When Rosalind Brewer took the job as president and CEO of Sam’s Club in 2012, she became the first woman and the first African American to run a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. division, according to Forbes.
Not only has she been her own advocate, she has also been one for other women in corporate leadership, mentoring them both inside and outside her company. Diversity, Brewer has said, is important.
But after the Sam’s Club chief executive discussed the issue in a recent interview with CNN, some critics have deemed her “racist” toward white men and have threatened to boycott the members-only warehouse stores.
“As a white person I need a safe space from racist blacks,” one person wrote on Twitter. “I do not feel safe at Sam’s Club.”
The backlash stemmed from an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow, who asked:
You are are 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; 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?
Brewer responded that she encourages diversity in her company.
“My executive team is very diverse, and I make that a priority,” she told Harlow. “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. … I try to set an example. I try to mentor many women inside my company and outside the company because I think it’s important.
“And 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. I decided not to talk about it directly with [the supplier’s] folks in the room because there were actually no females, like, levels down. So I’m going to place a call to him.”
The backlash prompted Walmart President and CEO Doug McMillon to issue a statement about the retail giant’s position.
“For years, we’ve asked our suppliers to prioritize the talent and diversity of their sales teams calling on our company,” McMillon said Monday evening. “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.”
To be fair, four of the eight people on Brewer’s executive team are white men — which is in line with Walmart’s promise to promote diversity and inclusion.
“Constituent Relations for Walmart develops productive relationships with organizations that reflect the diversity of American society: ethnic groups, women, the LGBT community, people with disabilities and mature Americans,” according to the company’s website. “These relationships are a unique fit with Walmart’s corporate goal to be an inclusive and active community partner.”
Earlier this year, Sam’s Club made a commitment to invest $13.6 million to support female and minority business owners, according to Black Enterprise.
Brewer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Spelman, the historically black college in Atlanta, before taking a spot in the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton School and the Director’s College at the University of Chicago School of Business/Stanford School of Law, according to her corporate bio. In 2006, after spending 22 years at Kimberly-Clark, she joined Walmart as regional vice president in Georgia. She moved through the company and, in 2012, took the helm of Sam’s Club.
She is known, according to the company, for “building strong teams, inspiring mentoring networks and having a passion for improving communities.”
She now ranks among Forbes’s 100 most powerful women in the world.
Not everyone believes the mother and minority businesswoman is out of line.