Wal-Mart exec hails worker diversity

The Advocate

Building a diverse workforce requires knowing yourself, the people around you and practicing empathy — assuming co-workers have good intentions even when you disagree, a high-ranking Wal-Mart executive said Tuesday.

“Seek out people different from you. Give them a voice in addressing your challenges, even the contrarians,” said Claire Babineaux-Fontenot, executive vice president and treasurer of Wal-Mart.

Babineaux-Fontenot spoke at the Baton Rouge Area Chamber Signature Speaker program.

BRAC President and CEO Adam Knapp said it’s widely recognized that diversity results in stronger and more successful communities and economies. Regional chambers have dedicated half-days and whole days to diversity events, and BRAC is considering doing the same, he said.

Babineaux-Fontenot said she learned the value of diversity as a child in Opelousas. Her family included 108 birth, adopted and foster children.

“It is because of my childhood privileges that I’ve always known what some have still not discovered, and that is diversity wins,” she said.

Her family members’ knowledge and acceptance of each other’s strengths and weaknesses helped them dominate street baseball for at least a decade, she said. And it’s a formula Babineaux-Fontenot has made her mission to share and an approach she has used with every team she’s been part of.

Diversity starts with knowing who you are and what you’re great at, then seeking out people who are great at different things and putting those strengths together, Babineaux-Fontenot said.

But everyone isn’t taking advantage of this opportunity, she said. For every dollar made by white men, black men are paid 75.1 cents for similar work; Hispanic men, 67.2 cents; white women, 78 cents; black women, 64 cents; and Hispanic women, 54 cents.

Right now Louisiana is No. 1 in the gender pay gap, with “a staggering” 34.7 percent difference, she said. There’s clearly a problem, but it’s not a female problem, a black problem or a brown problem. “It’s our collective problem,” she said.

Babineaux-Fontenot led the audience through a list of questions to demonstrate how discrimination affects everyone in the workplace.

She asked everyone to stand who had ever been told they had a baby face, who didn’t have a classic name, who was less than 6 feet tall, who had gained weight and who was not blond. Each of those categories resulted in lower pay, she said. Blonds, for example, are paid 7 percent more regardless of whether the color was natural.

While there is no excuse for some types of discrimination, some types of biases are unconscious, Babineaux-Fontenot said. To eliminate these biases’ influence, she recommended:

Taking an implicit association test, which helps uncover unconscious biases. It’s critically important to understand what biases you’re bringing to the table.

Before hiring someone, write out core competencies for the position you’re filling. Those competencies should include “brings a unique perspective to the team.” Allow only one intangible objective, such as executive presence or culture fit.

Rank the competencies and weight them before considering the candidates.

Have someone who isn’t part of the interview process remove the names from the résumés being considered. Remove the college attended as well, because affinity bias can outweigh other more important considerations.

Use the intangible competencies to determine who gets interviewed.

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