Diversity, equity and inclusion programmes can be challenging to design and execute on in large multinational corporates, with staff representing a wide range of backgrounds, perspectives and experiences. Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) sought to address this challenge by working with a broad definition of diversity and employing a radical approach to listening, communicating and training.
WBA is a multinational retail pharmacy company, dispensing medicines, selling a wide variety of retail products, and with its own health care and beauty product lines. Since its formation in 2014, in a strategic alliance between Walgreens and Alliance Boots, the company has put diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) at the heart of its business strategy.
WBA has more than 330,000 direct employees in over 17 countries, representing a diverse range of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, experiences, perspectives and insights. The company embraces a broad definition of diversity; including racial, ethnic, gender, ability/disability, nationality, age and sexual orientation.
Managing DE&I at Walgreens Boots Alliance
The DE&I strategy is driven by Global Chief Diversity Officer Carlos W. Cubia and a Global Inclusion Council of 21 leaders across geographies and functions, with a focus on supplier diversity, disability inclusion, leadership diversity, and communication and engagement on DE&I topics
WBA’s approach is driven by a deep commitment from its Board of Directors, senior leadership and Global Inclusion Council. This includes the Board’s public goal to continue diversifying its own ranks and its approval of accountability metrics, linking pay incentives to performance on diversity KPIs. 10% of bonus incentives for bonus-eligible employees are tied to company performance on these goals in fiscal 2021.
Fiscal 2021 DE&I goals are:
- Increase women in leadership positions across WBA by 3 percentage points and persons of colour (POC) in U.S. leadership positions by 2 percentage points, from fiscal 2020.
- Leaders must facilitate and/or participate in at least three significant activities to foster inclusion within WBA.
- Ensure 100% compliance of diverse candidate slates and diverse interview panels for leadership roles.
- Spend $500 Million with Tier 1 diverse suppliers in the U.S., an increase of ~$53M.
- Expand the number of Business Resource Groups (BRGs), employee-led grassroots networks, and implement policies that drive equity and broaden support of diversity of team members.
This accountability is also demonstrated by transparent reporting. The DE&I function within the business produces externally assured data and a public report to transparently track progress against goals.
A grassroots approach
WBA sponsors company Business Resource Groups (BRGs), grassroots networks of employees, which help the company build its inclusive culture and attract, engage and retain diverse talent. These groups were expanded in the U.S. and internationally to 15 total, including groups for women, racial/ethnic groups, people with disabilities, veterans and the LGBTQ+ community. Coordinated by the DE&I function, each group has an executive sponsor and expansion opportunities are reviewed annually.
BRGs host periodic meetings with their membership, allowing for information sharing and networking. Additionally, BRGs engage in a series of activities, programmes and awareness events throughout the year surrounding, for example, mental health, disability, Black history, Hispanic heritage, Pride, Chinese New Year, International Women’s Day and Earth Day.
This grassroots approach is furthered by a commitment to listening to staff. The company held listening sessions in the wake of the protests against racial inequality in 2020 to understand employee and community concerns. One major output from these sessions was a commitment to broadening health equity programmes. This included a major vaccine equity campaign to make hundreds of thousands of vaccines available to underserved communities in the U.S., delivering a public service messaging campaign on vaccine safety, building health service programmes aimed at chronic conditions in underserved neighbourhoods in Chicago and working with charity partners on health equity programmes. These listening sessions were key in informing the DE&I strategy for WBA.
Hiring and training
WBA designed a more inclusive hiring practice by mandating diversity both on the panels that conduct job interviews and in the shortlist of candidates interviewed for a role. For U.S-based roles, each candidate slate and interview panel must include a minimum of one woman and one person from an underrepresented race or ethnicity. Outside the U.S., each slate and panel should include at least one woman. Furthermore, leaders are encouraged to include two or more interviewers within an interview session to mitigate bias and ensure diverse perspectives.
The company has also established industry-leading hiring and training programmes for people with disabilities in stores and distribution centres. This involves two principal programmes, the first being the Walgreens Transitional Work Group programme which partners with state agencies and local non-profits to recruit, train and support job candidates with disabilities, for jobs in 10 distribution centres and regional warehouses. The second, The Walgreens Retail Employees with Disabilities Initiative (REDI) programme, partners with hundreds of publicly funded community providers to train people with disabilities for work in Walgreens stores.
Another key area of focus has been U.S. military veterans, committing to hiring 5,000 U.S. military veterans for store management track positions by 2023. Transgender individuals are also supported with updated transgender policies to raise awareness and help facilitate supportive transition processes.
Training programmes have been put in place not only to support these individuals to thrive in their roles, but also to educate employees on diversity. Tens of thousands of employees have taken online and in-person courses on managing unconscious bias. Investment has also been made in scholarships, with the company awarding up to $1 million in scholarships for pharmacy students from underrepresented communities to strengthen the talent pipeline.
WBA has also committed to a renewed, best-in-class supplier diversity programme, with a spend goal of $500 million in Tier 1 diverse spend. The programme aims to ensure that the company sources goods and services from enterprises owned by women, people of colour, veterans and service-disabled veterans, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people, as well as businesses owned by people who are socially or economically disadvantaged.
The programme is delivered primarily through 32 ambassadors based in the “Goods for Resale” procurement team. In the context of supplier diversity, these individuals focus on diversity of suppliers, product assortment and educating others on the topic. Supplier diversity efforts include a capacity-building initiative, partnering with the Chicago-based Women’s Business Development Center, which supports women and diverse business owners in the Midwest.
The company also joined a third-party reporting platform where WBA’s suppliers report on their own supplier diversity metrics on a quarterly basis, following requirements established through the platform.
Results and next steps
The impact of these initiatives on hiring is already being seen in the growing diversity of WBA’s workforce. The number of non-white employees grew at a significantly higher rate than white employees between Q2 2020 and Q2 2021, with non-white managers increasing by 6.9%.
WBA’s commitment to supplier diversity has also had a major impact, with the company supporting more than 2000 diverse suppliers during fiscal 2020. This included 24 participants who graduated from the company’s co-created 8-week programme “How to do business in the retail space.”
These metrics are not the only indication of the success of the DE&I programme however. Gina Stuart, Senior Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Strategy & Development at WBA highlights that the programme had led to a “more inclusive mindset in how we approach problem-solving and business decision-making”. The success is also evident in the levels of interest and curiosity in staff at WBA looking to learn more about DE&I.
The next steps for the DE&I programme is in exploring opportunities for further improvement, gathering, and analysing relevant data. WBA also want to place greater focus on the intersectionality of diversity to improve inclusion.
Advice for others
Gina Stuart identifies four key areas of advice from WBA’s experience in delivering on DE&I:
Image: Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
- Understand where your company is on the DE&I maturity scale and make it part of the company’s core values.
- Develop programmes and initiatives that will keep the company moving forward,
- Be transparent and honest with opportunities and find ways to recognize and reward wins both big and small.
- Bring everyone into the work as much as possible because DE&I success depends on everyone doing their part and in living the company’s values.