Walmart embraced me from the beginning: my story for Cultural Awareness Day

By Mary Siddique

Sam Walton changed my life.

I came to the U.S. in 1983 as a girl from Bangladesh. I moved to Arkansas in 1986 to attend the University of Fayetteville as a foreign student.

I couldn’t speak English, but I always spoke from my heart. I needed a job and Walmart hired me as a part-time unloader.

I was a young, brown woman in a very white town, but the leadership at Walmart didn’t see me that way. They saw me as a human being and took me under their wing to help me grow.

Sam sponsored me so I could stay in the U.S. He was my mentor and father figure during my six years at school. His wife, Helen, would bake cookies for us. Sam cared so much about front-line associates because every individual matters at Walmart.

I worked part-time at Walmart while I received my education. When I was promoted to assistant manager in the early ‘90s, I got my first taste of Cultural Awareness Day.

It was unbelievable. I put on my traditional clothes and cooked a dish. When I look back, I see how others were so open to it. Walmart made me feel like I was part of their family.

I’m a real-life example of Walmart’s inclusive culture. I feel it’s my duty to pay that forward. One of the ways to do that is through Cultural Awareness Day.

When I moved to Canada, I continued this tradition because I know the importance of a store community. I feel like I owe my whole life to this company to carry on Sam’s vision. Walmart is successful because we care.

On July 23, we celebrate each other on Cultural Awareness Day. We wear traditional clothing from around the world, hold “inclusion circles” to share our backgrounds and exchange greetings in different languages. We put pins on a map to show where we’re from and toss a globe around to show we’re all on the same team.

We always look forward to this day at Walmart. It’s a time to celebrate our differences as individuals and find what unites us. With more than 2.3 million associates worldwide, we are stronger when we work together.

Customers love it, too. We play cultural music in our stores for this day. When I first heard it, I cried. Last year, a customer from Kenya told us he loved the music. That’s how I know we’re making a difference.

How do our associates feel when they experience this day? Pride.

It’s the same pride I have for Walmart, a company I’ve been with for 34 years. There are two things in my life I am honoured to be: a mother to my two boys, Cyrus and Ferris, and to be an associate at this great company. I will never forget how I was embraced from the beginning. Walmart made my dreams come true.

Ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things when we embrace our differences. We are who we are today because of culture. That’s what makes our company so special. The more we embrace it, the more we will grow.

But don’t just listen to me. Experience this day for yourself.