Last week, Walmart CEO Mike Duke was inducted into the Network of Executive Women’s CPG/Retail Diversity Hall of Fame. Ironically, at the same time, female Walmart employees across the country were continuing their protracted fight for justice against discrimination in the workplace.
Amazingly, Duke was honored for supporting women. But the facts are not on his side. Duke’s company recently spent 10 years fighting the largest gender discrimination class action lawsuit in U.S. history. While Walmart poured money into disputing the technicalities of the case, a study from the case’s early days found that women truly did earn less money than men at Walmart.
Mike Duke and Walmart fail to provide real opportunities for women. The study cited two causes of the gender pay gap at Walmart: Women worked disproportionately in lower paying hourly jobs, and on top of that, they earned less money than men with the same position. In 2010, a majority of Walmart managers and officials in the U.S. were men, even though a majority of its U.S. workers — and shoppers — were women.
To make matters worse, Walmart was already aware of its discriminatory practices long before the landmark lawsuit was filed. In 1995, Walmart hired a law firm to conduct a review to determine their vulnerability to just such a suit. The review found that women earned considerably less than men across the board, with salaried men earning 19 percent more than women. Men were also five and a half times more likely than women to be promoted into management. Walmart didn’t learn their lesson then — and there’s scant evidence that Duke has learned it now.
While the CEO accepted his award at a golf tournament at a private Arkansas country club, female associates were — and are — seeking new avenues to make their voices heard. Almost 2,000 current and former Walmart employees have filed sex discrimination complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the past year. The complaints were filed in 48 states and every Walmart region in the U.S. Women who worked at California and Texas Walmart stores have already filed new class action lawsuits in federal courts. And numerous others are expected this year.
Earlier this month, a group of Walmart associates went to the company’s annual meeting in Arkansas to confront Duke with concerns about their workplace. These associates have come together to form the Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart, calling for respect from the company and fair treatment in the workplace. Their ranks are growing by the day and include women like Barbara Collins, an associate and single mother of two whose oldest daughter is graduating from high school this year. Collins’ wage isn’t enough to make ends meet, much less help her daughter go to college. It was this worry — that even a full-time job wouldn’t be enough to help her children succeed — that spurred Collins to join OUR Walmart and call for change for herself and women just like her.
OUR Walmart is helping Walmart’s female associates find their voices — and they’re using them to call out Duke’s lack of leadership in making sure women are treated fairly at Walmart. Given the 2,000 lawsuits for gender discrimination filed against Walmart, an organization like OUR Walmart is not just important — it is absolutely necessary to ensure women are respected in their places of work.
Meanwhile, Walmart’s Political Action Committee has shelled out millions in federal elections and has disproportionately supported politicians who have dismal records on issues relevant to women. Between the 1990 and 2010 election cycles, Walmart’s PAC gave $2.3 million to members of Congress who received scores of 10 or less on the American Association of University Women 2011 scorecard. These are lawmakers who opposed legislation including the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act, the Paycheck Fairness Act and funding for Planned Parenthood.
So instead of celebrating Mike Duke’s dubious induction into the Network of Executive Women’s Hall of Fame, let’s honor his company’s employees who are fighting from coast to coast to achieve the very inclusion and diversity for which Duke is wrongly lauded.
Originally published on Terry O’Neill’s Huffington Post blog on 07/05/2012