Women Discrimination In Business Walmarts Case Sociology Essay


Ethics has consistently been a part of our society. It has continuously played a crucial role whether in the professional world or in our normal daily lives. According to the well known sociologist Raymond Baumhart, ethics consists of the guidelines based on the basis of what is right and wrong and people are expected to follow the right path. A few examples such as honesty, trust and equality fall under ethical behavior and it is required in order for all of us to have a peaceful environment. (Baumhart, 1987)

Importance of ethics in the business world

Ethics is equally essential in the business world because it highlights the responsibilities, the principles and the standards that business people along with its organization should follow permanently. Any business organization that lacks or ignores the ethical principles is expected to fail and may harm the company’s image in several ways. For example unethical behavior such as employees coming to work late frequently will reduce the productivity level for the company and this may also intervene with their profit which for many firms is the sole purpose. It is the top management level’s duty to ensure that all the current working employees in their company are aware of the ethical guidelines regarding acceptable behavior in order to prevent acts such cheating at work, socializing at some networking site rather than giving priority to your work, discriminating against an employee etc. Ethics is also considered one of the corporate social responsibilities along with economic, legal and philanthropic and they should be considered majorly important.

It should be dealt with seriousness because it covers human resource issues which refer to discrimination at workplace and it is extremely vital for the managers at top level to not differentiate between their employees based on how they appear or any other reason for that matter. Fairness is another part where the managers have to make sure that they are treating their employees with equality without any biased decisions taking place. Besides these reasons there are many more which just proves the point that ethics is really important for management to succeed in achieving their goals.

Women Discrimination

Gender Discrimination

Discrimination in today’s world can be defined as the “…treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favour of or against, a person or a thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.” (Dictionary.com, 2010). Discriminatory behaviours are of many different kinds but they mainly entail some form of exclusion or rejection. One form of discrimination that has been seen from generations till today is ‘gender discrimination’ where either of the sex is considered weaker than the other.

Women Discrimination in society

In most societies and developed countries like the U.S. girls are usually given the freedom and encouraged to create their own lifestyle, since childhood. They are made to believe in themselves and that they can be as successful as boys in every work of life. However, the case is not the same for girls from other societies which are mostly from developing countries. They are brought up to believe the opposite where they are constantly reminded of the things they are not allowed to do. In most of the developing countries sons are regarded as insurance and hence their birth is celebrated with great joy. Whereas, when a girl is born she is considered as another expense and liability for the family. Since childhood, they are trained to do household activities and stay indoors, isolating them from the rest of the world. In some parts of India, a tradition prevails to greet the family of newborn girl by saying ‘The servant of your household has been born’. Women from such societies face issues like emotional and physical abuse, inferiority, having their families and society limit their opportunities and restricting them from living life up to their full potential. Discrimination against women is a very demoralizing reality that still exists resulting in millions of individual tragedies. Studies show that a country’s attitude towards women is directly proportional to its social and economic progress i.e. if one part of the country gets affected then the result of the affect is suffered by the whole country as well. Sadly, women fall weak and are not able to defend themselves in situations where they are being discriminated. For example many women have to face problems like dowry, negligence, infanticide and sex-selective abortion, physical abuse and labour and sex trafficking (Mullins, 2010).

Gender lines are drawn early in women’s life and they face exclusions from childhood and continue facing it through out their adulthood as well. This perspective of women and false belief that women do not belong in the high corporate world has risen as a result of women discrimination. There has, over time been a stereotype thinking that women are only suitable for restricted professions like teaching or best suited to be housewives. Studies show that during elementary school teachers give more attention and importance to boys in Maths and Science while girls are paid attention by teachers in subjects like Language and Art. This is because Maths and Science subjects are more academically challenging and to be taken in the field of medicine, engineering and architecture which are considered to be male professions. Studies also show that girls in middle and high school are discouraged to participate in extracurricular activities like sports or join debate clubs. Instead, they are encouraged to participate in after school volunteer work, social programs and more inert activities. Also, when making career choices, girls are pestered by parents into pursuing clichéd female-oriented professions like teaching, nursing, care giving, retail and office administration. Studies carried by the Department of Labour 2007 statistics show that more women are starting businesses than men, more women are in the employees than men, and the majority of degree-holders are now women and yet they are only still dominating fields and industries that are considered suitable for ‘female’ (Wolfe, 2009)

Women discrimination is not always seen in developing countries alone but can also be noticed in developed countries. For example, one of the largest sex discrimination case seen in the history on the U.S. is the law suit filed against Wal-Mart. This suit was filed in the year 2001 by six female employees and by April 2010 it was reported to include more than a million females costing the retailer billions in damages. The women who filed the case claimed that they faced systematic discrimination at work.

The Wal-Mart industry

It is an American retailing industry founded by Sam Walton in1962 when he launched its first branch in Arkansas. His main strategy which found him early success in his life was to keep prices relatively low which lead him to earn a ranking as the richest man during the 1980’s. According to the Forbes magazine, it became the world’s largest corporation by revenue.

Walmart’s women discrimination case

Wal-Mart is being criticized for paying its female employees less than its male employees and also provide smaller salary raises to women and fewer promotions. It was reported that women at Wal-Mart were being steered away from management positions into lower-level jobs without much possible chances of progress like cashier jobs. Moreover, a woman who came looking for a job opportunity as a manager was reported to be told that she was not qualified for the management position as she was not able to stack 50 pound bags of dog food. It was also reported by The New York Times that around 33% of the women at Wal-Mart are company’s managers whereas the rest 65% consist of women working as hourly employees. Wal-Mart was account to be biased towards males (Goudreau, 2010).

Wal-Mart has around 700,000 working women that form its back bone and make it one of the largest private sector employers of women in the U.S. However, these employees face discrimination at work on advancement opportunities, job assignments and receive unequal pay. This discrimination towards women has been seen in all levels of the company i.e. from hourly working employees to senior management. Women earn 40cents less than what they should be earning equal to the other hourly male employees even though they have longer seniority and higher merit ratings than their male co-workers. A woman manager earns around $5,000 per year less compared to a male manager who earns $23,175 per year. Women executives also do not find themselves safe from discrimination at Wal-Mart. Women face systematic denial of advancement as men dominate the management ranks. They are stuck in the low paying jobs consisting of 92% cashiers and 76% sales associate. Wal-Mart’s competitors in the past have had more women managers than men compared to Wal-Mart. (UFCW, 2010).

Walmart’s case from Kant’s perspective

Wal-Mart’s case casts light upon the ethical considerations of women discrimination in the work environment. Whether it is illegal is still under trial, however, it is clearly an ethical issue. Businesses often face such ethical issues which occur due to many reasons even if they are unintentional. The market fluctuations, competition and profit-making orientation lead business owners and managers into behaving unethically without conspicuous intentions.

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The issue of women discrimination can be analysed and evaluated using ethical theory. “Ethical theory is generally based upon moral philosophy and may be classified on many different dimensions, however, there are several basic ‘types’ of moral philosophy which are used in business ethics, such as egoism, utilitarianism, deontology, rights and relativism” (Bartlett, 2003: 224). Egoism and Utilitarianism are examples of consequentialist philosophies whereas, deontological approaches such as that of Immanuel Kant are an example of non-consequentialist philosophies. Kant’s theories are often associated with the duties, moral rights and respect of an individual. His theories say that “each person has both the right to expect to be treated according to universal moral laws and the corresponding duty to behave according to that law” (Bartlett, 2003: 224).

Kant’s theory proposes a ‘categorical imperative’ which is the particular moral law according to which people should act. It states that one should “act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature” (Kant, cited in Bartlett, 2003: 224). This means that an action can be set as a ‘categorical imperative’ making it a universal law and applying it to the maximum population to see what the result of that action would be if it became common behavior of the world. The morality of an action can be judged by applying the deontological approach which considers the rights, duties, truth and respect of an individual according to universal moral principles. It focuses on doing the “right thing”.

Sex discrimination or discrimination of women in particular can be evaluated using Kant’s theory. Applying the theory, the ‘categorical imperative’ or the universal rule can be set as “It is okay to discriminate women in business practices”. If this rule is applied universally, the effect of this action on the society or the whole world would be highly negative. Firstly, men would continue to view women as the weaker sex due to which they will not give them opportunities to work at all. If women don’t work they will have low motivation and high emotional stress which can affect their family lives. If all families became unhappy and stressed the whole society will be affected and may not prosper. Secondly, the household incomes would decrease drastically as women will not be able to support their husbands.

Furthermore, if women will have no career opportunities, they will stop their education and the literacy rate would go down. Labour supply in the market would decrease which would lead to a surplus in labour demand thus, creating a need for high wages and salaries which can become a major issue with employers. The overall employment rate would also decrease; affecting the world economy.

The result of discriminating women and discouraging their participation in work practices universally can cause serious harm to the society and the whole world overall. It questions women’s rights and respect along with man’s duty towards equality and fairness in the world. Thus, the universal rule will be contradicted and negated leading to the conclusion that, as analyzed through this theory and the deontological approach, sex discrimination is unethical.

Walmart’s perspective

On the contrary, when considering the case from Walmart’s perspective, it is important to understand that it is the senior management’s duty and responsibility to take every measure to ensure they assign jobs to employees who are most suited to do them and hold the capabilities required to accomplish the job. For example, Walmart has been criticised for refusing one woman a management position because she was unable to stack 50-pound bags of dog food hence, unqualified for the job. While many have protested against this act, it must be highlighted that there has been always a stereotype image of women as being the weaker sex and this incident helps illustrate that. Walmart managers understand that the business involves tasks that cannot be easily accomplished by women as compared to men. Also, giving women tedious jobs might be considered unethical by some customers and this could affect Walmart’s reputation as being harsh towards women and making them do jobs they are not fit for. Moreover, Walmart may have been scandalised by its competitors who are looking for ways to show the company in a negative light as it is successful and poses serious threat to smaller businesses who are unable to compete on the basis of price due to the exceptional low prices Walmart provides hence, looking for other methods of causing damage to their competitor.

Target Corporation and its ethical practices

One of the greatest competitions faced by Walmart is from Target Corporation; after Walmart, Target is the second largest discount retailer in the United States. Walmart and Target do business in quiet similar manner and have both very wide-ranging ethical and environmental policies in place. However in terms of practices, Walmart has solicited much more criticism than Target for breaching its ethical policies, the company has poor employment benefits, exerts pressure on suppliers, eliminates waste into the environment and as discussed earlier, practices gender discrimination to great extent. However, Target refuses to tolerate workplace discrimination and tries to create an environment in which everyone recognizes the value of diversity. According to national statistics the average company across the United States employs a staff that consists of forty-eight percent women; fifty-nine percent of Target’s workforce is women. In part with this statistic and the treatment of their female employees, Target has been honored as an organization with multiple national awards recognizing their commitment to gender diversity. In 2005, Target was named one of the “Top 30 Companies for Executive Women,” by the National Association for Female Executives. As well as in 2004, they were named one of the “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers,” by the magazine, Working Mother. Therefore similar to Target, Walmart should also adopt policies against gender discrimination to avoid lawsuits which spoils the image of the company.




Approximately 250 words