Discriminations continues to run rampant throughout organizations in both the United States and worldwide. The Supreme Court case, Dukes vs. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., dealt with 1.5 million current and former female Wal-Mart employees that claim that they had been a victim of gender discrimination. The ensuing pages will discuss the specific issues that the plaintiffs encountered, followed by suggestions from a human resource manager’s standpoint in rectifying adverse impact within the Wal-Mart organization.
Gender Discrimination at Wal-Mart
In the case of Dukes vs. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (Dukes), the court found that there was a lack of significant proof that Wal-Mart had a general policy of discrimination (Schipani, 2013). The plaintiffs needed commonality to establish uniformed disparity within the Wal-Mart organization, and statistical evidence was deemed unworthy of proving this commonality (Schipani, 2013). The numbers were astounding; seventy-two percent of the hourly workforce of Wal-Mart are women, yet only 10% are store managers, and a mere 4% of female Wal-Mart employees are district managers (Bernardin & Russell, 2013). The numbers seem to reflect a painfully obvious presence of discrimination, and with Wal-Mart’s market power within its industry, it can be frightening to evaluate the impact their practices have on the American employment culture.
Wal-Mart maintains aggressively, a distinct and consistent corporate culture throughout its operations. The issue is that local managers and supervisors are given unguided discretion on the hiring, firing, promoting, and disciplining of employees (Hart, 2006). These individual managers bring with them their own beliefs, biases, stereotypes, and assumptions when they are given subjective freedom, and their actions ultimately shape the employment opportunities of the organization (Hart, 2006). The plaintiffs involved in the Dukes case claimed to have endured sexist comments while receiving lower pay and watching their male counterparts advance at a quicker rate. (Bernardin & Russell, 2013). They also claimed that the male dominated departments such as sporting goods, hardware, and garden, generally paid higher wages while offering more opportunities for advancement (Bernardin & Russell, 2013). Statistically, women in hourly positions at Wal-Mart make $1,100.00 less annually than male hourly employees, and the salary gap is $14, 500 a year (Hart, 2006).
Researchers have proposed a variety of explanations for systematic gender inequality in the workplace. Cultural benefits, the actions of male employees, the actions of the female employees, and the actions of the employer can contribute to intentional or unintentional gender discrimination (Ngo, Foley, Wong, & Loi, 2003). It has also been mentioned that women make less money because their work environment is generally safer than the stereotypical male work environment; childcare, cashiers, and secretary positions as opposed to firefighters, truck drivers and construction workers (Parcheta, Kaifi, & Khanfar, 2013). Perhaps the most dominant reasoning for women receiving less pay is the carrying over of biological roles into the workplace. Female employees often take time off to have a family, take care of a family, and are the primary caregiver of said family. Because of this, women generally acquire less time in the workforce and/or take on more part time positions that usually pay less (Parcheta, Kaifi, & Khanfar, 2013). Interestingly, a study has shown that self-employed females, with no dependence on issues such as lack of advancement due to discrimination, still earned less than her male counterparts. Possible explanations given are that women are not as competitive, women do not negotiate as well as men, and that women lack self-confidence (Parcheta, Kaifi, & Khanfar, 2013). While interesting, the research and studies provide statistics that rely heavily on stereotypes and the plaintiffs in the Dukes case argue that their performance was up to par with their male colleagues.
Wal-Mart has reshaped the retail industry in America and worldwide, but their issues with gender discrimination has resulted in negative publicity and high turnover rates. Wal-Mart’s turnover rates are between 35% and 45% a year for full time employees, and 56% for part time employees (Rosen, 2005). The store manager conveys demands from the corporate headquarters but has subjective liability with the hierarchy of employees within a specific store when making managerial decisions. Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer with a workforce that represents almost 1% of total employment in the United States (Hart, 2006). Studies have shown that women are more underpaid and excluded from high-level positions at Wal-Mart than at comparable retailers (Rosen, 2005). Wal-Mart’s competitors also had more female representation in 1975 than Wal-Mart does at the present time (Bernardin & Russell, 2013). It is Wal-Mart’s responsibility as an industry leader to offer equal opportunities within their organization under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The following section will provide suggestions to improve the problematic managerial practices at Wal-Mart in an effort to decrease the adverse impact brought on by subjective leadership and decision-making.
Suggestions to Create a More Diverse Work Environment
By administering objectivity, managers will engage in a thorough and valid assessment of employee performance. Wal-Mart should take on a more objective approach in all aspects of management practices.
- Managers at Wal-Mart should take prompt action and ensure appropriate follow up and resolution to any grievance or complaint conveyed by employees in an effort to not discourage future complaints (Alvarez & Moser, 2010).
- When interviewing candidates for hire or promotion, managers at Wal-Mart should use a consistent and structured process that involves controlled questions that avoid subjectivity.
- Wal-Mart should conduct regular anti-harassment and discrimination training to all managers and managerial candidates. Discrimination can often be unintentional; bringing to light the issues with discrimination within the Wal-Mart organization could aid in a more diverse managerial work environment.
- Wal-Mart should proactively respond to disparities or inequities and confront the areas of vulnerability (Alvarez & Moser, 2010).
- Wal-Mart should conduct developmental programs that deal with women in leadership. The Wal-Mart workforce is 72% female; engaging existing employees into advancement opportunities will aid in ensuring a higher level of job satisfaction, lower turnover rates, and a more diverse management team.
- Wal-Mart should assess the reputation of the retail industry and its competitors for assumptions of gender biases (Alvarez & Moser, 2010).
- Wal-Mart should initiate mentoring programs for female managerial candidates, in an effort to train and orient them into a leadership role that is primarily male driven (Hoobler, Wayne, & Lemmon, 2009).
The subjective privilege given to Wal-Mart managers has resulted in a lawsuit and at least 1.5 million unhappy female employees. Managers should be educated on the discrimination issues within the organization and any one of these suggested avenues will aid in acquiring a more divers management team at Wal-Mart. Outside of Wal-Mart’s internal practices, the government should be encouraged to preferentially reward procurement and service contracts to those businesses who have a superior track record for treating women employees properly, in an effort to redesign industry standards regarding gender discrimination (Hart, 2006).
Gender discrimination is a result of an authoritarian and paternalistic culture that women have been struggling with in their organizations for decades. The unguided discretion that has been vested in Wal-Mart’s store managers has affected the diversity of the organization’s workplace. Subjective privileges should be revoked and a controlled, structured, and consistent process should be initiated in an effort to beseech fair assessments during the hiring and promotion interviews. Industry leaders such as Wal-Mart have a responsibility to lead by example, and bettering their discrimination practices is a indubitable step into a future of organizational diversity.
- Alvarez, F., & Moser, A. (2010). Targeting Employers for Gender Based Pay and Promotion Discrimination: The Next Big Thing? Employee Relations Journal, 36(3), 46-53.
- Bernardin, H. J., & Russell, J. E. (2013). Human resource management: An experiential approach. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
- Hart, M. (2006). Learning From Wal-Mart. Employee Rights & Employment Policy Journal, 10(2), 355-394.
- Hoobler, J., Wayne, S., & Lemmon, G. (2009). Boss’ Perceptions of Family-Work Conflict and Women’s Promotability: Glass Ceiling Effects. Academy of Management Journal, 52(5), 939-957.
- Ngo, H. Y., Foley, S., Wong, A., & Loi, R. (2003). Who Gets More of the Pie? Predictors of Perceived Gender Inequity at Work. Journal of Business Ethics, 45(3), 227-241.
- Parcheta, N., Kaifi, B., & Khanfar, N. (2013). Gender Inequality in the Workforce: A Human Resource Management Quandary. Journal of Business Studies Quarterly, 4(3), 240-248.
- Rosen, E. I. (2005). Life Inside America’s Largest Dysfunctional Family. New Labor Forum, 14(1), 31-39.
- Schipani, C. (2013). Class Action Litigation After Dukes: In Search of a Remedy for Gender Discrimination in Employment. University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, 46(4), 1249-1277.