Wal-Mart Can Do Better Than This

How many people walk into Wal-Mart and just look up and around amazed at how vast the entire store is? How many people have gotten lost in a Wal-Mart store or at least separated for a period of time from those they came in with? How many people have gone to a Wal-Mart and actually gotten their workout in for the day because of how much they aimlessly walked around? How many people have come out of Wal-Mart and couldn’t find anything they wanted and came home with everything they didn’t need?

Basically, everyone has heard of Wal-Mart. Some may have heard of its impressive supply chain management, while to most others, Wal-Mart is simply known for its everyday low prices and huge assortment of inventory, providing its customers with practically everything they could possibly need. The main problem to consider here is how many Wal-Mart employees leave the store after their shift satisfied with their job?

Wal-Mart’s corporate culture is built around the idea of cutting costs to provide its customers with the low prices that they expect. The employees, however, are becoming victims to this low-cost strategy. Minimum wage is hardly enough to support one person, let alone a family. It seems as if the corporate structure of Wal-Mart is doing everything it can to keep its employees below the poverty line. Wal-Mart labor protests have arisen in the last year and were aimed at pressing Wal-Mart to increase wages, stop cutting workers’ hours, and to treat employees with respect (Greenhouse). The disgruntled Wal-Mart employees just wanted better working conditions and better wages. And these protesters did not all come from the same Wal-Mart store or even the same state, they came from over 28 stores and 12 different states (Greenhouse). Wal-Mart’s business strategy is designed to keep its employees helpless; a practice that hardly seems to be the least bit ethical. The employees of Wal-Mart deserve to have decent pay and the company’s hindering of this basic right is unethical.

Besides offering low wages to Wal-Mart employees, gender bias is present in the company’s corporate culture. Women earn even less and are often treated with less respect than their male coworkers. Barbara Ehrenreich states in her book, Nickel and Dimed, “I feel oppressed, too, by the mandatory gentility of Wal-Mart culture. This is ladies’ and are all ‘ladies’ here, forbidden, by storewide rule, to raise our voices or cuss. Give me a few weeks of this and I’ll femme out entirely, my stride will be reduced to a mince, I’ll start tucking my head down to one side” (Ehrenreich 156). In her book, Ehrenreich described the oppression that she felt during her time at Wal-Mart. She ended up actually having to quit because she could not afford to work there anymore, her pay not being enough to sustain her living in even a very cheap motel. Her conclusions are consistent with other evidence that comment upon the low wages and long hours that encompass the Wal-Mart working environment.

In the Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. case, many Wal-Mart employees banded together to voice their grievances to the Supreme Court. These women were seeking compensation and recognition of the gender discrimination that occurs within their working environment. Unfortunately, the case was thrown out due to a technicality. The plaintiff’s lawyers had improperly sued under a part of the class-action rules that was not primarily concerned with monetary claims (Liptak). In the end, the court did not actually make a decision for whether or not Wal-Mart had in fact discriminated against the women. One of the dissenting justices even stated that there definitely was evidence that gender bias was an element of Wal-Mart’s corporate culture (Liptak). Women filled 70% of the hourly jobs and only 33% held managerial positions. The company uses a centralized personnel policy that allows for subjective decisions by local managers. These practices often give way to the problem of stereotypes swaying personnel choices and this makes decisions about compensation and promotion vulnerable to gender bias (Liptak).

Dr. Richard Drogin, a statistician and professor, has compiled a statistical analysis in regards to the Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. litigation. His analysis of Wal-Mart employees shows that the women employees are concentrated in the lower paying jobs, are paid less than men in the same job, and are less likely than men to advance to management positions (Drogin 46). Despite the fact that women have more seniority, have lower turnover rates, and have higher performance rating in most jobs, these gender disparities still persist (Drogin 46). Drogin shows that these disparities in the difference in earnings, pay rates, and promotion rates are statistically significant. For example, look at this graph of the average earnings of men in comparison to the earnings of women (Drogin 12).

gender graph

The evidence from the above graph should speak for itself in regards to the gender bias that is clearly a part of the Wal-Mart working environment. Overall, in 2001, women earned about $5,200 less than men, on average (Drogin 12). Within the hourly workforce, women earned about $1,100 less than men and the disparity is even greater among management positions, as clearly displayed in the graph. That year, women earned about $14,500 less among management employees at Wal-Mart (Drogin 12). Not only are women disproportionately working in the lower paid jobs within the stores, but they are also earning less than the men who are holding the same job (Drogin 12). This alarming information brings to light a significant ethics debate.

If Wal-Mart had an official policy of practicing deontological ethics as a part of its corporate structure then there is no way that it would be able to treat its employees the way the company currently does. Deontologists base their decisions about what is right on broad, abstract ethical principles or values such as honesty, fairness, rights, and respect for human beings (Trevino & Nelson 42). Gender bias within Wal-Mart stores would be against the core values of the company. If there was a disparity, then that would simply be ethically wrong and would need to be immediately remedied. Wal-Mart managers taking a deontological approach would insist on having a fair and honest practice when considering which employees to promote and wouldn’t let stereotypes or personal bias affect their decisions. These managers would have a duty to uphold fairness and honesty throughout their work. For those deontologists that focus on rights more than duties, values, or principles, they would make sure that all Wal-Mart employees had access to the basic rights of healthcare and that these employees would have the chance to live above the poverty line. Ehrenreich states in Nickel and Dimed that, “there’s something wrong when you’re not paid enough to buy a Wal-Mart shirt, a clearanced Wal-Mart shirt with a stain on it. ‘I hear you,’ she says, and admits Wal-Mart isn’t working for her either, if the goal is to make a living” (Ehrenreich 181). Wal-Mart should employ a system of deontological ethics to govern its behavior in order to eliminate these types of problems where Wal-Mart employees themselves can’t afford the items in the stores. Performing good ethics and treating employees with respect is absolutely essential for effective business practice (Trevino & Nelson 3).

Wayne F. Cascio describes in his journal article, “Decency Means More than ‘Always Low Prices’: A Comparison of Costco to Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club,” that practicing bad ethics correlates to bad business. He critiques the way Wal-Mart conducts business especially regarding the company’s employment practices, relationships with suppliers, and the company’s impacts on local economies. Wal-Mart’s obsessive focus on the single core value of always having low prices is not a particularly sound business decision. Costco, in comparison, is able to hold down costs but also pay higher wages. Costco stresses the importance of being good to your employees and uses the high wage strategy to ensure long-term success. Paying workers higher wages reduces turnover, increases productivity, and is just overall good business (Cascio). The key stakeholders of consumers, workers, and shareholders all benefit from a cost-leadership strategy. In comparison to this approach, Ehrenriech describes one of her Wal-Mart coworkers and says that, “In her view, Wal-Mart would rather just keep hiring new people than treating the ones it has decently (Ehrenreich 184). Wal-Mart’s decision to pay low wages to its employees is simply bad business. The turnover rate, loss of production, and overall feeling of employee dissatisfaction with their job is something that Wal-Mart really needs to improve upon if the company wishes to remain competitive and stay out of negative media attention in the future.

In conclusion, I believe Wal-Mart needs to reassess the strategy the company is using to govern its people management procedures. Deontological ethics should be at the root of this new business strategy that will determine what decisions are to be made in the future. Ehrenreich states, “In orientation, we learned that the store’s success depends entirely on us, the associates, in fact, our bright blue vests bear the statement ‘At Wal-Mart, our people make the difference.’ Underneath those vests though, there are real-life charity cases, maybe even shelter-dwellers” (Ehrenreich 175). Currently, I do not believe that Wal-Mart truly stands by its claim that “our people make the difference.” If Wal-Mart employees really were that treasured by the company, then they would be compensated better and wouldn’t be treated as poorly. Higher wages (equally distributed between male and female employees) would lead to an increase in productivity, a lower turnover rate, and positive growth for the company. The satisfaction of Wal-Mart’s employees should become top priority and is an overall good business strategy.

Works Cited

Cascio, W. (2006, August). Decency Means More than “Always Low Prices”: A Comparison of Costco to

Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club. Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(3), p26.  Retrieved from Ebsco Host.

Drogin, R. (2003, February). Statistical Analysis of Gender Patterns in Wal-Mart Workforce. Drogin, Kakigi & Associates.

Ehrenreich, B. (2001). Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.

Greenhouse, Steven. “Wal-Mart Labor Protests Grow, Organizers Say.” New York Times. 18 March 2013. Web. 9 October 2012.

Liptak, Adam. “Justices Rule for Wal-Mart in Class-Action Bias Case.” New York Times. 20 June 2011. Web 5 March 2013.

Trevino & Nelson. (1999). Managing Business Ethics. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

And then there were no communications…

I won’t go as far as blacking out the entire world and seeing what type of person rises up to take control. I will however, using the powers given to me by this Business, Government, & Society class, turn off all phone and internet communications, forever. Imagine. Continue reading

Letter Writing: The Stone Age

When was the last time you received a hand written letter? Think about it. Not an email or an electronic invitation to an event. Someone actually sat down and took more than 5 minutes to write a thoughtful letter to you. I remember after my grandmother passed away, we went over to her apartment to clean up and box the rest of her belongings. I was amazed when I opened one of her closets and found mounds of boxes upon boxes of hand written letters that she saved (yes she was a bit of a pack rat). She served in the army, at that time called the WAC (Women’s Army Core), so hard written letters were the only form of communication to home at the time. My grandma had letters dating back to the 1960s from family members, people she met in the army, and friends from her childhood. I remember sitting down for a long time after finding all of these letter and reading through stacks of them. Some letters were a few paragraphs while others contained pages and pages of words. There were letters explaining births, marriages, special events, deaths, and the actions of everyday life. My grandma loved reading letters because they allowed her to remember fond people and the memories that they shared together. I was sad thinking about how no one in my generation has the need to write a letter to someone because of the inventions of the internet and cell phones. Instead of having stacks of letters, we now have 1,000+ emails sitting in our digital inbox.

Don’t get me wrong, I think email is a great invention that is much needed in our high tech society. I can still remember the dial up AOL internet and the sound of “You Got Mail” erupting from the speakers of the computer. The same rush that people now get from receiving a text message was felt when people received emails in the 90s. People use their email for a variety of different reasons from conducting business to keeping in touch with family members to receiving online shopping deals. I check my email multiple times a day because of the important emails I receive from my professors, coach, teammates, bosses, and campus wide emails. Smartphones have made checking email so much more convenient since emails go right to you phone. I had a simple phone before I got my iPhone and I remember feeling out of the loop because I could not check my email whenever I wanted.

If servers did crashed and email was not available, the world would move a lot slower. People would have to pick up the phone to call people farther away, walk upstairs in their office building to get feedback on a project or even have to teach themselves how to send letters again. Business would be a lot less efficient, information would not spread as quickly, and people would be forced to pick up the phone instead of sending a quick email. Email is a very quick way to get in touch with someone if you have to write a long message with a lot of detail. It takes a lot longer to sit down and hand write a letter than it is to type out an email on a computer screen. Business is largely conducted through emails to approve projects, set up meetings and ask other coworkers for information or feedback. The world we live in is digitalized and the use of email has helped increase the speed of the world. People could live without email, but they would not be as efficient or productive as they would be with email.

Beyond the Bottom Line

As a senior, it has gotten to that point when I have been frequently reflecting on my college experience.  And while I have always loved Bucknell, it wasn’t until this year when I realized how much Bucknell has truly given me.  I could go on and on with my nostalgia, but enough of that will come over graduation weekend.  (I know, I just said the “G” word…yikes.) Continue reading

We have an opportunity

How can the world change if our future generations are continuing to be taught by old principles? This is a pressing question that was raised by the professors at the sustainability seminar. Change starts with small, but necessary steps. Old environmental attitudes and principles need to be changed in order to create a future for next generations. We now know that the resources on the planet are finite so we have to stop acting like we can keep taking from the earth without any responsibility. This change starts with the education of students at the college level.

I attended the 1pm section of the sustainability seminar in which 4 professor discussed the change in curriculum in the management, engineering, and humanities departments. I thought it was very interesting to see how Bucknell was incorporating the go green movement into their curriculum. It was refreshing to see the great extent of interdisciplinary courses because I think that students gain a lot of knowledge from taking classes in different majors. As a management major, I think I am a better and more rounded person when I take courses to explore different angles of the world. College students are some of the future leaders of the nation so they need to be educated on a wide variety of subjects. I think that by creating a new engineering major and by restructuring the management school, future Bucknell graduates will be more informed and prepared to enact change in the business industry. Professor Hiller, a management professor, explained not just the content of the new courses, but also why they were necessary. She explained that even though businesses are still mainly focused on profits, there has been a recent shift towards focusing on the environment. Businesses have felt pressured to start thinking about making their operations more sustainable. As a result, they need students who have education in both business and the environment. I thought that this was very interesting that the Bucknell administration placed a lot of emphasis on educating students to act more responsibility.

Throughout the seminar, I was thinking to myself if this new sustainability incorporation into management, engineering, and humanities will make any difference. The answer to my question came about when a man in the audience asked a question. He asked whether or not students will be able to bring any changes into Fortune 500 companies since these companies are more focused on profits not sustainability. She did acknowledged that major companies are focused on the bottom line. Although, she said that if there is no change on the education level then new college graduates will not bring any change to the business sector. Professor Hiller stated that it would be difficult for a college graduate to influence a major company, but if graduates start their own companies then they will have a sense of the importance of sustainability. I don’t think that any significant change will occur short term from the incorporation of sustainability and interdisciplinary courses in the majors of engineering, management and humanities. Although, I think that this change is very necessary because college professors can’t continue to teach old environmental principles. I do believe that this change in teaching will create long term change in the business sector. I do wish that I had the opportunity to benefit from this new change in the management department.

The Recall that Strengthened Johnson and Johnson


Johnson and Johnson was a billion dollar corporation that owned 149 companies, including the maker of Tylenol McNeil Consumer Product, in 1982 when disaster struck. In 1982, Tylenol was the largest single brand in the health category and had a 37% share of the painkiller market. Johnson and Johnson’s biggest product recall, and arguable the biggest in business history, involved the over the counter pain relief pills Tylenol. Seven people around the Chicago area were tragically killed in 1982 after taking Extra-Strength Tylenol laced with postassium cyanide. After the FBI investigation, it was discovered that the tampered bottles came from different factories and that the tampering occurred at the store level since it was all concentrated in one city. The only suspect was James William Lewis, who sent a letter to Johnson and Johnson demanding $1 million to “stop the cyanide-induced murders.” Although he served 13 years in prison because of the extortion charges, he could not be linked to the crimes. Extra-Strength Tylenol was Johnson and Johnson’s best-selling product at the time. The company knew that the future image of the company depended on how it responded to the crisis.

People thought that Tylenol would never make it back to the shelves and that Johnson and Johnson would forever be tarnished by this crisis. However just a year later, Tylenol’s share of the painkiller market had risen up to 30 percent from 7 percent at the time of the crisis, which is just eight percent shorter than before than crisis. Also, the stocks that previously took a dive when news about the deaths hit the public recovered in just two months. How did Johnson and Johnson actually benefit from the crisis?

Unlike most of the cases we have covered in class, such as BP or Apple, Johnson and Johnson did not cut regulation corners or choose money over ethnics. The company did not do anything physically wrong to cause this disaster. This case is unique because even though Johnson and Johnson knew that they were not responsible for the tampered product, the company still felt that they had a duty to the public and placed customers first. The company’s reaction stemmed from its company mission statement, which stated that the company’s responsibilities were to the “customers and medical professions using its products, employees, the communities were its people work and live, and its stockholders. To the company, it simply was the right thing to do.The company immediately issued a nationwide recall of over 31 million bottles of Tylenol, which carried a retail value of about $100 million. Pulling the product off of the shelves was more radical back then than it is today because in the 80s there was rarely if any product recalls. Also, the company offered replacement products in a safer tablet form free of charge to customers. The company also took various measure, such as tampering free lids, in order to ensure that this disaster would not repeat itself. Their positive reaction also helped in the future when the company reintroduced Tylenol to the market.

Many people admire James Burke, the company’s chairman, for his speedy yet calm actions during the crisis. And the amazing thing is, he told the public everything. It was reported that in a news conference  only a month and a half after the crisis he told the public everything that happened. Burke never tried to withhold information from the public in order to make the company look better. These actions surprised me because in today’s business society transparency is very, very rare. The media and the public applauded the company for the honest way it handled the Tylenol crisis. The Washington Postsaid, “Johnson & Johnson has effectively demonstrated how a major business ought to handle a disaster.” Johnson and Johnson’s strong management and great corporate ethics helped soften the blow of the tragedy and helped the company bounced back quicker and better.   Should we expect all companies to act this ethically because they have a duty to the public? Do you think Johnson and Johnson was pressured by the deaths to take action even though they were not responsible for the tampered product?