There are tens of thousands of experienced Wal-Mart women who would like to be promoted to the first managerial rung, salaried assistant store manager. But Wal-Mart makes it impossible for many of them to take that post, because its ruthless management style structures the job itself as one that most women, and especially those with young children or a relative to care for, would find difficult to accept.
Why? Because, for all the change that has swept over the company, at the store level there is still a fair amount of the old communal sociability. Recognizing that workers steeped in that culture make poor candidates for assistant managers, who are the front lines in enforcing labor discipline, 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. True, Wal-Mart is hardly alone in demanding that rising managers sacrifice family life, but few companies make relocation such a fixed policy, and few have employment rolls even a third the size.
The obstacles to women’s advancement do not stop there. The workweek for salaried managers is around 50 hours or more, which can surge to 80 or 90 hours a week during holiday seasons. Not unexpectedly, some managers think women with family responsibilities would balk at such demands, and it is hardly to the discredit of thousands of Wal-Mart women that they may be right.
So, it's sex discrimination if you hire harder-working people to be managers and more of them turn out to be men? Sounds like that proposition has four votes on the Supreme Court.
It's kind of hard to argue that Walmart would have been more successful if only it had hired more women managers. What else would Walmart have done? Conquered Russia? Colonized Alpha Centauri?
One could make the argument that the point of disparate impact discrimination law is to redistribute wealth to blacks (the Slavery Tax) without hurting their feelings too much. Okay, But redistributing wealth to women who work for Walmart away from the (mostly female) customers of Walmart by making Walmart less efficient via colossal lawsuits seems vastly inefficient, except for the lawyers involved. Women who work at Walmart are quite likely to have menfolk who work at Walmart.
There used to be a remedy for this sort of managerial authoritarianism: it was called a union, which bargained over not only wages and pensions but also the kind of qualitative issues, including promotion and transfer policies, that have proved so vexing for non-unionized employees at Wal-Mart and other big retailers.
For a time it seemed as if the class-action lawsuit might be a partial substitute.