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Discrimination and Affirmative Action in Wal-Mart


There is a certain amount of irony in the fact that while the US society, in general, has been clamoring for gender equality, gender discrimination in the form of unequal promotions and pay still haunt the American workplace. The level of discrimination has indeed come down to a large extent, but for all practical purposes, a glass ceiling that only men can pass through is still quite common in the US. This paper is a review of the glass ceiling that promotes gender inequality about promotions in the US with special emphasis on one of the world’s largest employers namely, Wal-Mart.

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Wal-Mart’s promotion glass ceiling

This well-known retailer has been the subject of a lawsuit by a number of its female staff alleging that they have been discriminated against in both promotion and pay scales when compared with their male counterparts. “The case revolves around wage issues – equal pay for equal work. But it also alleges that Wal-Mart shortchanged female employees on opportunities for promotion.” (Trumbull, 2007). In the case of Wal-Mart, the discrimination with regards to promotion seems to exist across all levels of employment including middle and top management posts. In the case of Wal-Mart, it is seen that the promotional opportunities that take place within the organization are not even comparable to the practices seen in other retail chains in the US. “Twenty comparable retailers employed an average of 41.6% women managers in 1975, Wal-Mart only employs 33% TODAY.” (Iskhuemhenova & Lorena, Slide 5). Surprisingly, even the general body meeting is quite insensitive to the issue as can be seen from the following incident. During a general body meeting of its shareholders, a resolution was passed requesting reasons why women employees are not promoted to higher positions when compared to their male counterparts. The move only received only minuscule support from other shareholders (only 5% seemed interested) which according to company bylaws make the proposal “ineligible for resubmission next year, an indication that the glass ceiling is as solid as ever.” (Provided by the student).

The Glass Ceiling Act 1991 & the Merit Systems Protection Board

The two names mentioned here were the result of growing concern about the promotion of women and minorities and also other discriminatory practices seen in the workplace. The second of the above two are primarily for the protection of Federal Employees. “The MSPB serves as an independent, bipartisan guardian of the merit systems under which Federal employees work.” (Provided by the student). The Glass Ceiling Act was introduced and passed by the Parliament to specifically ensure that women and minority sections of the population are not discriminated against about promotion and advancements within an organization. This Act made the statutes of the Civil Rights Act stronger about the above issue. It should be noted that several laws exist in the country about gender and minority discrimination. The Glass Ceiling Act was aimed at areas of representation of women and minorities in top management positions as board members, presidents, and other related positions. The word ‘glass ceiling’ first appeared in a Wall Street Journal article that stated specifically about the absence of women in top managerial positions.

Women don’t ask

In a book titled women don’t ask, the authors claim that women are reluctant to negotiate factors regarding the jobs, especially compensation. In such a case, women might not ask for a promotion like their male counterparts. This could be a part of the reason why the imbalance exists, even though this has only a small part to play. The book mentions a study in which both male and female employees were asked about the last time they had negotiated with their employers. In the case of males, the average was two weeks before the study, while in the case of females, the average figure was nearly a month back. This is strong proof that women are more reluctant to negotiate promotion (and compensation) which will tilt the balance in favor of men to a small extent. (Babcock & Laschever, 2003, P. 3). Women employees on their part should take more initiative regarding negotiating about compensation and promotion which will greatly improve this imbalance in the long run.

Other factors considered by employers while promoting

There appear to be certain genuine reasons that can be justified in women not being promoted like men in very few instances. One significant argument is that working women hold two positions in life, one that of an employee and the other that of a homemaker. Once the female employee returns home after work, she has the responsibility of looking after children and engages in other household chores. Men are relatively freer in this regard. In the case of top managerial positions, late/irregular working hours and extensive travel will be required. This may not be practical to most women and will disrupt their personal lives. Promotion may also entail a transfer of location. In the case of men they can if necessary make the move by themselves without taking the family along and return to their homes during the weekend. Women who have the above-mentioned additional responsibilities may find the shift harder. Employers may be unwilling to risk a loss of performance due to the additional responsibilities faced by women. Promotion may also result in additional risks which employers may be reluctant to let their women employees face. But whatever may the cause of women are willing to be up to the challenge employers should in no way block their career advancement.

Current scenario: There is an improvement of the situation over the years even though minuscule. In 2005, only 7 women were running the country’s largest 500 corporations. This figure rose to 13 by last year. It is also seen that women outperform men in larger corporations. (Jones, 2009). The representation of women in managerial positions across industries also shows that they are not preferred for top posts in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and mining. All these areas have a only 15% or even lower representation. In insurance and other service industries, the representation is above 38%. (Section 1: Executive summary: Comparison of industries – Women, P. 17).


It can be seen that women are underrepresented about promotion to managerial positions especially to the top posts. It cannot be denied that there is no statutory protection for women in this regard. It is the women who should take the initiative to change the state of affairs. Secondly, the responsibility falls on the employers who should be willing to provide promotions to women. They have many excuses to make, but these can only be overcome if the women employees are willing to take up the challenge. The suit filed by women employees of Wal-Mart is an example of this. Only then will the situation change even though it will be a slow process.

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Babcock, Linda., & Laschever, Sara. (2003). Women don’t ask. Princeton University Press, p. 5. Web.

Iskhuemhenova, Magda., & Lorena, Sandra. (n.d). Case study: Wal-Mart’s glass ceiling. Wal*Mart, Slide 5. Web.

Jones, Del. (2009). Women CEOs slowly gain corporate America: Measuring women’s impact. USA Today. Web.

Section 1: Executive summary: Comparison of industries – Women. (n.d). Web.

Trumbull, Mark. (2007). Wal-Mart suit shows glass ceiling still an issue. The Christian Science Monitor. Web.

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