Paula J. Caplan Ph.D.

Science Isn't Golden

Trying to Read the Minds of Wal-Mart's Top Brass

Wal-Mart Initiatives Not Aimed to Help Wal-Mart Women

Posted Sep 14, 2011

©2011 by Paula J. Caplan All rights reserved

Wal-Mart Initiatives Not Aimed to Help Wal-Mart Women

In a fascinating follow-up to their recent victory in the United States Supreme Court, corporate giant Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., today announced a five-part plan to help women. [1] But as far as I can tell, what women don't seem chosen to benefit from that plan? The women employees of Wal-Mart.

Readers of this blog have seen my earlier post about the Supreme Court's rejection of the class action suit by the women employees, in which the women alleged that Wal-Mart discriminates against its female workers. The Court decided that the women Wal-Mart employees did not constitute a legitimate "class," that a few women who have the same discriminatory manager could file suit as a legitimate class. I wrote earlier that it is highly unlikely that a small number of those low-paid women who do not belong to labor unions would risk their jobs or at the very least risk reprisals at work by filing such a suit.

The top brass at Wal-Mart seem to believe either that (1) no one will notice that their new pro-woman initiatives are aimed to help many other women but not Wal-Mart employees who are women or (2) that it is not appalling that they would spend enormous amounts of money fighting to win that lawsuit, to defeat their own female employees, and then put on a big show of caring about women by implementing programs for others. Either way, leaving them out of their big, new plan sure smells like retribution.

What are these programs? At least some are designed to improve Wal-Mart's image in the eyes of women: "We want women to view us as a retailer that is relevant to them and cares about them," according to today's Los Angeles Times article that includes this quotation from an executive. [1] Is it surprising that they want to bring in more women shoppers?

The Times article includes the information that Wal-Mart aims to "help empower women across its supply chain," so they will buy more products from women suppliers and hire more women to construct their massive, new stores. They say they will help 200,000 low-income women gain access to job training and higher education, though they don't say how. They describe these goals and more on their website at http://walmartstores.com/women/, which is decked with cannily-chosen photos of women from various racial/ethnic groups. Wow, suddenly Wal-Mart is anti-racist as well as anti-sexist? Will wonders never cease. Well, people can change, and corporations can change.

It's certainly possible that some women, even many women, will have better lives because of these new initiatives. It would be wonderful if that happens. Wal-Mart's website includes the statement that they will support them with $100 million. Too bad they didn't spend all that money they paid their lawyers to fight the Supreme Court suit and use it to help women instead of fighting them.

And we must remember - and tell others - that, based on what appears on the Wal-Mart website about these initiatives, they have not decided to do anything to improve the working conditions of their women employees. We can think of those women every time we see a Wal-Mart commercial. And we can hope that those who lead at Wal-Mart will soon decide to provide help and support to those women in major and meaningful ways.

[1] http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-walmart-women-20110915,0,1091103.s...

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