Monday, February 06, 2006

Joining The Boy's Club

You probably have not heard the name Betty Dukes, but if justice is done, you soon will. She is the lead plaintiff in the largest class action suit in American history, asserting on the behalf of all women who have ever worked at WAL-MART that the company discriminates according to gender. The lawsuit’s claim is backed up by a mountain of statistics that show men are promoted disproportionately more than women and also paid more for doing the exact same job. In my store gender discrimination is most prominent in the repeated references to “the boy’s club” of managers and casual comments about one of the sexes being more suited for a certain job. At first glance these notes seem trivial, but taken as a whole they illustrate the culture that exists in the store and point to the larger problem of institutionalized discrimination. And the reason that I know gender discrimination is a systemic problem at WAL-MART is because I was the beneficiary of this very practice.

Originally I was hired as a cashier due to the high-turnover and their desperate need for people on the front-end. It quickly became clear, however, that this wasn’t where I, a competent, young male, was supposed to be for long. An associate in Electronics said exactly this, “Man, what are you doing here?” in one of his many attempts to have me ask to move back to his department. Indeed, when I was hired only four of the forty-some cashiers were male. Early on one of the store’s fast-rising stars, the only man at the Customer Service Desk, took me under his wing and saw to it that I would be trained on the desk. In so doing I skipped ahead of at least three women my age that had been at the company longer than I, two of which had already been trained on the desk (the third was denied the opportunity), and all of whom had repeatedly requested a permanent position there. It wasn’t right. I had received my first promotion and was being groomed for bigger and better things to come, all a mere six weeks into my career as a very average cashier.

Even more damning was the phone call I received two days after moving to the Service Desk. A manager from the photo lab offered me a recently vacated position after hearing from personnel that I might be interested (I never mentioned any such thing.) Not wanting to leave the action at the desk for this small back-water department I declined the offer, citing satisfaction with my new position. Needless to say this was an unusual decision given the possibility of full-time hours and the fact that I “wouldn’t be a temp anymore.” The question here is why was I offered the job? First off, it is company policy that all jobs are supposed to be posted publicly, but this one never was. And again there were females who were equally qualified and had shown more interest than I in the position but were not considered. One female my age, who had been at the store longer that I, had applied for every position that opened unsuccessfully. Another young woman was a far better cashier than I but continued to languish on the hated self-checkouts. Why then did I get that call and not they? (I believe that this position was eventually filled by someone from outside the company.)

My friends and family liked to say that WAL-MART must have realized what they had on their hands, which while flattering, is simply not the case. Truthfully, I am not that good at my job: I forget things constantly, make tons of stupid mistakes, and am easily distracted from the task at hand (I never miss a chance to get dirt from one of my fellow workers...) To be fair though, I think that gender is only one of three main factors for my quick ascension up the ladder: I am quick, compliant, and male. Simply put, I have the necessary attributes and fit their image for someone who succeeds in the company. Customer Service Manager’s who thought me incompetent only a month earlier, have made this much clear, winking that soon I will be one of them. My favorite CSM would soon encourage me to apply for an opening for the position, insisting that the requirement of having 6 months experience wasn’t a problem; just lie when asked the question and they will look the other way, she promised. Needless to say there will be more on this topic as I continue to climb up the company ladder.

5 comments:

mark said...

Hey Associate, I'm glad this is finally up and running. I've been waiting in anticipation since I heard about this project. Your insights are fantastic and very...uh...real i guess, you know the whole "seen through the eyes" of an employee. You're a regular Upton Sinclair! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Lmao.

mjsarge1 said...

I work at Target over 3 years, and I was denied a position behind the guest service desk because "you're not one of the girls" came from a former manager. After reading this article I need to get a job at Walmart.

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Anonymous said...

Uh, you ever figure it was because you were simply a better worker than those girls were?

I really hope it isn't male feminism white knighting here...