In her well-done post last Tuesday, Lydie Pierre-Louis revealed her surprise that the class action brought by women employees against Walmart alleging sex discrimination had not been settled. She noted that Walmart had been recognized for its efforts to protect the environment and wondered about the incongruity of Walmart’s good citizenship in this regard at the same time it denied accusations about pervasive mistreatment from over a million female employees.
Even more incongruous is Wal-Mart’s articulated position on diversity. The company says all the right things about women and “minority” employees and suppliers. Its supplier diversity program seeks to ensure that the company does business with women and people of color. Wal-Mart even requires diversity at the law firms it retains.
Walmart’s public discourse about diversity is similar to the statements many other companies make. “Diversity is a way of life at Walmart. And our commitment to diversity is not just something we talk about, it’s who we are.” But it’s hard to reconcile this kind of diversity cheerleading with the company’s stubborn denial of the allegations of millions of women about the company’s discrimination in hiring, promotion and pay. It seems to me that a true commitment to diversity would require Walmart to avoid blanket denials about anything amiss with its women employees – now and in the past. A real commitment to diversity would inspire Walmart’s managers to conduct a serious investigation into the accusations, make changes where appropriate, and settle the class action.
Walmart’s denials do not ring true because sexism, sexual harassment and discrimination are still prevalent in U.S. workplaces. Discrimination within a U.S. company that employees millions is inevitable. And, the disparities between the pay and promotion rates of male and female employees at Walmart would inspire a company that is truly interested in diversity to undertake a serious investigation of the plaintiffs’ allegations.
Walmart’s “diversity-is-a-way-of-life” rhetoric is what I call “diversity doublespeak”. I wrote about this phenomenon in an article entitled “’We Are An Equal Opportunity Employer’: Diversity Doublespeak”. Diversity doublespeak allows companies to avoid responsibility for enduring discrimination within a firm. Too often there is a gaping disparity between what companies say – “diversity is a way of life” – and what they do.