Walmart Labs launched a HR experiment that lead to being more inclusive and getting a leg up in the war for talent.  Julia Keintz, the Director of Insights and Analytics for Walmart eCommerce and Walmart Labs, explains how they put women with tech skills back to work.

Mason Stevenson: Julia, thank you for taking some time to chat with me today. You are not a HR professional, but as you said before we started recording, you admire HR from afar. As an analytics data person, please talk about the relationship with HR from your perspective.

Julia Keintz: Sure. So my day job is running a customer experience analytics team for Walmart.com. I’ve always believed that to be impactful. An analytics team needs to be as diverse as the stakeholders that we really serve. So I’ve always felt this kindred spirit with the HR organization around leading my team to be impactful, and to teach the leadership skills that are necessary to make an impact across the organization.

Mason Stevenson: HR loves data. As the workforce has begun to change, the war on talent is in full swing now, and we’re in a situation where there are more jobs than there are people to fill those jobs. Data has become the buzzword for all HR folks.

Julia Keintz: I can tell you that, even five years ago, 10 years ago, there are a lot of non-believers about how you can leverage data anywhere in the business. But I think that the results don’t lie. So when you can recognize that, when you’re making decisions, you used to be 50% right and 50% wrong, and now, you’re being 40% wrong and 60% right, you will make that bet every single day. Those are the kinds of things that really impact both your top and bottom line, just across every other function in the organization.

As far as data within human resources, I think, when it really matters, whether your turnover rate is 30% or 29%, when you’re really fighting for every bit, that’s when you will look everywhere, and you will start getting a little bit more creative about the different things that you would consider.

Mason Stevenson: So you’re doing a really cool thing with Walmart, and it has to do with HR, specifically, bringing people back into the fold who have been out of the working world for a while for whatever reason. Tell us a little bit about that. 

Julia Keintz: Sure. I started at Walmart a couple of years ago, and I saw that there was this huge need for talent, we had hundreds and hundreds of open roles, particularly in technical functions. As I talked to my side recruiter, they were sympathetic to my calls, but mostly sort of shrugged their shoulders and said, ‘’Everyone else still is having the same issue. Good luck, we’ll do the best that we can.’’

So I felt that there was a more creative way to address the open opportunities that were there. That’s really to try to tap into some untapped markets of people, that don’t necessarily get recruited all the time. For me, it was around those professionals that have at least five years of experience, and have been out of the workforce for a couple of years or more. Most of the people that we actually ended up bringing on, had far more than two years of break in their career, which made it a little bit more of an interesting challenge as we were onboarding them, of course.

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So I thought about this idea, I Googled it, I kind of figured out, I found a nonprofit, I emailed their general email line, met with them, and then started the process of looking for an HR partner that I could take this idea to. I stumbled upon, I was so fortuitous to partner with Bobbie Grafeld, who is the VP of HR for Walmart labs. She actually had a personal experience, where she took time off to raise for girls. Before the break, she had this very successful career. When she came back, after much searching, she was only able to land a position as an executive assistant. She had to start all over again.

So for me, it was about filling the talent gap. For her, it just felt like very, very personal that she had to go back and prove to everybody around her, that she was capable and smart. When I think back, when you go and you take a career break, because it’s something that’s the best for you or your family, you’re not going to go get lobotomized…

Mason Stevenson: You don’t lose anything.

Julia Keintz: Yeah, you’re not becoming stupider; you still have incredibly valuable skills. Most of the time, these people are running their PTA’s fundraising array, being class moms, managing elderly parents that have serious health conditions. These are the experiences that make you strong, make you determined, make you organized, make you really prioritize things in life, these are the people that you would want to hire every day, all day. So once I actually got connected with Bobbie, then everything happened very, very fast. She said, Yes, let’s do it, we’re on it.

Presented it to her senior leadership. Everybody said, Yes, absolutely. I think part of why senior leadership said yes, by the way, is diversity is a problem that I think a lot of people like to admire. We look at the data, we go, ‘’Isn’t that interesting?’’ I know this is what happens, because the numbers don’t change. You look at their numbers, year to year to year to year. Particularly, in technology organizations, particularly in technical roles, the number of women is just very, very tiny, and is persistently so.

So this was an opportunity to actually do something. While I can’t pretend that hiring the 33 women that we did last year, is some giant impact, but I can also tell you that it was a giant impact for those 33 people, and an opportunity for us to learn and figure out how to do it in bigger scale. 

Mason Stevenson: I know this program, (correct me if I’m wrong) is it still kind of in the pilot phase?

Julia Keintz: We completed the pilot of the first 33 in December. We hired around 75% of the people into full-time roles. A couple weeks ago, we announced the new class for this year. So we will be expanding that class from 30 to around 100 people, and we’re expanding it from just the San Francisco Bay area to across the Walmart labs locations, so that Larkins Carlsbad, California, San Diego and Reston Virginia, right around DC.

Mason Stevenson: That’s fantastic. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to speak to you. It was a phenomenal conversation. I look forward to talking to you more in the future. Thank you. 

Julia Keintz: Thank you so much. It was great. 

Julia Keintz is the Director of Insights and Analytics for Walmart eCommerce and Walmart Labs.  She was also a speaker at the CHRO Exchange.  For more information, click here.

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