Sam’s Club CEO Roz Brewer knows that she’s an exception that proves a still valid rule: women and minorities still face a lot of inequity in the workplace.
Brewer, speaking at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in San Francisco on Wednesday, recalled that often, when she walks into a place where people don’t know who she is—namely a CEO who oversees a $57.2 billion a year wholesale club business that is a unit of Wal-Mart Stores (WMT)—she still has to describe what she does because people don’t typically assume a black woman has such a high profile corporate job. (Sam’s Club on its own would be the 8th largest U.S. retailer.)
“It is a reality—there are still so many inequities in the workplace—I see it everyday. They’re happening in companies,” said Brewer, who took the reins of Sam’s Club in 2012, adding that women routinely face bigger hurdles than their male counterparts. “I get tested every day.”
But the best way for aspiring female executives to make their way up the latter is not to act like men. “I’ve never in my career emulated a man,” she said.
Rather, women should strive to oversee a business that has a clear P&L (profit and loss statement), because being accountable for a clearly identifiable unit can give them clout.
“I want to see more women run a P&L. You’re at the decision table,” she said, speaking to CNN correspondent Poppy Harlow.
She also wants to see female executives do more to mentor up-and-coming women in a company’s ranks. Brewer has mentored Tracey Lloyd, a veteran who soon after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq, took a job at a Walmart. Lloyd, whom Brewer said she speaks to every day, is now a market manager responsible for the retail giant’s expansion into smaller stores.
Brewer will have plenty of opportunity to show her mettle as she tries to rev up the sales at Sam’s Club, which has chronically underperformed archival Costco Wholesale (COST). She recently detailed her strategy in a Fortune interview, outlining her focus on offering small business members more services and deepening Sam’s Club’s offerings in areas such as organic.
And a big part of her efforts is on e-commerce, in a bid to win over younger shoppers under 35 and wean Sam’s Club off of its reliance on baby boomer customers. A year ago, Sam’s Club undertook a big recruitment drive in Silicon Valley with a view to strengthening its e-commerce firepower.
“We wouldn’t have been able to have the Cyber Week we’ve had if we hadn’t added those folks a year ago,” said Brewer.