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Wal-Mart's New Doyenne of Diversity

Posted by: Matthew Boyle on June 23, 2009

Wal-Mart’s new CEO Mike Duke took another step towards delivering on his promise to promote diversity at the Bentonville-based retail giant on June 22 by naming L. Mecole “Cole” Brown to oversee the company’s diversity efforts.

Wal-Mart hired Brown in 2002, and she was named vice president of employment practices in 2007. She replaces Charlyn Jarrells Porter, who held the post from 2004 until she announced her retirement in March.

Brown’s promotion comes on the heels of Duke’s creation of a global women’s leadership council comprised of senior leaders from the 15 countries in which it operates. Duke first spoke of the council publicly at Wal-Mart’s shareholder meeting June 5. Among the council’s members are Wan Ling Martello, a senior VP of finance and strategy at the company’s international operations and a rising star inside the firm.

Duke expressed frustration at the slow pace of the company’s diversity efforts. “I want to move faster,” he said, during an interview after the shareholder meeting. “It’s an opportunity that I want to be more personally involved with.”

Of course, as Duke well knows, it is one thing to create star-studded councils and make high-level appointments. It’s quite another thing to actually deliver. Further complicating matters is a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit hanging over Wal-Mart’s head, which could head up again later this year.

There’s also a new book due out soon showing that Wal-Mart’s success “has depended on a bizarre reconciliation of Northwest Arkansas’s uneasy cocktail of anti-corporate populism, racial homogeneity, evangelical Christianity, and free enterprise,” according to a post in Slate’s The Big Money. The book will no doubt rekindle discussion of Wal-Mart’s corporate culture, which has come under fire for not doing enough to attract, retain, and promote women and minorities. At the moment, in fact, there is only one woman among Duke’s eight direct reports: Executive Vice-President of People Susan Chambers

In all, Wal-Mart’s new diversity chief has quite a challenge before her. At least she’s got the ear of the CEO, which is a good start.

Reader Comments

Thomas Huynh

June 28, 2009 6:18 PM

At the two closest Wal-marts where I live, both have women as store managers and assistant store managers. This I have never noticed before and so I'm a believer in Wal-mart executing on this endeavor. No woman should be promoted just because she's a woman but past practices clearly weren't giving them their due, especially since most of the employees seem to be women. In fact one can argue that a lot of other companies can learn a lesson from Wal-mart here.


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