The Kroger Co. has unveiled a multi-pronged plan to foster diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well as in the thousands of communities served by its supermarkets.
Cincinnati-based Kroger said Monday the Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiative focuses on five areas, covering 10 short- and long-term efforts: creating a more inclusive culture, developing diverse talent, advancing diverse partnership, advancing equitable communities, and “deeply listening” and reporting on progress. The nation’s largest supermarket operator, with nearly 2,800 stores under more than 20 retail banners, Kroger said the plan was developed in tandem with associates and leaders across the company.
“As America’s grocer, Kroger is driven to bring Americans together as an employer, grocery provider and community partner, representing ‘Our Purpose to Feed the Human Spirit,’” Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said in a statement, referring to the company mantra. “Over the last several months, we’ve listened closely to our half a million associates and countless communities across the nation. It’s never been clearer that our collective energy is necessary to achieve true and lasting equality.
“We have taken a very thoughtful and purposeful approach to develop what we believe are the right actions to substantially and positively impact our culture and our country, creating real change now and into the future,” McMullen explained. “We are approaching this effort with humility, knowing we can't do it alone and don't and won't have all the answers. Our new Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan reflects our desire to redefine, deepen, and advance our commitment, mobilizing our people, passion, scale and resources.”
Among efforts to create a more inclusive culture, Kroger aims to form a DE&I Advisory Council to advance our long-term diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. The committee will report to senior leadership and be led by Monica Garnes, retail division president. The council also will partner with senior leaders and longstanding associate resource and advocacy groups — representing Black, Latinx, Asian, LGBTQ, and physically and intellectually disabled associates, plus veterans, women, parents, and Millennials — to spur organizational change, Kroger said.
“I’m greatly inspired by Kroger's renewed focus on diversity and inclusion,” commented Monica Garnes, retail division president. “Our Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan will guide us to be better tomorrow than we are today, and I am committed to using my position and platform to accelerate change across our business and culture.”
This year, Kroger plans to provide unconscious bias training to every leader and DE&I training for every associate by May 2021. The company said it’s preparing a more comprehensive DE&I training program for its nearly 500,000 associates, and it expects to introduce the program next spring.
“Kroger welcomes associates from every race, culture and ability, and we remain deeply focused on creating a more equitable workplace where every associate is empowered and supported and feels valued and a sense of belonging,” stated Tim Massa, senior vice president and chief people officer at Kroger. “And while diversity and inclusion have been longstanding Kroger values, this year has certainly served as an awakening. As an organization driven by purpose, we know we not only must continue to listen to our associates, but we must act. When we see our associates, customers and neighbors affected by systemic racism, discrimination and injustice, we are called to speak out and act in accordance with ‘Our Values: Honesty & Integrity, Diversity & Inclusion and Safety & Respect.’”
Efforts to develop diverse talent include stepping up recruitment via partnerships with Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs) and the Hispanic Association of Colleges & Universities (HACU). Kroger said that, through the program, it will focus on campus immersion activities and resources to help students transition from college life to the workplace. The company noted that its Feed Your Future programs include a tuition reimbursement benefit of up to $3,500 annually ($21,000 over the course of employment) toward continuing education, such as certifications, associate degrees or graduate degrees.
Kroger, too, said it aims to establish a two-way mentorship and advocacy program between high-potential diverse talent and senior leaders. That will include a redesign of the mentorship program for more associates to have access to leaders across the organization, supporting the professional development of diverse talent and fostering collaboration, visibility and advancement, the retailer said.
To advance diverse partnerships, Kroger plans to lift spending with diverse suppliers from $3.4 billion last year to $10 billion by 2030. The company said its longtime supplier inclusion program includes partnerships with Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) entrepreneurs, women- and veteran-owned brands and services, and businesses operated by the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities.
As a Billon Dollar Roundtable member, Kroger said it also will continue to partner with diverse businesses in other ways, such as by investing in incubators and accelerators, expanding relationships with current partners, hosting and participating in supplier summits, and via partnerships with organizations such as the National Minority Supplier Diversity Council and Women's Business Enterprise National Council.
“Kroger is committed to growing partnerships with diverse businesses, suppliers, owners and founders,” according to Angel Colón, senior director of corporate and supplier diversity. “"We currently work with more than 1,000 minority suppliers, ranging from food and beverages to health and beauty and product distributors to service providers. In 2019, we invested $3.4 billion in minority suppliers, reflecting an increase of 12% compared to the previous year. We're eager to continue building our portfolio of diverse suppliers to reach a $10 billion spend by 2030, and we welcome minority business enterprises to engage us at firstname.lastname@example.org."
Kroger noted it’s also redefining how it approaches advertising creative and campaigns as well as partners, including media and influencers, to better reflect its associates and customers. To that end, the company is reviewing its portfolio of partners, expanding existing relationships and developing new partnerships with groups such as Blavity Inc. and Hispanicize, and growing its network of BIPOC social influencers.
On the community front, Kroger said it will allocate funds to support “impactful approaches” to promote racial equity with community partners.
For example, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, and the ensuing racial unrest nationwide, Kroger established The Kroger Co. Foundation’s Racial Equity Fund to support communities of color by building partnerships that create more equitable, inclusive and stronger communities through an investment of $5 million. And earlier this month, the foundation’s Racial Equity Fund launched the Build It Together grant challenge. Through the effort, 14 organizations were invited apply for a $1 million grant based on proposals for strategic actions and initiatives that advance racial equality. The Kroger Foundation will then select up to three organizations to each receive a $1 million grant. Kroger, too said it has encouraged associates to vote and provided voter registration and ballot applications in stores.
And to gather feedback and report on its DE&I efforts, Kroger said it will collaborate with external stakeholders to garner insight and co-create “more just and equitable communities.” The company said that, in recent months, it has engaged in one-to-one conversations with local and national community influencers, as well as organizers, policymakers, trade associations, small-business owners and chambers of commerce.
Meanwhile, Kroger will continue offering employees platforms to collect input and feedback and to share their stories with company leaders. The company said that, since June, it has hosted 30 virtual listening sessions that enabled participants to express their personal and professional perspectives on how Kroger create a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Kroger noted that the insights from the sessions helped shape the Framework for Action: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan. Other efforts include town halls, listening sessions, surveys and focus groups.
“It's very important for associates to have the license to openly share and be their authentic self in the workplace as it creates community and safety,” stated Kim Yates, retail labor forecaster at Kroger and co-chair of the Kroger African-American Resource Group. “The listening sessions with executives have been instrumental in providing associates, including myself, with an opportunity to be real, honest and vulnerable, addressing challenges and bright spots inside and outside of the workplace that affect each of our lives in unique yet unifying ways.”