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Wal-Mart’s Gender Washing

Wal-Mart’s Gender Washing


Written by Martha Burk, a Ms. Magazine blogger

“Wal-Mart Launches Global Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative; Effort Includes Goal to Source $20 Billion from Women‑Owned Businesses in the U.S.” read the headline on Wal-Mart’s press release announcing a new “gender washing” initiative.

Well, ok, it didn’t say “gender washing.” I made up the term to convey the same meaning as “green washing” when it’s used to describe companies that try to look environmentally responsible–while doing little or nothing to actually change themselves or improve the environment.

Still, $20 billion is a lot of money. Or is it? According to The New York Times, the $4 billion a year that Wal-Mart will spend sourcing from women-owned U.S. businesses amounts to about 5 percent of the company’s annual operating expenses.

Besides, a more relevant question is why the company has only recently discovered women as a resource, both as customers and suppliers–not to mention the revelation by Leslie A. Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs, that “the majority of our associates [sales personnel] are women.” Duh. Could the answer be that a big portion of those associates sued the company for sex discrimination in pay and promotion, and then Wal-Mart spent countless millions and 11 years fighting the claim? Even though Wal-Mart prevailed with the contention that it is too big to be sued, it was a public relations black eye.

The majority of those female associates Dach talked about are still stuck at the lowest rung of the company and make less than the company men. Statistics cited in the court case show that women represent 70 percent of the hourly wage earners at the company, but only 33 percent of management. And female employees are paid less than men in every region, with the salary gap widening over the course of employment–even for men and women hired to perform the same job at the same time.

Curious, while the new initiative is heavy on training women in foreign countries who work for Wal-Mart suppliers, it doesn’t say anything about training managers in the U.S. on how to be fair in choosing folks for pay raises and promotions. (The Supremes essentially ruled [PDF] that giving such discretion to local managers did not constitute a company-wide discriminatory policy–a “pattern and practice” in legal parlance–that could be used by the plaintiffs to sue as a class. If the women want to sue now, they have to do so individually–a near impossibility for a low-wage worker.)

The Dukes v. Wal-Mart case has implications far beyond training programs and health education for female employees in Bangladesh (another “benefit” touted as part of the new initiative). According to Employment Law 360, a legal website that aggregates lawsuit news, in the three months since the decision corporations have gotten class actions thrown out in such areas as overtime pay, insurance overcharges and the release or toxins in a neighborhood. To read some of the reactions to Dukes from corporate lawyers, the decision was Christmas and the Fourth of July rolled into one. A virtual end to class actions as we know them. That’ll teach those uppity women.

Understand, I’m a big supporter of women-owned businesses, and I’m a big supporter of improving the lot of female workers worldwide. So any improvement is welcomed. I’d like to write more, but I need to catch a plane. I’m headed to Margaritaville to find my lost shaker of salt.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.


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Photo from code poet via flickr creative commons

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11:39AM PDT on Apr 7, 2013

I will boycott Walmart for life. I refuse to give them any of my money for their products. They put profits over treating their employees with a decent wage and putting women in positions of management just to name 2 things. I think Hell will Freeze Over before they become a decent company to work for.

5:16AM PST on Jan 28, 2012

The more I hear about Walmart the more riled up I get. I have just spoken to a girl who works for ASDA - the British version of Walmart. She works a three and a half hour shift and was told that she is not allowed to go to the toilet during that time. Only workers who do seven hours are allowed bathroom breaks. Apparently this is also rigorously enforced with 'bathroom offenders' being seen and spoken to by a manager. Apparently persistent 'offenders' suffer financial penalties. I cannot believe that a company in the western world is getting away with this at this day and age.

9:04AM PDT on Sep 25, 2011

Thanks tiffany t., Yvette S., and others who have said it true and said it well. This is one disgusting company!

2:39PM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

Wal-mart is a rotten company, always has been, always will be. I guess this is better than nothing, but I still won't shop there.

1:29PM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

So long as there are workers willing to accept low-paying jobs with poor benefits and no access to collective bargaining, then corporations like Wal-Mart will flourish.

9:06AM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

Unfortunately, there's no comparable store in my town.

9:08PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Ban Walmart! I wonder if they are pulling all their sweat shops out of other countries? I wonder if they have stopped telling their employees to sign up for welfare benefits, instead of providing insurance and decent wages? I know they are still destroying communities across the United States, then when everybody is forced to leave the area, Walmart leaves a big ugly building vacant, the people left behind have nothing.

7:48PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Wal-Mart- green washing, white washing and now gender washing. My goodness the laundry never ends.

6:22PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Wal-Mart doesn't do anything that doesn't benefit them. As a former employee, I know this to be true.

5:56PM PDT on Sep 19, 2011

Walmart: Profits equal minimum wage jobs. Jobs equal stabilizing the economy. Economy equals paying taxes. Taxes equal the minimum wage earners obligations. Obligations equals entitlement tax loopholes for Walmart. Entitlement tax loopholes equals we just got screwed.

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