Target’s Guiding Principle

Jim Rowader, vice president and general counsel of employee and labor relations at Target, has done a lot to improve diversity at the retailer

Jim Rowader, VP & General Counsel Employee and Labor Relations, Target

When Jim Rowader joined Target in 1994, only two minority lawyers were working at the retail giant. But that has changed dramatically in the last twenty-three years. Now, Rowader (who is half Puerto Rican) leads a large team of attorneys, paralegals, and HR professionals that provide all of the labor and employment legal services to the corporation. More than twenty of Rowader’s team members are racial or ethnic minorities. About two-thirds are women. And the company is also ranked number twenty-two on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity.

While Rowader has long been a champion for diversity and inclusion (D&I), he says that for Target, the issue is about more than rankings and public relations. “We have about 320,000 employees and believe that when our employee and labor relations team accurately reflects our employee base, we can most effectively address issues and provide the best strategic advice to Target’s leaders,” Rowader explains.

His counterparts across all leadership levels and divisions agree, as demonstrated by the corporation’s diversity metrics. Target launched a three-year D&I plan in 2015 to increase its number of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, women, and other groups. To this day, the company’s leadership team is 25 percent diverse (42 percent women), and its board of directors is 38 percent diverse (38 percent women).

Recently, Target promoted Rick Gomez to chief marketing officer and hired Don Liu as chief legal officer. Gomez previously worked at MillerCoors, PepsiCo, and the Quaker Oats Company as well as serves on the board for the Gay Lesbian Student Education Network.

Liu, who was born in Korea, spent a decade as Xerox Corporation’s executive vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary. He is a member and past board chair of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association as well as the former chair of the in-house counsel committee of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

Rowader formerly reported to Target’s HR lead. With Liu’s hiring, employee and labor relations moved within the law department, along with the company’s risk and compliance group and other relevant functions. With a highly skilled and prominent diverse lawyer at the helm, the group is poised to make a strong impact within the corporation.

Each major Target team has its own Diversity Action Committee (DAC) that works closely with the company’s overall D&I strategies. Rowader leads his pyramid’s DAC, which is gaining momentum. The group is focused on a few key pillars designed to create a D&I work environment, in addition to providing an inclusive guest experience at Target’s 1,800-plus retail locations.

First, Rowader and his colleagues are tackling supplier diversity. Leaders within Target’s legal, employee, and labor relations teams have joined a pledge through the National Association of Minority & Women Owned Law Firms (NAMWOLF) that will direct about $1 million of legal firms to NAMWOLF member firms each year. A second pillar regarding external engagement outlines ways that Target’s employees can engage with powerful and influential minority bar associations such as the Hispanic National Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, and more.

Target’s department champions encourage their team members to participate in these industry and labor organizations for mentoring and career advancement opportunities. However, leaders such as Rowader also look for other related advantages. “It’s exciting to work with bar associations and similar groups, because it gives us an avenue to influence diversity and work on projects that match Target’s path forward,” he says. “It’s a big part of how we support and show up in the communities where we do business.”

In 2013, after working with a group known as TakeAction Minnesota, Target Corporation decided to “ban the box” and removed questions about a prospective employee’s criminal history from initial job applications. Target’s current nationwide practice is to wait to ask applicants about their criminal history until after a conditional offer of employment is made.

Not only does Target have seventy-five stores in Minnesota, but the company also employs about 6,000 people in its Minneapolis headquarters. In 2016, Target signed the White House’s Fair Chance Business Pledge, where it reaffirmed its commitment to provide meaningful opportunities for ex-offenders to reenter the workforce when appropriate.

The willingness to work with groups such as TakeAction comes in part from Target’s diverse worldview. “When we listen to people and groups who raise important, high-profile issues, it shows that we’re directly engaged in matters that have been raised in the communities where we do business,” Rowader says.

While many large corporations quash perceived threats or uprisings in the community, Rowader has worked with his counterparts in HR, legal, and government affairs to develop a strategy that enables meaningful dialogue. “As a large employer in many communities, it’s important for us to be involved in the right issues,” he says. “And that’s had a really good influence on our team members and on our guests.”

In addition to “ban the box,” Target has worked on matters related to workers’ rights and sick leave policies. The company worked with community-based groups to develop and implement a nationwide responsible contractor policy with clear and meaningful minimum standards regarding the health and safety of third-party workers.

For more than two decades with Target, Rowader has seen firsthand how good D&I strategies impact the company, its customers, and its communities.

“Diversity is the competitive advantage to everything we do,” he says. “Because our legal team is diverse, we are more effective in solving problems.” Because Target is diverse, the company is thriving.

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Faegre Baker Daniels:

“Jim Rowader is a true leader who has helped Target thrive in changing times. He is a solution-oriented lawyer, and we are grateful for the opportunity to partner with Jim and his employee relations team.”

—Scott Wright, Partner