Pay Alone Will Not Close the Opportunity Gap

Milken Institute Global Conference - Los Angeles, CA

April 27, 2015

Milken Institute Global Conference - Los Angeles, CA

Kristin Oliver, executive vice president of people for Walmart U.S., participated in the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in April, where she was one of five speakers on a panel titled “Closing the Income Inequality Gap.” Oliver authored this blog post as a companion to her participation at Milken. To watch the panel, click here.

A hot topic of discussion right now from presidential hopefuls to business leaders across the country is the unequal access to opportunity that exists in America and the reasons for it.  Today I am at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles to discuss how we create more opportunities for people to achieve the American dream.  As the largest private employer in America, with 1.3 million associates, we at Walmart believe we have a responsibility to lead in this effort.  That’s why earlier this year our CEO, Doug McMillon, announced a series of changes for associates in the US that will not only provide higher pay but also with the ability to advance in their careers.

The raise in pay is what drew the headlines, but pay alone will not solve the opportunity gap.  I have been the Chief People Officer for our US business for 3 years, and in that time have spent a lot of time listening to our associates to understand what they want from their employment at Walmart and what they need to help them succeed.  What associates care about the most is the total paycheck – hourly rate times hours worked.  Wages are only one portion of the equation – the number of hours worked is just as important.  So the first thing we began working on was a new approach to scheduling that allows associates more choice of when they work and whether their schedule is fixed (same hours each week) or flexible (choose your own schedule).  For several years we have posted schedules at least 2 and a half weeks in advance to allow associates to plan better, but felt we could do more.  The Scheduling Choice program, which is currently in pilot and should roll out next year, has been successful in reducing turnover by 15% in our pilot stores. 

The other thing that all associates need in order to close the opportunity gap, is the ability to gain skills that will help them advance in their careers.  Our Pathways program, which we’re piloting and plan to roll chain wide next year, will provide associates with training on the retail business model, the basic skills needed to do their jobs, and the soft skills that are critical to success.  We know that we’re a first job for a lot of people, and we want to make sure that the skills you gain with us will help your next job be one of greater responsibility and pay.  As an example, we’ll create transparent pathways for people to earn promotions to department manager jobs, which will pay $15 an hour or more. 

We have a rich history of creating opportunity for advancement, and we’re determined to build on that.  Over 75% of our current store management teams started as hourly associates.  A store manager earns six figures and manages hundreds of employees.  Take Jessica Schanick, for example.  She started working in high school as a cashier at another retailer.  After having her first child at 19, she knew she needed a job with benefits, so she came to Walmart and set a goal for herself of being a store manager by the time she was 27.  It took her a little longer than she planned, but she hit that goal by the time she was 28 and now manages a store for us in Michigan. 

We’re committed to associates like Jessica, and to partnering with others to achieve our goal of creating more opportunity.  Last week we took part in the White House Upskill Summit where we talked with other employers about this very topic.  Employers must help their employees gain critical skills that lead to success at work and are transferable – it’s good for the employer, it’s good for the employee, and it’s good for America. 

This post is part of LinkedIn's full coverage of the Milken Institute Global Conference.