BUSINESS

Sam's Club CEO Calls For Diversity, White People Pretty Much Pee Their Pants

P.S., over half of the Sam's Club leadership team is white.

The chief executive of Sam's Club is actually being criticized this week for articulating a commonsense and fairly popular view: We need more diversity -- more women and more people of color -- at the top in corporate America. 

"It has to start with top leadership," Rosalind Brewer, Sam's Club CEO, told CNN's Poppy Harlow on Dec. 11 after being asked about her unique position as a black chief executive.

"My executive team is very diverse and I make that a priority. I demand it within my team," Brewer said, adding that she likewise encourages the company's suppliers to have diverse teams. Recently Brewer met with a team of executives from another firm -- all of them white, all of them men. She told Harlow she plans to give them a call about that.

It's pretty hard to find women or black people at the top in corporate America. There are just 21 female CEOs in the S&P 500 -- that's 4.2 percent overall. The stats on black executives are worse: There are only five black CEOs in the S&P 500, accounting for a grand total of 1 percent. For comparison's sake, black people make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Meanwhile, four of the nine people on Brewer's leadership team are white men (and there's a white woman in there as well). That means the team is 44 percent people of color, counting Brewer herself -- not bad when you consider that most U.S. corporate leadership teams are blindingly white and male. At the same time, it's clear that white people aren't exactly being shut out of the highest ranks of Sam's Club.

Brewer's hardly alone in talking about the need for more women and people of color in the business world. Tech companies in particular have been outspoken lately on the subject. Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft are sharing information about the lopsided racial and gender composition of their workforces. Startups like Salesforce and Pinterest are combing through salary information to make sure women and men are paid equitably.

Companies from Chevron to Procter & Gamble are thinking about ways to reduce the biases around hiring and promotion that tend to keep leadership structures dominated by white men. Some organizations are holding unconscious bias trainings and using software to figure out how job listings may unfairly attract men over women.

This isn't just a fairness issue (although really, the fairness issue should be enough). Since retailers are selling to a diverse group of consumers, it's important for their bottom lines that they understand how to appeal to different kinds of people.

Companies like Always, one of the biggest makers of feminine care products, are seeing strong results as a result of their diversity efforts. Crafting ad campaigns that actually appeal to women -- like this widely shared "Like A Girl" ad from last year's Super Bowl -- pays off.

A good number of people did come to Brewer's defense.

But there were also the predictable shrieks of alarm from social media. People actually said they'd never shop at "racist" Sam's Club again. They lobbed absurd charges of "reverse racism" at Brewer.

To be clear, "reverse racism" isn't a thing, as The Huffington Post's Zeba Blay explained in this piece over the summer. Racism is an institutional, systemic phenomenon that puts an entire group of people at an advantage or disadvantage simply because of who they are. The key idea here is that it's pervasive. It's the kind of thing that becomes apparent when you zoom out and look at statistics -- statistics like "1 percent of CEOs in the S&P 500 are black."

Had Brewer said something like "I refuse to hire white people because they're dumb and lazy" -- well, that would be a problem. But she didn't say that, or anything like it. She simply acknowledged the need for balance, for making sure everyone has a voice and a spot at the table.

Not that any of this mattered to White People Are An Endangered Species Twitter:

The absurd backlash of white people calling Brewer "anti-white" was so fast and furious that the chief executive of Walmart, the parent company of Sam's Club, had to speak out in Brewer's defense.

"Roz was simply trying to reiterate that we believe diverse and inclusive teams make for a stronger business," Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said in a statement Monday. "That's all there is to it and I support that important ideal."

Some outraged shoppers said they'd take their business to Costco, but we have bad news: Costco, known for being a progressive company that treats its workers very well, has also been fairly outspoken about the need for diversity. (This is actually good news, at least for any reasonable definition of "good.")

Here's Costco's Supplier Diversity mission statement: "Costco is committed to providing opportunities to a supplier base as diverse as the communities we serve."

Sorry, guys. "Diversity" isn't going away.

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