Blog: Cracks in the glass ceiling?

Catherine Sleep | 24 June 2004

US retail giant Wal-Mart is proud of its commitment to its people. Visitors to its website are told it is recognised as one of the leading employers of disabled people and senior citizens. It’s been praised for its employment record in the area of diversity, and received an award for having two women on its board of directors.

So far so highly admirable. However, it appears that women further down the Wal-Mart ladder have failed to notice the company’s commitment to their career. A US federal judge has just granted a gender discrimination lawsuit class-action status. This widens the suit brought by six former employees to include as many as 1.6 million female employees, past and present.

In a nutshell, the plaintiffs argue they were paid less than male colleagues doing the same job, and were passed over for promotion in favour of men. Whether Wal-Mart has a worse record than its rivals remains to be seen. Being the biggest player in any sector inevitably makes you a target, but it also provides a great opportunity to demonstrate best practice and establish exemplary codes of conduct. Wal-Mart has a reputation for fighting things out rather than settling but, at the very least, the threat of class action might encourage it to channel more of those formidable resources into encouraging female talent among its employees, oops, I mean "associates".

For a variety of reasons, female workers at many companies find it harder to progress in their career, especially those with children. The company that helps Mums use all their talents, both at work and home, would be a great employer to work for and would reap the long-term rewards, although it might well come at a cost in terms of offering greater flexibility. Mindsets are shifting in the right direction, but we still have a way to go.

How often do you hear anyone ask the Dad in a family how he manages to juggle both job and kids?

Wal-Mart hit by gender discrimination class action


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