retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

I was interested to read yesterday a piece in the New York Times by Margaret Sullivan, the paper's Public Editor, who serves as an ombudsman for reader concerns. The piece had to do with a column that was written last week by the paper's TV critic, Alessandra Stanley, about Shondra Rhimes, the creator of "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal," and now the producer of the new TV series, "Getting Away With Murder."

Stanley generated some controversy by suggesting in her lede that "when Shonda Rhimes writes her autobiography, it should be called 'How to Get Away With Being an Angry Black Woman'." That struck some readers - and Sullivan - as being offensive and borderline racist, playing into stereotypes.

Now, to be fair, I didn't have the same reaction when I read the story; I saw it more of a column about how Rhimes challenges stereotypes and expectations rather than reflects them … but I was taken aback by Stanley's lede. It just struck me as distasteful. But then again, I'm not a fan of Stanley's writing, so I sort of dismissed it.

But a lot of people didn't, and the Times was swamped with email.

If you're interested and want to make up your own mind, you can read the original column here and the assessment of it here.

But here's the passage from Sullivan's assessment that I thought was most interesting:

"The Times has significant diversity among its high-ranking editors and prominent writers, but it’s troubling that with 20 critics, not one is black and only two are persons of color."

That's striking.

And it grabbed my attention because of something else that happened yesterday.

As you may have read on MNB yesterday, Albertsons named the leadership team that will run the company once its merger with Safeway is completed, probably in the fourth quarter.

I got a lot of email yesterday observing that virtually all the people named to the top leadership team were from Albertsons, making the point that the deal is less a merger than an acquisition. (We all knew that. "Merger" was just the polite term.)

But the bigger issue, for some folks, seems to be what was described as a startling lack of diversity in the top leadership team. Every one of the people named to the group is a middle-aged white guy. (Though actuarially, they probably at best are in late middle age, unless they live to be 100 or more.) In the ranks, there is a concern that this new company - which will have 2,400 stores, 27 distribution facilities, 20 manufacturing plants and between $55 billion and $60 billion in annual revenue - may not have the kind of diversity necessary to be really successful in 2014 and beyond.

Here is a typical email:

It was hard not to notice as a Safeway employee that 13 of the 13 top jobs (including the president and chief executive officer) announced in the merged company will be filled by white males. This was very evident at the Town Hall meeting when pictures were shared of the new team. At Division President level, there are 2 women out of 14 and one minority male.  In an era when our customer base is incredibly diverse and our workforce similarly so, the lack of diversity at the senior leadership level is nothing short of stunning.  In total , the top 27 positions include only 2 women and one minority.  Safeway has made a lot of progress in this industry creating a diverse leadership team, and we can only assume from the recent announcement that diversity is not a priority for Albertsons.

I'm not saying that the combination of Albertsons and Safeway, led by this management team, cannot be successful. And since Albertsons is, in fact, the acquiring company, it was to be expected that it would have the upper hand in developing its leadership structure.

But I do think that companies of this size have to be cognizant of the need to reflect the nation's changing demographic reality.

The New York Times appears to have come up short. The same could be said of Albertsons.

It is an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: