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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Strategic CSR - Walmart (II)

The best comment I saw on the dismissal of the class action sex discrimination suit against Walmart over the summer was the op-ed article in the url below. Although the link between the argument presented by the author and the legal standing of the class-action suit in the Walmart case is a bit tenuous at times, the author raises some insightful points about how some of the current policies in place at Walmart seem to present more challenging barriers to promotion for women to overcome than men. For example:

Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, Wal-Mart insists that almost all workers promoted to the managerial ranks move to a new store, often hundreds of miles away. For young men in a hurry, that’s an inconvenience; for middle-aged women caring for families, this corporate reassignment policy amounts to sex discrimination.

In essence, the policy:

… forces ambitious workers to choose between job and family.

A second example:

The workweek for salaried managers is around 50 hours or more, which can surge to 80 or 90 hours a week during holiday seasons. Not unexpectedly, some managers think women with family responsibilities would balk at such demands, and it is hardly to the discredit of thousands of Wal-Mart women that they may be right.

Reading through the article, I thought it would make a good ethical dilemma for in-class discussion. For example, I can see how Walmart would think it more effective for employees recently promoted to a position of authority in charge of discipline if they did not have close social ties with the employees they now have to oversee. It also seems clear, however, that insisting on such a policy firm-wide would be a much more substantial barrier to progress for employees who are least mobile for whatever reason (although family commitments would seem to be a common reason). Is this discrimination, as the author states, or is it an effective business policy derived from years of experience with a particular issue (i.e., how best to enforce discipline in a standardized way across a huge corporation)? Discuss.

BTW: I thought the graphic used in the article to support the author’s political message does so in a powerful way: