In the Mix

May 1, 2015

A Williams-Sonoma Story…

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Written for: Communicado Magazine
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This is a true story of discrimination…

There is a Williams-Sonoma store in Washington D.C. Most of the clientele in this store is white suburban women and white soccer moms. I have a friend named Kia – Sophisticated black woman. She’s been telling me for years that Williams-Sonoma only caters to white suburban women and white soccer moms and I never gave it much thought, until, this story came along…

Working in this store is of course, a full staff of white women – young and old with the occasional woman of color. In this store, the stock supervisor was a black man and the shipping clerk was Latino. From here, I’ll short-step what happened and give some thought to it after:

Black man stock supervisor, Latino shipping clerk. Both get along with everyone, do their jobs reliably and consistently.

Holiday season arrives. White woman is sending Christmas presents to her family in the Marshall Islands. She’s a favorite of the store manager, who is a white woman. The store manager makes her way back to the stock room and helps the white woman box the packages to be sent from the store. Multiple boxes get shipped from the store by UPS at the store’s expense.

A few weeks later, the shipping clerk is out for a few days, the stock supervisor fills in. Store manager asks the shipping clerk to send several Williams-Sonoma items purchased by an associate who is leaving to her new home in Texas. The associate is also a favorite of the store manager and a white woman. Multiple boxes get shipped from the store by UPS at the store’s expense.

Into the new year. Inventory comes and goes. There are discrepancies as usual.

A few weeks after inventory, the stock supervisor prepares a box to send from the store to his sister two states away – leaves it with the shipping clerk. Somehow, the box gets intercepted by the store manager on his day off. When he returns, the box is open and rummaged through, but still there.

Box contained some items purchased at Williams-Sonoma for which the stock supervisor has receipts, and some other items. Store manager says nothing, asks no questions.

A week later, a loss prevention representative is in the store from the corporate office and spends several hours interrogating both the stock supervisor and the shipping clerk. Neither is sure why, but, at some point they realize, the blame for the discrepancies in inventory are being blamed on them in the name of theft. Both are fired a week later.

A year later, inventory comes and goes again with discrepancies… as usual. It thereafter comes to light that one of the favored white women has actually been stealing from the store for years, thus creating and continuing the discrepancies.

At no point are any apologies offered to the black man or the latino.

This is a true story…
This is confirmation that life is ironic…

It is ironic that the two men of color were automatically blamed for theft when in fact, it was a white woman who was stealing.

It is ironic that no consideration was given to the possibility that someone else could have been stealing.

It is ironic that the two men of color should be asked to use company resources to help the white women, but, not allowed to use company resources themselves.

And to be fair, this story came to me from an older white woman who was very close the the two men of color. She did in fact advocate for both during their period of suspicion and offered an, “I told you so,” upon their vindication.

The take-away from this story is this: If you’re a person of color, Williams-Sonoma is not the place for you. Whether you’re in the back of the store working or on the sales floor shopping, the message is that you are not equal.

I also made a point of apologizing to my friend, the black woman, who said to me she never felt welcome in Williams-Sonoma stores. Her point has been proven.

Since I heard this story, I have not shopped in Williams-Sonoma. And my retail recommendation for my readers of color is not to patronize Williams-Sonoma. For that matter, anyone of any color who has a consciousness for diversity should not patronize Williams-Sonoma.

My recommendations for gourmet kitchen appointments? Sur La Table or Bed Bath & Beyond. Sur La Table’s variety is a bit different and Bed Bath & Beyond’s prices are better.

And to put an exclamation point on this story, this is an example that we still have so much work to do in the area of diversity. To think in the 21st century, we are still dealing with bias in retail is sad.

I hope this forces companies to really give some thought to the importance of diversity efforts… to be sure the climate in their ranks is matched to the society in which we live. And that the mindset throughout those ranks is one of tolerance and equity.

Share this story with as many people as you can… it’s the most powerful way to effect change…