Black Thoughts

Any New ‘Study’ Of Black Workers Should Include Actual Solutions

When it comes to Black employees, we already know the challenges

An employee at a Walmart in Los Angeles, CA on November 29, 2013. Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

A new study by Walmart finds that, unsurprisingly, it will take almost a century for Black workers to be equally represented in the private sector.

The study, also cosigned by McKinsey & Company, more specifically states that it would take 95 years for Black employees to reach “talent parity.” In plain English, this means that because Black workers account for 12% of the 125 million U.S. private-sector workers, it would take nearly 100 more years for Black people to represent 12% of those jobs at all levels — from entry-level up to the C-suite.

The report, called “Race in the Workplace: The Black Experience,” lists parity barriers such as high attrition, little opportunity to move out of entry-level roles, and a lack of trust between Black employees and their companies. And, it says that companies that seriously and openly address these barriers could lessen this time frame to 25 years. That’s still a long time.

There are no groundbreaking statistics in the report, and when discussing what the study calls “a path forward,” there are no specific takeaways, no strategic offerings, no insight on what it takes to break down a barrier.

While corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion leaders may use the study to validate their work and encourage support from within organizations to fund efforts, reports rarely state anything we don’t already know: that Black employees face systemic challenges most companies do not actively work to mitigate.

“We know what it is like to [see companies] continue to put studies out, but not address the problem, meaning that you’re more focused on putting the study out than you are on fixing the issue,” says Cedric Chambers, founder and CEO of JUMP Recruits — a consulting company helping companies develop and implement diversity recruitment programs. “I mean, how many studies are out there? There’s a lot that say the same thing; nothing different has come out of these studies.”

Historically, the retailer has not carried a reputation for being a fair employer. Employees and labor groups have accused Walmart of everything from punishing workers for sick days to cutting workers’ hours and pay while increasing their workloads during the pandemic. And as noted in Walmart’s most recent “Culture, Diversity & Inclusion Report,” the Black employees are overwhelmingly occupying lower-level positions, constituting 21% of hourly workers and just under 7% of the company’s officers. (For comparison, over 75% of Walmart officers are White.)

Yet, last June, the company pledged publicly to “address systematic racism in society head-on and accelerate change” by creating a “Center for Racial Equity.”

“Immediately following the tragic murder of George Floyd, we knew Walmart had to be part of the solution,” Donna Morris, Walmart’s executive vice president and chief people officer, said in a statement about the report. “As the largest employer in the country, which includes a workforce of approximately 300,000 Black and African American associates, we quickly focused on what we could do to make a difference at scale.”

This past February, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation announced how it would be distributing the first $14.3 million of a $100 million, five-year commitment. And Morris says, in addition, Walmart is committing another $3 million to OneTen, a coalition of U.S. companies committed to hire and advance 1 million Black workers over the next 10 years into middle-skill jobs.

Outside of this commitment, the study itself falls short of providing — or suggesting — anything tangible. Representatives from Walmart have not yet responded to a request to clarify how companies should use the report but Morris’ statement says Walmart hopes it will “serve as a catalyst for honest, candid discussions and specific actions.”

Much of the study’s data on private-sector employees mirrors already available truths and assumptions such as more than half of Black private-sector workers live in Southern states, that they are less likely to live in what is deemed a fast-growing city, that a larger percentage make less than $30,000 — widely known facts that leaders in any major company could easily find.

There are definite solutions and a growing suite of best practices available for use when it comes to boosting Black career growth and teaching executive leadership and middle managers how to be culturally competent while also building trust with Black employees. This report doesn’t go there. But, Chambers tells Momentum, that could possibly be the point: Studies take time and companies want to send a message to consumers that they recognize the problem without discussing solutions.

“I would get more out of ‘what are you actually doing to solve these issues’ versus you telling me what they are,” Chambers says. “You have organizations talking about, ‘Yeah, we need to do more around awareness, we need to do more around unconscious bias,’ and that focus on awareness provides you a level of a runway before you have to actually do work.”

Arionne Nettles is a lecturer at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, a Chicago-based journalist, and a special needs mama.

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