The New York Times reported yesterday that Wal-Mart is rolling out “women-friendly plans” to buy more from women-owned businesses and to help women who work for Wal-Mart’s suppliers. While the company acknowledged that the “majority” of its own employees are women, its plan (as reported in the newspaper) seems to ignore the fundamental disparities in salaries and promotions that were at issue in a nationwide class action lawsuit that the Supreme Court ruled on in June.
According to evidence presented in the lawsuit, women made up more than 80 percent of hourly supervisors, but they held only a third of the store management jobs, and there were fewer women at each step up the management ladder. The plaintiffs also presented evidence that women working at Wal-Mart made five to 15 percent less than similarly situated men with the same seniority and performance. Women were paid $5,000 less than men, even though they had higher average performance ratings in hourly jobs. While the Supreme Court ruled that the case could not go forward as a nationwide class action, many of the individual women are proceeding with their discrimination claims against Wal-Mart.
The lawsuit brought to light evidence, submitted by women workers from around the country, that Wal-Mart operates on a boys’ club model, in which women workers are denigrated and managers feel free to make statements like women will “never make as much money as men,” or that women could be paid less because they were “working just for the sake of working,” while men were supporting a family, and that women’s proper role is “in the kitchen,” not in the ranks of upper management.
Wal-Mart’s new “women-friendly plans” do nothing to address the stereotypes, pay disparities, and gender-based gaps in promotions highlighted by the lawsuit. Wal-Mart should mobilize its corporate structure to stamp out the use of sex stereotyping in hiring and pay decisions and face accountability for existing disparities caused by discrimination.