Wal-Mart is unveiling a plan to eventually double purchases from women-owned suppliers, and invest in the advancement of women at its various vendors and agencies. Not mentioned, as far as we can see: The over 1 million women who actually work in the stores.
Those would be the same women who would have been covered by the class-action gender discrimination lawsuit that the Supreme Court blocked from proceeding, some of whom are currently preparing smaller claims.
Here's what the "Global Women Economic Empowerment" plan boils down to, according to The New York Times: over the next five years, $20 billion in products purchased from women-owned businesses domestically, doubling the international buy, training for women in factories and farms, a $100 million donation to "causes supporting women's economic development, "and ask[ing] its vendors and ad agencies or public relations firms to increase gender and minority representation on their Wal-Mart accounts."
Wal-Mart executives told The Times, entirely implausibly, that the program has nothing to do with the discrimination case or its substantive claims (or the bad press generated thereof). The company has maintained in previous interviews that it's improved its record on promoting and paying women: A spokesman said in 2008 that in the previous five years, a policy had been instituted to tie 15 percent of managers' bonuses to "achieving diversity goals." By then, they had managed to raise the percentage of women serving as assistant store managers from 39.7 percent to 45.8 percent. Then again, that was in a story about how Wal-Mart had ignored most of the recommendations in a confidential 1995 report saying its policies exposed it to gender discrimination claims.
According to Nelson Lichtenstein, author of a book on how Wal-Mart changed business culture, "A patriarchal ethos was written into the Wal-Mart DNA. 'Welcome Assistant Managers and Wives' read a banner at a 1975 meeting for executive trainees." To this day, he pointed out earlier this year, "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."