Georgia Tech alumna, Annie Walker (IE’02), joined us in October to talk about her personal journey from GT to her current role at Walmart as Senior VP Merchandise Operations Apparel. She, along with Walmart’s Global Culture, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader Kabir Kumar shared with us what the world’s largest private employer is doing to champion racial and social justice and societal value creation and what skill sets are in high demand to meet the future of work.
Q: Talk to us about your journey after graduating from Georgia Tech to where you are today?
Walker: I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since I’ve been on campus, time flies! I can tell you one thing I know, and that is how valuable a Georgia Tech degree is. While at Tech, I knew what I was good at but I didn’t fully know where I belonged. Walmart came to campus, and retail wasn’t your typical engineering route. For me, it came down to knowing what you’re passionate about, what you’re good at, and aligning those things. I merged the engineering background with the business side. I applied my background and also grew with the industry while working around a lot of great people.
Q: Can you talk about serving as the chair for the Walmart Women’s Officer Caucus?
Walker: The group was formed around 2007 with one female officer. Now, it has really grown and I’ve recently taken the reigns. The focus is 1.) Building comradery among the women officers, 2.) Onboarding new women officers and employees to see a strong retention rate, and 3.) Giving back. It’s about building up women and continuing to grow women into the officer ranks. We don’t just stay in the confines, though. We work alongside our DEI values and are advocates for many people within Walmart.
Q: Can you talk about your involvement with Georgia Tech boards?
Walker: Board engagement is not just a benefit to the organization you serve, but to the board members themselves. I have been a part of the Industrial and Engineering Systems Board and Georgia Tech Advisory Board (GTAB). You’ll see a mix of talented alums from various backgrounds. I believe that Georgia Tech has an authentic and strategic President, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn't believe it. One of the big focuses has been on student wellness. We’re all talking about creating the right environment in this current climate, both in the education sector and in the workforce.
Q: What skill sets are important in your industry for the future?
Walker: Georgia Tech is dead-on in developing the right skillsets for the future. In retail, data analytics is everything, and I love that GT is focused on the curriculum in this area. Technical skillsets along with data analytics is a magical combination in retail right now. A lot of our high-level leaders at Walmart have a tech background.
Q: Can you expand on your thoughts about transparency vulnerability in the workplace?
Walker: This is a hard topic because some people think it’s ok to keep your cover on in the workspace. How do you create an environment where you can come to work as your whole self? How do we get from people saying something like “Some people on the team are saying...” to “This is me, and this is how I’ve been feeling.” As a leader, different skillsets are required. Results leaders and people leaders are different things. As you lead broader teams, are you a people leader where people feel confident in sharing their stories? On my own team, I’ve challenged my team to watch different movies that focus on different communities and then bring summaries. All of a sudden, you have people talking in different ways and trust is built.
Q: Tell us about Walmart’s DEI efforts.
Kumar: The evolution of DEI has been ever-changing over the decades. From armed forces to the civil rights movement to affirmative action. We’re starting to really get to the root causes of challenges. When I think of Walmart, there’s an overlap with philanthropy and DEI regarding what we do externally and internally. When you think about the origin of Walmart, it was trying to address inequity and access. We had people in rural areas of the US who were paying more money and couldn’t access goods. There was disproportionate pricing just because it could be done. I was surprised when I started working here by how much of a lifeline Walmart is to communities (helping invest back into communities and buying locally when possible for example).
Q: What can we do to leverage the “same value approach?”
Kumar: How does a company change its policies and practices, but also its mindset, in order to achieve an outcome for social equity? Walmart is making an attempt to be more transparent and more data-driven. People don’t just want to know what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it. You can access Walmart’s latest DEI report online to see who we are hiring and promoting, officer representation, and minority representation among many other statistics.
Whether you are a current member of the Georgia Tech community, a job seeker, or someone established in your company, the message we heard today was to get involved where you are. Do not underestimate a company’s resiliency through change. Change is a natural part of business, and with that comes the need to be an adaptable leader. Figure out how to have a healthy mindset surrounding change and embrace it!
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