Target pledges to increase number of Black employees by 20% as companies are pressured to take action

Key Points
  • Target pledged to increase representation of Black employees across its workforce by 20% over the next three years.
  • The big-box retailer's workforce skews White, particularly among its top executives, but the company says it has made strides in diversity and inclusion.
  • Companies have faced heightened scrutiny over their record on diversity since the George Floyd protests.

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As companies across the country face heightened scrutiny of their record on racial diversity, Target pledged Thursday to increase representation of Black employees across its workforce by 20% over the next three years.

The big-box retailer's workforce of nearly 350,000 employees skews White, particularly among its top executives. About 75% of its leadership team is White and 8% are Black, based on 2019 data. That rises to nearly a quarter, however, when including all people of color like Latinos and Asians. Its overall workforce — which includes hourly store employees who stock shelves and check out customers — is more mixed, with 50% made up of White workers, 25% Latino and 15% Black, as the top three groups. 

While pledging to do better, Target referred to strides it has made. It said it has doubled representation of company non-White officers in the past five years to nearly 30%. Of that, though, only 5% are Black. 

It also touted diversity among store managers: More than half of its stores are run by women and a third are managed by people of color. 

Walmart has a larger U.S. workforce than Target. About 21% of its employees across the country are Black and 16% are Latino, according to a midyear report that came out this week. About 12% of managers and 7% of its officers are Black.

In the U.S., Black Americans make up more than 13% of the population, according to the Census Bureau.

"Inclusivity is a deeply rooted value at Target and we've had an ambitious diversity and inclusion strategy for many years for our guests and team," chief human resources officer Melissa Kremer said in a news release. "We know that having a diverse workforce and inclusive environment not only creates a stronger team, but also provides the perspectives we need to create the products, services, experiences and messages our guests expect."

Target announced its new goal and shared its latest diversity and inclusion report, after calls for racial equity spread from the streets to the boardroom after the killing of George Floyd. Floyd died while in police custody in Target's hometown of Minneapolis on Memorial Day. The video of him dying as he was pinned down by a police officer's knee prompted widespread protests and a closer look at many inequities, from Black Americans' under-representation in top business roles to their disproportionate death rates during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Target said it will emphasize recruiting and hiring Black employees and look for ways to encourage their advancement once they join the company. As part of that effort, it will add anti-racist training for its workforce and develop programs to boost diversity in areas like technology, merchandising and marketing that are predominately White.

Target has taken progressive stances like asking customers not to carry guns into its stores and publicly welcoming transgender customers to use its stores' bathrooms and fitting rooms, a move that prompted conservative groups to call for a boycott. The retailer has expanded its footprint in diverse cities like New York and San Francisco as it opens more small-format stores.

Yet the retailer's record on diversity has been checkered. Two years ago, it agreed to pay $3.74 million to settle a class-action lawsuit that accused it of discriminating against Black and Latino job applicants with its approach to criminal background checks. A few years earlier, Target had paid nearly $3 million to settle similar claims with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When it settled the lawsuit, Target said in a statement that it had revised its hiring practices and gathered criminal background information in the final stages of the process.

During the Black Lives Matter protests, some of Target's stores were badly damaged. On social media, some people encouraged looters to seek out the company's stores in tweets. The company has been criticized, too, for collaborating with police on public safety initiatives and appearing too cozy with them in Minneapolis. 

After Floyd's killing, Target CEO Brian Cornell joined other top executives in expressing pain over the death of Floyd and urging change. He joined a subcommittee of the Business Roundtable, a prominent group of CEOs, to look for policy recommendations to address inequities in the U.S. law enforcement system and create more opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Other retailers signaled their support for racial equity, too, by announcing new initiatives, donating to civil rights causes or setting new goals for recruiting and hiring. Among them, Walmart and its corporate foundation committed $100 million over five years to create a new center on racial equity. Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the retailer would also increase recruitment and support for people of color, but he did not quantify that goal.

Companies need to be intentional about improving diversity: Fmr. MetricStream CEO
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