start with top leadership. 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, and I try to use my platform for that to remind people. I try to set an example. I mentor many women inside my company and outside my company. Because I think it’s important.
Harlow: And in hiring, do you demand it when you’re hiring for the top spots?
Brewer: Absolutely. And not only that, I talk to my suppliers about it. Just today we met with a supplier and the entire other side of the table was all Caucasian males. That was interesting.
Harlow: What did you say?
Brewer: I decided not to talk about it directly with his folks in the room because there were actually no females levels down. But I’m going to place a call with him.
And that was it. Still, White men, and some women, decided that Brewer was discriminating against White people. Those individuals decided to call for a boycott of Sam’s Club.
People did the absolute most, labeling Sam’s Club as a whole “openly racist,” “anti-White,” and one naive woman said, “We are America. Race shouldn’t matter.”
All this faux rage and the abundance of White tears was quite confusing to me. For one, she didn’t say she was going to refuse to work with the supplier again because his team was only filled with White men (not even ONE woman?). She just said she would encourage him to think about broadening his team in the future. Secondly, how is she racist when half of her executive team (four out of eight people) is made up of White men and a White woman? And thirdly, she clearly didn’t say anything wrong if the head of Wal-Mart, CEO Doug Millon, is standing by her.
“For years we’ve asked our suppliers to prioritize the talent and diversity of their sales teams calling on our company,” McMillon told Yahoo! Finance. “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.”
When you’ve never had to face real discrimination, you cry about petty stuff like this. Must be nice. But what that faux outrage showed me is the reality that at the root of it all, some White folks are deathly scared of diversity. The word, and what it would mean. The White world would have to change with more people of color helping to make decisions in positions and places of power, and when you’re a closeted racist, that hurts your black a– soul.
But it’s more than necessary. As The Atlantic pointed out via a study, even when hiring managers think they’re objective and fair in their practices, they continue to overlook women and minorities for positions and promotions. So, assuming they’re operating with “meritocratic ideals,” that is, hiring based on merit via your efforts and abilities, these same managers feel the idea of trying to be inclusive of underrepresented groups is “reverse discrimination.” If hiring managers think they’re fairly evaluating everyone based on their skills, talents and excellence, there is no need to focus on gender or race. But prejudice is real. As a study done on one company with 9,000 employees by Emilio J. Castilla, a professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management pointed out, unchecked bias is a real problem.
The company was committed to diversity and had implemented a merit-driven compensation system intended to reward high-level performance and to reward all employees equitably.
But Castilla’s analysis revealed some very non-meritocratic outcomes. Women, ethnic minorities, and non-U.S.-born employees received a smaller increase in compensation compared with white men, despite holding the same jobs, working in the same units, having the same supervisors, the same human capital, and importantly, receiving the same performance score. Despite stating that “performance is the primary bases for all salary increases,” the reality was that women, minorities, and those born outside the U.S. needed “to work harder and obtain higher performance scores in order to receive similar salary increases to white men.”
These findings led Castilla to wonder if organizational cultures and practices designed to promote meritocracy actually accomplished the opposite. Could it be that the pursuit of meritocracy somehow triggered bias?
So forget what you’ve heard. Brewer’s choice to check a possible unchecked bias from her supplier was not her trying to tell that man to fire his staff and replace them all with people of color because once you go Black, you never go back. Rather, she was encouraging him to think outside the box to strengthen his team.
Because, let’s be honest, if we waited on some White folks to try and consider non-White people for jobs, we’d all be out here unemployed. Hell, that’s probably why you can’t even get the studio bigwigs in Hollywood to find people of color to play characters that are not White. For example, despite Hunger Games heroine Katniss Dean being a young woman with “olive skin” and “straight black hair” in the books, the casting call asked for a woman “Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20.” The role was inevitably given to Jennifer Lawrence. And you know we’ve talked numerous times about the Whitewashing of roles all over the film industry.
When left to their own devices, some people are hellbent against trying to change things up.
And what bothers me is the idea that seeking out talented people of a diverse background is looked at as denying White men jobs. White men who are assumed to be more qualified. Who is to say that’s the case? Who is to say a woman or man of color isn’t more qualified based on education and experience? It’s quite sad. Because a company decides to give a woman or person of color the chance to lead, it’s automatically assumed that job was taken from a deserving White man or woman. Now that’s privilege at its finest.
And common sense would tell you that a company that offers services to a customer base of all ethnic backgrounds would best serve with at least a few individuals who look like as diverse as their customers helping to make decisions. Individuals who could provide a broad perspective and a different way of looking at things.
With bias bubbling underneath, it’s crazy that some people still don’t understand the need for a form of affirmative action. But, alas, you can’t see or perceive the less than level playing field when you’re standing on the highest plane of it.
So despite the heat she may be getting from some, kudos to Rosalind Brewer. She is using her position of power to make positive changes, and to open up doors for people of color the way that she should. The same way President Obama did with his cabinet. The same way Tyler Perry did when he established his studio in Atlanta. The same way Eva Longoria creates opportunities for Latin American women and men on television. The way some White men have been doing for one another, but only one another, forever.
So dear detractors, stay brewing and shedding those tears. She wasn’t wrong about the need for diversity. It might be time to stop trying to call for a successful and powerful woman (and one teaching White men a thing or two) to lose her job and spend your time getting with the times. The world is changing, and the positions your family’s money and influence and nepotism helped you obtain are being taken over by qualified and inspiring men and women of color–like Rosalind Brewer.