Walmart Canada Finds Innovative Approaches to Raising up Women Managers

Canada’s most well known export to the United States this past winter may have been the Polar Vortex, but while our neighbors to the North were sending frigid weather our way they were also sending something more welcome: some innovative approaches to diversity and inclusion.

Through its Women in Retail program, Walmart Canada has achieved a milestone that sets it apart: More than half of Canada’s full-time managers, in the home office and in the field, are women.

Women in Retail has been so successful that it seems to have caused Richard Pinnock, Senior Manager for Diversity and Inclusion at Walmart Canada, some discomfort – but in a good way.  “The culture of Walmart is to be very modest, to just go and get things done, he said.

But Pinnock allows himself a superlative when describing the results of the program. “We don’t have quotas,” he said. “We just measure progress, and the progress has been phenomenal.”

The percentage of female store managers was stagnant before Women in Retail began in 2010, remaining at about 15.5 percent between 2005 and 2009. That percentage jumped slightly by the end of 2010 to 16.9 percent and more sharply after that; it reached 26.3 percent by the end of 2013. Adding in all full-time managers, the figure is just over 50 percent, Pinnock said.

The program illustrates how good ideas moving between world headquarters and global markets travel on a two-way street. Pinnock acknowledges that the impetus for Women in Retail came from the global women’s strategic framework developed by the President’s Global Council of Women Leaders. But Walmart Canada took ideas for diversity and inclusion and made them their own, Pinnock said.

“The role of each market to act locally,” he said. “The idea of thinking globally and acting locally really resonated across our international markets, and that contributed to the success of the program.”

Now, Walmart Canada is sharing the playbook that it produced with other global markets so that they can put their own stamp on it, Pinnock said.

Woman in Retail has put Walmart Canada at the forefront of gender diversity efforts, according to Sharon Orlopp, Walmart’s Global Chief Diversity Officer. “Walmart Canada has the highest percentage of women in management out of the countries we operate in.” Orlopp said. “The U.S. is currently at 45 percent women in management for Walmart.”

Since Walmart Canada shared its experiences in October 2012, it has helped other global markets make gains, Orlopp said.

“Each country is responsible for adapting the Women in Retail program to fit their business units,” Orlopp said. “In the U.K., their female store manager representation increased by 4 percent in one year after adopting this program. China has a champion designated in each of their stores to develop and advance women.  We are excited about the progress in Canada and several of our countries and we look forward to continued momentum.”

The necessity for the program in Canada was clear, Pinnock said. “The business case for a focus on female talent is very simple – 80 percent of our customers are women,” he said. “Diversity drives performance…68 percent of our workforce is female. We are in a war for talent, so putting a program together to identify and retain and advance women just makes sense.”

Women in Retail specifically supports the first of the four pillars of the Strategic Framework: 1) developing, retaining and advancing women; 2) attracting female talent; 3) promoting inclusion; and 4) investing in women externally.

A key tactic of the program, Pinnock said, was conducting “listening sessions,” where top performing female store managers were brought together to share ideas and provide feedback about how to create a program that would provide the very best results. This strategy, he said, was prompted by data showing that the percentage of female store managers was stagnant and that there was a sharp drop-off in the percentage of female store co-managers from to the percentage who rose to the store manager position.

“Basically, these female leaders were there to “Pay it Forward” by telling us what they felt other women would need to advance – what were the hurdles and barriers and obstacles,” said Pinnock, who completed his MBA at York University in Toronto, Canada in 1989. “What came up very strongly was the need for development, mentoring and sponsorship.”

Among the strategies implemented was establishing store captains – most of them women – in 380 Walmart-Canada stores. The captains offer training, help with advancement opportunities and other assistance designed to achieve the program’s goals. The training of hourly associates concept was developed as part of the United States adoption of the Canadian Women in Retail program, then leveraged by the Canadian team.

The program continues to evolve; for instance, Walmart Canada is piloting an online mentoring program. The technology is similar to that used by online dating sites like eHarmony, Pinnock said. Participants are matched with mentors based on the technical requirements of their jobs along with a self-assessment of leadership traits. Participants’ needs are matched with mentors’ strengths.

Walmart Canada is also planning to expand the key lessons learned through the Women in Retail program to other dimensions of diversity such as new Canadians who have migrated to Canada, Aboriginal and LGBT associates, Pinnock said.

He gave credit to Walmart Canada’s Shelley Broader, the first female President and CEO of a country for Walmart, saying that she is “amazing” when it comes to creating the right atmosphere for these diversity and inclusion efforts.

“Walmart is doing a lot of things that are very progressive,” Pinnock said. “We’re really happy that we’re making significant progress and that the things we’re pioneering here are being shared with Walmart globally.”

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Dan Holly
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