After paying millions to settle two racial discrimination lawsuits where Target was accused of using questionable hiring practices against thousands of Black and Hispanic job applicants, the retailer embarked on a diversity campaign; however, out of its 52 top executives, only one is Black
(Upon further review of this story, the Crusader counted 52 Target executives, not 53 as was originally reported)
By Erick Johnson
Tis’ the season at Target.
The nation’s second-largest retailer wowed Wall Street in August with unprecedented news that a 6.5 percent increase in sales—the highest in 13 years—has led Target to generate nearly a record $74 billion so far this year. The figures are already higher than Target’s $69 billion in sales from last year. And with the holiday season approaching and Black Friday deals, Target is on track to see its sales climb even higher.
It’s the perfect gift for Target, a discount retailer that grew out of a small suburb in Saint Paul, Minnesota to become one of the hottest department stores in the market. For 56 years, the retailer has won the hearts, purses and wallets of loyal shoppers who continue to come back week after week to snatch up discounted quality items that are hard to find anywhere.
With its snazzy television commercials and brand-name products, Target has built an image of a hip discount retailer with an upscale feel that has drawn college-educated shoppers and families looking for affordable luxury items in their quest to live the American dream. Many shoppers still pronounce Target with the chic, French pronunciation “Tar-zhay.”
One area where Target misses the Bull’s-eye is in its corporate ranks. After years of discrimination lawsuits, accusations of racial profiling and campaigns that portrayed Target as a bastion of ethnic diversity, the Crusader has learned that out of 52 corporate executives, only one is Black, according to the retailer’s corporate leadership page on its website. The low number is even more disturbing considering that Target has strong partnerships with two prominent national Black organizations, raising serious question as to whether Target is aiming in the right direction of equal opportunity.
Some members of Target’s top brass were scheduled to visit Chatham on November 15 to hear residents express their concerns over the retailer’s decision to close its stores in Chatham and Morgan Park in February 2019. Since Target’s announcement on October 30, the retailer has drawn protests and criticism as it plans to open two stores on the city’s North Side by 2020. Congressman Bobby Rush wrote a letter to Target’s CEO Brian Cornell, urging him to keep the South Side stores open.
It’s not clear whether Cornell will attend Thursday’s meeting with residents. But when Target’s bigwigs step inside New Covenant Baptist Church to discuss the future of the South Side stores, questions remain whether they will be the same color as the shoppers, who, for years have enjoyed supporting Target’s stores with their hard-earned dollars.
Rush told activists and concerned residents that the meeting was originally scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday, November, 15, with the community. But Congressman Bobby Rush sent out a press release saying the meeting will be private between him and Target executives. The meeting is closed to the press, but Rush will hold a press conference after the meeting.
The term diversity can be a tricky word. In a handful of corporate boardrooms surveyed by the Crusader, diversity is a group of white males mixed with women and other ethnic groups that include few or no Black professionals.
Target’s corporate ranks are filled with executives with names that suggest various ethnic backgrounds. Nineteen of them are women, four of whom are listed among the 11 Target executives whose profiles include their headshot. At the bottom of this list is Laysha Ward. As Target’s executive vice president and chief external engagement officer, she is the only Black executive male or female listed on Target’s corporate team of 52 executives.
The Crusader identified Target’s executives by obtaining headshots from their LinkedIn and Twitter accounts and Target’s corporate page on its website. Their faces are displayed to form an image of a target that’s the cover art at the top of this story.
According to Target’s website, Ward is a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and obtained a Master’s degree in social services administration from the University of Chicago. She is tasked with engaging and deepening relationships with “external stakeholders to drive positive business and community impact.”
Ward’s LinkedIn account shows that she has held three executive jobs at Target since 2008. But how many Black executives has she seen come or go at Target during her 10 years at the top? Or were there ever any bigwigs of color hired to help lead the company? They are questions that may shed light on Target’s commitment to promoting Blacks to the pinnacles of Target’s retail empire, but Ward and Target remain silent and cash registers keep on ringing.
It has long been the belief that an ethnically-balanced corporate leadership team will help companies avoid embarrassing marketing campaigns that would offend customers and threaten to damage a clean public relations image that institutions work hard to build and maintain.
Last year, the popular retailer H&M was forced to close its store in South Africa after running an advertisement that featured a Black boy wearing a green hoodie with the words, “Coolest Monkey in the Jungle.” The advertisement was one of several H&M public relations nightmares that have offended its diverse shoppers, many of whom are Black. Last year, a Crusader story revealed that out of H&M’s 33 executives, none were Black.
Black executives can also provide guidance and insight to problems that underperforming stores in urban areas face when it comes to management, training and customer service.
Those skills could help address the growing list of accusations of racial profiling at Target. Last February, James Edward Wright III said he was racially profiled in a Target in Minnesota when an employee told him he could not hold a pair of headphones before buying them. Wright said the employee told him that a customer once stole a pair of headphones and that he thought Wright would steal them as well. Wright posted a video of the conversation that was viewed 140,000 times by that afternoon.
Last June, Ashanae Davis from Southfield, Michigan filed a lawsuit against Target, accusing the retailer of racial profiling after she was allegedly forced to strip in front of male employees to prove that she did not steal a bathing suit.
Two months earlier, Target agreed to pay $3.74 million to settle a racial discrimination class-action lawsuit that accused the retailer of performing unfair background checks on thousands of Black and Hispanic job applicants.
The settlement came less than three years after Target paid $2.8 million to settle a lawsuit by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found that Target disproportionately screens out applicants based on race and sex. Target maintained that there was no wrongdoing and promised to review its vetting process.
One week after it announced that it will close its stores in Chatham and Morgan Park, Target ran a video of LL Cool J, showing the hip hop rapper in a red sweater going through a store, taking selfies with shoppers and speaking on the store’s PA system.
Those incidents, lawsuits and Target’s lack of Blacks in its corporate ranks have called into question the retailer’s commitment to equal opportunity for people of color. There are no stores in predominately Black Gary, Indiana. There are stores in Merrillville, Munster and Highland, Indiana.
In the last several years, Target has been promoting itself as a company that takes employee diversity and inclusion seriously. On its website, Target said it finds diverse team members by participating in and sponsoring conferences and career fairs hosted by several organizations, including the National Urban League and the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility. Target says more than 10,000 team members participate in diversity and inclusions councils.
Target also says it finds “diverse team members” by participating in and sponsoring conferences and career fairs hosted by the National Black MBA Association and other groups. On its website, it also states that their African American Business Council (AABC) plays a major role in promoting Black history by organizing every Tuesday live music and special lunch menu options from Jamaica, New Orleans, Somalia and Haiti.
But these efforts do not address Target’s lack of Black executives in its boardrooms. And questions remain whether the retailer is more serious about presenting an image than promoting Blacks to influential positions.
“That’s part of the problem right there,” said Rush, who responded after the Crusader presented him Target’s numbers on executive positions. “This is no surprise.”
For this story, the Crusader sent a list of questions to Danielle Schumman, Target’s corporate public relations lead. The Crusader wanted to know what Target was doing to increase the number of Black executives in its ranks. Schumman did not respond as of press time Wednesday.
After the story had gone to press, Schumman emailed the Crusader an 84-page report about Target’s workplace diversity, but the document does not address the lack of Black executives among the retailer’s corporate ranks.
Historically, Black executives or high-ranking employees who are few in numbers have been viewed as a “token” by companies that fail to show a genuine concern or effort in providing equal opportunities to minorities, which traditionally includes Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, non-whites and women. Some of America’s biggest companies have attempted to address the issue by hiring few or no Blacks while adding more women to their ranks. “Token” Blacks are often used to promote an image of equal opportunity that’s different from reality.
Citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Target maintains on its website that executive ranks are more diverse than the average company. The retailer says 46 percent of its executives, senior officials and managers are women. It also says 18 percent of its executives, senior officials and managers come from racially-diverse backgrounds. But the retailer doesn’t specify how many of those are Blacks.
The question still remains: Why Target has just one Black out of 53 executives at the top if its organization while working with professional organizations, like the National Black MBA Association and the National Urban League?
The Crusader spoke to the National Black MBA Association, but out of respect for its relationship with Target, a member declined to discuss what they are doing to boost the number of Black executives at Target. A voicemail to the National Urban League was not returned by press time Wednesday.
Target also boasts on its website that it was ranked 24th out of 50 prominent companies for diversity. But a survey of those companies shows that most of them had zero to few Blacks in their top corporate executive leadership.
Top-ranked Johnson & Johnson had just one Black executive out of its 11-member team, while fourth- ranked MasterCard, Eli Lilly and Co. (6th), KPMG (8th), Accenture (9th), and Hilton Hotels (10th) had no Blacks leading their companies.
Among retailers, the Crusader found that WalMart—the nation’s largest retailer—had only one Black executive out of a corporate team of 45. Out of 19 executives, Macy’s also had just one Black executive.
On her Twitter page, Ward—Target’s only Black high-ranking official, who, as the executive vice president and chief external engagement officer, actively works to engage and deepen relationships with external stakeholders to drive positive business and community impact—is shown in many pictures posing with large groups of Black women at conferences. There is also a picture of her posing with National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial and NACCP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. But where are the pictures of the shareholders?