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Posts Tagged ‘Wal-Mart’

By now you have surely heard that the Supreme Court has denied the Wal-Mart class action suit, brought on behalf of some 1.5 million female workers, on grounds of gender descrimination.   The ruling was not a decision based on whether Wal-Mart had discriminated against the women (more below), but that they could not proceed as a class because, you know, the class was just too big for them to have had common experiences.  In effect: the judges found that the class was too big to prevail.  From the New York Times:

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said the women suing Wal-Mart could not show that they would receive “a common answer to the crucial question, why was I disfavored?” He noted that the company, the nation’s largest private employer, operated some 3,400 stores, had an expressed policy forbidding discrimination and granted local managers substantial discretion.

“On its face, of course, that is just the opposite of a uniform employment practice that would provide the commonality needed for a class action,” Justice Scalia wrote. “It is a policy against having uniform employment practices.”

The case involved “literally millions of employment decisions,” Justice Scalia wrote, and the plaintiffs were required to point to “some glue holding the alleged reasons for all those decisions together.”

Now I’m not a lawyer, though I am married to one and have raised another, so I can’t get into the law here, but it’s interesting that the court was divided not only along ideological lines, but gender lines as well.   And what interests me were the plaintiff’s (Betty Dukes et. al) complaints.  Let’s check what Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, wrote a while ago on Huffington Post:

Ms. Dukes was an enthusiastic Wal-Mart employee, eager to work her way up from store “greeter” to a position in management. But after years passed watching male colleagues move up and finding no opportunities for her own advancement, she discussed her concerns with a district manager. The result was a pattern of retaliation that eventually led to a demotion and pay cut — and the biggest sex discrimination case in history.

It turns out Ms. Dukes wasn’t alone. When a woman with a master’s degree who had worked at Wal-Mart for five years asked her department manager why she was paid less than a 17-year-old boy who had just been hired, she was informed, “You just don’t have the right equipment… You aren’t male, so you can’t expect to be paid the same.” Another female employee was informed that a male employee got a bigger raise then she did because he had “a family to support.” Another was told that men would always be paid more than women at Wal-Mart because “God made Adam first, so women would always be second to men.”

… In every category of salaried management at the company, women are significantly underrepresented and are paid consistently less. To move up in Wal-Mart, employees need a “tap on the shoulder” from upper-level management, which is overwhelmingly male and stubbornly protective of a corporate culture that demeans women.

Pissed off?  I am.  Clearly those two weren’t the only ones with a major beef.  And here’s the thing: this stuff cuts to the core of one the reasons why, for women, our career and life decisions are so much more difficult.  We’ve been promised an equal world, opportunities our mothers never had, along with the expectations that we can sail along blissfully, the way the menfolk have done for generations.   And yet.  There’s the maternal wall:  women are promoted less, given fewer challenging assignments, once they have kids, for fear that they are less serious about their careers.  And if they don’t have kids?  On the one hand, there’s the assumption that they might (see above) or that, if motherhood isn’t in their sights, well, they are weird.  And if they are ambitious?!  God forbid.

And then, there’s this:  despite the strides we women have made over the last several decades, we’re still stuck in a world designed by and for workers (as in the case of Wal-Mart, with the right anatomy) who have someone at home to take care of business.   But who lives like that anymore?  Do you?  Will you ever? And why don’t we talk about it?  I was particularly taken by my cyber-friend Morra Aarons-Mele’s post yesterday in HuffPo where, prompted by a mother-daughter panel at the Worklife Legacy Awards in New York, she got into a discussion about work-life conflict — and the fact that we women don’t talk about it nearly enough — and feel vulnerable when we do.  What I liked best was this:

We work in a male system. To paraphrase Anne Weisberg, it’s the dynamic between men and women in the workplace that’s the cause of so much work-life conflict. And we don’t want to be bitches so we play along with the system and pretend like everything is OK. And before you say, working for women is way worse than working for men… I went to girls’ school. When you were in class, all girls, and you got a better grade or knew more than another girl, you weren’t a bitch you were just smart. When you got into the co-ed world and one-upped your fellow women, you were a bitch. We work in the world men who aren’t primary caregivers built, and we feel we have to play by their rules.

Like.  We’re in a state of transition, trying our damnedest to take advantage of all the opportunities that were never there a generation ago, in an economy where we will always have to work, while still navigating a workplace and a societal culture that hasn’t kept pace.  What Shannon and I think is that it’s all a work in progress, and if we’re going to make any sort of change — we need to keep the conversation going.

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Another day, another scandal involving a politician’s crotch. So much to say! And what I’d like to talk about first is this: the phrase “good wife,” and why it must be retired forever. Like yesterday.

In the disgraced politician script, the “good wife” is the one who stands by her man. The one who doesn’t comment and doesn’t leave. Her husband, a public figure, impregnated the “household staffer”, tried to solicit sex in a public restroom, or tweeted his weiner to strangers, and was discovered. In the throes of public (not to mention private) humiliation, the good wife must be not angry, not sad… not anything, really. Invisible is good. Stoic. Properly dressed. And then? Well, we generally rake her over the coals anyway. Shouldn’t she have left? What’s the matter with her? When did she know? What did she know? Did they have some sort of kinky arrangement? Was she just in it for the money, the Governor’s mansion, the vicarious power? 

None of the above is good.

(And hey, just for fun, let’s imagine the situation were reversed. Let’s say Hillary Clinton was caught tweeting crotch shots to random young blackjack dealers and porn stars, or getting oral from an intern… Do you think anyone would be waxing philosophical over whether Bill was or was not behaving as a “good husband”?)

And the guy? I guess it’s clear these husbands are not, as husbands go, good. And yet, generally, the caught men are not really subject to the same sort of judgment. We laugh (comedy writers must surely thank the heavens for the gift of Weiner’s name), we roll our eyes and say, “another one?” or “boys will be boys.” Or, as Maureen Dowd wrote:

We’ve moved from the pre-feminist mantra about the sexual peccadilloes of married men–Boys will be boys–to post-feminist resignation: Men are dogs.

Humiliation (and press conference) behind us, we happily move on to dissect the debate. The conversation goes meta: why is who saying what about who, who’s allowed to or supposed to take what side, and doesn’t saying this in this instance when you said that in that instance make you a hypocrite?

And we greedily digest the salacious details. They’re pretty entertaining, after all. (Seriously, Weiner… your chest? Ladies: informal poll! Would receiving such a tweet be… exciting for you?) But really: it’s none of our business. And is it really news? We can feign outrage all we want, but the truth, it seems to me, is this: sex sells.

Alas, sexism does not. As Susanna Schrobsdorff wrote for Time magazine,

Sure, we get a lot of mileage out of publicly humiliating (and occasionally indicting) famous men who’ve committed sexual transgressions, both legal and illegal. But in the U.S., the gender war is often more show than substance. It’s a spectator sport in which we designate national villains, good wives and so-called sluts…

Condemning Weiner and Strauss-Kahn (and former Senator John Edwards) sure does make us feel as if women get a better deal in the U.S. than in France. The problem is that the numbers show that all the fuss over philandering men doesn’t do most American women any good at all. Certainly not when it comes to wage equality. As it turns out, the gender gap in median pay for full-time work is slightly worse in the U.S. than it is in France, according to a 2010 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

And it’s pretty certain that all the salacious details emerging from Weiner’s Twitter account won’t help the millions of American women who don’t have even one paid sick day to take care of a child or themselves. For many of the women who clean hotels and serve food, taking a day off means losing a big chunk of a week’s pay. That’s something that French women would surely not tolerate. (In the U.S., only 41% of low-wage service-industry jobs, which are dominated by women, allow paid sick days.) And how about maternity leave? America is one of only two industrialized nations, along with Australia, that do not guarantee paid maternity leave, and only 11% of U.S. civilian workers get paid family leave.

Will hotel maids be any more secure in the long run thanks to the attention brought to their occupational risks by the Strauss-Kahn case? In a month or two, when the spotlight moves elsewhere, it’s unlikely that they will feel less fearful that they’ll either lose their jobs or their reputations or be deported if they complain about a customer. After all, even women at elite institutions can’t be too optimistic that their allegations of harassment will be taken seriously. This spring, Yale University was embroiled in a federal investigation on charges that it ignored complaints by women about a number of egregious incidents, including one in which frat guys stood outside a freshman dorm shouting, “No means yes, yes means anal,” and another in which men rated women on the basis of how many drinks they’d have to consume before having sex with them.

So, yes, Americans will lambast anyone from the President to Weiner if we suspect they’ve violated our code of sexual conduct. But we won’t pay a whole lot of attention to more tedious but important issues like that ongoing legal action against Walmart by female employees who are suing the retailer for back pay in the largest private gender-bias case in U.S. history.

Still reading? Good reader. I wonder. If this were the sort of country where the women of Yale and Walmart were given as much play as Weiner’s weiner, where corporate pay–and maternity–policy demonstrated that women were valued, well, I wonder if powerful men–and the women they sext–would behave any differently. And I wonder this, too: What’s it going to take, to make substance as sexy as scandal?

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This post first appeared on last year’s Equal Pay Day, but, frankly, we think it’s worth repeating — especially in light of the women of Wal-Mart’s ongoing travails. And we think, once you read this, you’ll agree that their travails are your travails. Happy Equal Pay Day — and we encourage you to celebrate by asking for a raise!

Today is Equal Pay Day: and while the name implies equality, the meaning itself is its precise opposite. Working women of the world, brace yourselves, and prepare to be pissed: today marks the day that your salary catches up to your male counterpart’s… from last year. That’s right, as compared to the dude in the next cube, since January 1 of this year, you, sister, have been working for free.

Yes, despite the fact that it is 2011, despite the fact that the first bill President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which extends the time employees have to file discrimination suits, despite the breadwinning Alpha Wives appearing in trend pieceshither and yon, despite the fact that the Equal Pay Act was enacted oh, some 48 years ago, the fact remains: on average, women earn 77 cents to a man’s dollar. (Even less for women of color.)

Here’s some more fuel for the fire, from a piece from yesterday’s Morning Edition on NPR:

Economists say part of the gap is because women are more likely to take time off work for child care, and an even bigger part is because of “occupational segregation”: Women tend to work disproportionately in lower-paying fields….

But even when you control for occupation and a host of other variables, economists still find an unexplained gender gap of anywhere from around a nickel to a dime or more on the dollar. [Emphasis mine.]

Yep, those convenient, fall-back excuses citing time off for kids or lower-paying career tracks are handily debunked by Ilene Lang, with the women’s research group Catalyst:

‘From their very first job after getting their MBA degree, women made less money than men,’ Lang says. ‘On average, they were paid $4,600 less.’

Very first job? MBA? I think that settles the time-off-for-kids/lesser-paid-career-track thing. Of course, the truly ugly thing about a stat like that is that, not only does it persist, it inevitably gets worse over time. Every time you change jobs and are asked for a salary history, you’re at an increased disadvantage–and coupled with this gender-based pay discrimination disparity, well–that disparity is going to do nothing but get worse. And that’s how it is that you’ve been playing financial catch-up for THE PAST THREE AND A HALF MONTHS.

But wait! There’s more:

Catalyst’s findings held even when those studied had no children. For Lang, this says that decades-old stereotypes persist.

‘There are assumptions that women don’t care about money, which is crazy!’ Lang says. ‘There are assumptions that women will always have men who will take care of them, that women will get married, have children and drop out of the labor force. All those assumptions are just not true.’

Of course they’re not. And yet, even if they were true–even if women didn’t care about money at all, and every one of us had a man to take care of us and the intention to stop working once we had children–well, would that in any way justify the inequities? I myself, as you may have guessed, think not.

How best to address the issue? Well, asking for more money is a start. A big one, and one in which many agree women might need a lesson. We don’t want to be rude, pushy, or assertive, but we don’t want to be broke, or the underpaid schmuck on the payroll either, now do we?

But, as with a lot of things, focusing only on the individual leaves a little too much unaddressed. There’s a bill pending in the Senate now, The Paycheck Fairness Act, which would make it easier to prove gender bias, increase penalties, and nix the hush-hushness that exists around salaries in an organization. In an open letter, Ms. Ledbetter herself writes:

Without the Paycheck Fairness Act, women will continue to be silenced in the workplace, just like I was–prohibited from talking about wages with coworkers without the fear of being fired. This forced silence keeps many women from discovering pay discrimination in the first place…

Now I know that some people will say that with times as tough as they are, we can’t afford to worry about pay discrimination now. But I’m here to tell you that this recession makes pay equity even more important. With women now making up half of the workforce, more and more families are dependent upon a woman’s paycheck to make ends meet.

So, happy Equal Pay Day! …and apologies for the rant, but I think you’ll agree it was warranted. If you’re inspired to take action, rather than taking it out on Dude-in-the-next-Cube, there’s a link to email your Senator here. And, I dare suggest that you do it while you’re on the clock: more than likely, your boss owes you.


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