The Wal-Mart Class Action Case

Last week the Supreme Court heard arguments for a class action case based on a 2001 suit filed on behalf of 7 women claiming discrimination in pay and employment practices at Wal-Mart. The case is the largest class action suit in history, representing 1.5 million female workers. Wal-Mart recently became a 2020 Women on Boards sponsor.  A strange bedfellow for an organization committed to gender diversity? Not really.

2020 Women on Boards is shining a consumer spotlight on the diversity performance of corporate America at the board level. Change starts with awareness and must be followed by action. 

Wal-Mart has a very clear diversity policy, spelled out on its website. It has won 37 awards and recognition for its commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion at all levels of the company.

In 1990, Hillary Clinton became Wal-Mart's first women director, after shareholders and founder Sam Walton's wife put pressure on the company to appoint a woman to its 15-member board. Today, Wal-Mart has 3 women directors, making it a 2020 “W” Company. African Americans and Latinos are also represented.  Wal-Mart has 6 women among its senior executive ranks, 17% of the company’s executive team. This year the National Association for Female Executives listed Wal-Mart among its Top 50 Companies for Executive Women.

But cases like this one remind us that gender discrimination in the work place still exists, even in the very companies that have policies in place to eliminate it. This year’s White House report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being” indicates that despite their gains in the labor market women still earn less than men – in fact much less, 77 cents on the dollar. The report speculates that this may be because women and men work in different occupations, with women concentrated in lower-paying jobs. And, because women earn less, families headed by women have far less income than do married-couple families.

Wage disparity may also be attributed to the lack of women on boards and in executive suites, where company policy is determined. Only 11% of public company directors are women though women are 47% of the workforce and 52% of management.  

Some companies recognize the importance of social responsibility right out of the box and some companies must be enlightened and supported in their efforts to do better.  This may be the case with Wal-Mart.

2020 applauds companies that understand the value women and diversity bring to their boardrooms and executive suites.  We urge other companies to become leaders in embracing diversity.