A 2014 USA Today study revealed that black and Hispanic computer science students graduate at twice the rate that leading tech companies hire them. Clearly, technology leaders need to reach out more to minority communities. “I think it’s a balance of getting the correct message out there and having the right messengers talk to the people,” said Eugene Cook, Walmart Technology’s vice president of application operations.
At Walmart, those messengers not only help recruit new talent but also serve as mentors to current associates. Mentorship is a key strategy for promoting an inclusive culture. “Diversity is the mix — a workforce with unique styles, experiences, identities, ideas and opinions,” said Ben Hasan, Walmart’s chief Culture, Diversity and Inclusion officer in the company’s 2016 Culture, Diversity and Inclusion Report. “Inclusion is how we make that mix work together by valuing, supporting and championing our uniqueness to empower associates to reach their full potential.”
Guiding youth into a career in tech
Cook estimates that when he joined the company in 1997, roughly 25 to 30 African-Americans worked in the IT department. Coming from Atlanta, where he was part of a vibrant African-American community, that felt like an abrupt culture shock. But today, of the more than 1.5 million associates that Walmart employs across the United States, 21 percent are African-American, 14 percent are Hispanic or Latin American, and 4 percent are Asian-American.
Cook manages applications across the Walmart global enterprise, including store systems, merchandising systems, corporate/home-office systems and supply chain. He also oversees the infrastructure acquisition and implementation team responsible for scoping, purchasing and installing hardware and infrastructure for home office, stores, clubs, DCs and remote offices. Over the course of his tenure at Walmart, Cook has mentored many colleagues, and he credits his first mentor, Scott Hamilton, who happened to be Caucasian, with being one of the many associates that helped him adjust to his new surroundings and grow into the leader he is today.
“It really taught me that it just takes someone who understands you as a person,” Cook said. “They don’t necessarily have to be the same race as you.”
As a mentor himself, Cook holds one-on-one sessions with associates of all levels to discuss what’s happening around Walmart, professional development, technology, and everything from where to get a haircut to church and childcare. “I mentor people that work in my area, outside of my area and people that work in other parts of the business,” he said.
In addition to providing guidance, Cook takes pride in developing talent in and around the Springdale community. He works with students at Springdale High School and assigns them Walmart mentors that work in various areas of the business. These mentors advise the students how to find roles in computer programming, IT security and project management and more. The mentors also work with students on interpersonal and life skills.
Cook would like to see Walmart continue to develop programs like its STEM mentorship group and Leading Women project that will grow the company’s pipeline of talent. “And part of that involves really spending some time with kids to talk to them and ask them to dream bigger than what they think they can be,” Cook said.
Fostering an inclusive culture
For Walmart, a more diverse community of associates can only help its customers. According to Hasan, that’s the mission of its Culture, Diversity and Inclusion efforts: “to create an inclusive culture where all associates work together to deliver our shared purpose of saving people money so they can live better.”