How Macy’s is deepening its commitment to develop its 90K employees

Among the many new conditions facing today’s HR leaders is one that’s undeniable across industries: Employee expectations in 2022 are significantly different than they were just a few years ago. As the pandemic prompted employees to reconsider what work means to them and the job market enabled them to pursue that reality, employers are enhancing their employee value propositions to meet those expectations.

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At Macy’s, Inc.—home to nearly 90,000 employees globally—that process has included a sharp focus on employees’ professional development. Among its recent initiatives, Macy’s rolled out a partnership with Guild Education to offer all colleagues free tuition for online and in-person degrees and professional certifications, says Danielle Kirgan, the company’s executive vice president, chief transformation and HR officer. That program goes hand in hand with other efforts like a boost to minimum wage and compensation company-wide along with a multiyear growth and development initiative called Own Your Career, which connects colleagues with comprehensive resources to take their careers to the next level.

Kirgan—who took on the CHRO role in 2017 after an HR career that has included leadership roles at American Airlines, Darden and more—will detail these and other steps Macy’s is taking to attract and retain talent during the opening session of Women in HR Tech, which kicks off the first day of the HR Technology Conference, Sept. 13-16 in Las Vegas. Before the conference, she connected with HRE about Macy’s investment in its people.

HRE: How has Macy’s sought to enhance the investment in workforce development over the last few years?

Danielle Kirgan of Macy's
Danielle Kirgan

Kirgan: At Macy’s, Inc., we’re on a mission to create a brighter future with bold representation for all. We call this Mission Every One—our social purpose platform. When combined with our ambition to be the preferred employer in retail, we believe that, if we can bring our whole selves to work, it translates into a more abundant and wider array of ideas and energy for all to benefit from.

We know every colleague’s career journey is unique and that’s why we have a customized approach when it comes to investing in each individual to create career growth, pride and satisfaction. We’re so passionate about this idea that we will be launching a new colleague value proposition: Bring Your Amazing Self to Work. Alongside investments in our talent, our success will be built on amazing individuals working together. We actively listen to our colleagues and combine their feedback with industry insights and competitive benchmarking to make long-term investments so individuals can meet their professional and financial goals.

HRE: In what ways has the pandemic shaped those approaches?

Kirgan: The health and safety of our colleagues is always at the center of our decision-making. At Macy’s, Inc., the Transformation office is closely integrated with HR—in large part because they both sit within the same pyramid. This is why when COVID-19 hit, we were uniquely positioned to evaluate and quickly transform the business, including shifting to a flexible work environment.

We’ve maintained the hybrid work model—adapting by colleague and role—that blends remote and office-based options to meet the needs of our people and teams without losing any momentum on our work and business priorities. This flexibility has been a win for our company.

It was important to us that our flexible-work approach extend beyond our corporate offices. We’ve leveraged technology and the concept of flexibility to offer complimentary virtual stylists so that our in-store colleagues can connect with customers across the country. We also launched an innovative selling model that gives our colleagues the ability to work across departments, enabling them to stay close to our customers while branching out to assist with shopping needs across all areas of the store.

HRE: And what return have you seen in terms of recruitment and retention?

Kirgan: We’re already seeing a noticeable shift when it comes to talent acquisition and retention as a result of investments in our colleagues’ professional growth. The majority of open professional roles at Macy’s, Inc.—from entry level through SVP+—were filled by internal candidates this fiscal year.

HRE: Given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on working women, what targeted efforts has Macy’s undertaken to either retain female talent or re-recruit women who have left the workforce in the past 2.5 years?

Kirgan: Over the past 10 years, we focused on improving gender diversity at all levels of our organization. As a company, we believe that pay equity is fundamental to our culture and diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. This has resulted in female representation remaining a strength, starting with our board of directors, which is at 50%. Last year, Macy’s Inc. achieved greater than 99% pay equity across gender and race and is committed to making investments annually to maintain our track record.

We are thankful that through our continued efforts, we weren’t impacted by this trend in the past 2.5 years. As a result, prior to and throughout the pandemic, over 70% of our overall workforce and 60% of our senior director and above population are female.

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HRE: In what areas do you see the most opportunity for technology to shape future talent strategies?

Kirgan: Technology has been a driving force in transforming our future talent strategy.

We are always looking for new and innovative ways to meaningfully connect with our people. Tech has enabled us to build and strengthen our connections with one another, whether it is to invite our entire workforce to make connections with others in the organization or to the resources and support to discover ways they can grow their career—as part of our Career Expo or a newly launched software that allows our call center colleagues to better connect and engage with customers. Empowering our colleagues to up-level and upskill themselves has always been a priority, which is why in addition to our Guild partnership, we offer a range of technology-enabled options to enhance our colleagues’ growth and development.

HRE: You added the “Chief Transformation Officer” title a few years back. What type of mindset shift did it require on your part to expand your role in that way?

Kirgan: Being a part of an organization that is undergoing transformation isn’t for everyone—it is tough but it’s also exciting. At my core, I’m passionate about how companies operate. I’ve found that the unlock to business transformation is all about human capital. To have the optimal outcome, you need to pair strategy with the best team that is working in concert with one another.

As part of our Polaris strategy, announced in February 2020, my role expanded to incorporate transformation. Having one eye on transformation and the other on our colleagues gives me the clarity and access to the feedback that I need to ensure we have an achievable strategy in place and that we are all on the same page and accountable.

HRE: Given that you’re speaking at Women in HR Tech, do you have any unconventional advice from your own career journey for women looking to find leadership success in HR?

Kirgan: Regardless of your background, to be successful as a leader in HR, you have to understand your business in a deep and meaningful way so that you’re fully equipped to make a significant impact on your organization. My advice is to take a course, meet with leaders and generally be curious about the business strategies, measurements of success and challenges your organization and leaders face.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at