Retail is an industry that touches all of our lives. From buying products to working at retail brands, it’s a pillar of the consumer economy and an outward representation of society as a whole. Frontline retail employees, many of whom have been essential workers over the past three months, put their own safety at risk to serve consumers at grocery stores, warehouses and retail stores. The silver lining of the pandemic is the increased visibility of the societal contributions from these workers who are rarely thanked for their work.  

Frontline retail workers are often the most diverse teams in retail organizations. This is especially true in urban areas, since the makeup of retail teams often mirrors the communities they serve. From the store level employees of a retail organization, the company might look rather diverse. But as you get closer to the top of a retail company—the corporate employees and C-suite leaders—it appears much more homogenous. While this realization is not new, many organizations have failed to concretely change this unfortunate reality. 

Here are two things retail leaders can do to solve the problem: 

  • Change your lens. Senior leaders typically have an agenda when they visit a store, but the focus is often on everything but the staff. During these visits, senior leaders should truly see the team. If a leader knows their team, they ultimately know their customers. Senior leaders should take note of the demographic makeup of their store teams and actively work to make hires or internal promotions that ensure both corporate and retail teams look more similar than they do different. 
  • Promote from within. During store visits, senior and C-suite executives should actively take interest in the skills and career desires of the retail store employees. Some retail employees are students and might be studying the very role that the company needs to fill. Others have multiple jobs and hidden talents waiting to be discovered. The next time a role opens up, instead of heading straight for that fresh out of college intern (who is likely affluent and caucasian), look within the retail ranks for the person of color that is already invested in the brand. They’ll be more motivated and will add a needed perspective to the headquarters team.

The current spotlight on racial and social injustice should be a wakeup call to reevaluate your company culture, core values and founding mission. Now is the time to make the necessary changes that will not only help your organization but will make our society better and more inclusive. Thankfully, some of the people and answers you need to make this change a reality might already be in your organization. You just need to identify and nurture them.