Published on: June 8, 2010
Lots of reaction to the email yesterday from MNB user David Livingston that reacted to the gender discrimination lawsuit against Walmart and suggested that there is “no such thing as gender discrimination. We are all free to pick and choose our compensation and career path. If the women at Wal-Mart earn less, its because they choose to earn less. Men or women do not have to accept the wages offered and can opt into other employment. It appears that at Wal-Mart, women opt to earn less, with is pretty much like all other businesses.”
My response, in part:(This email) is evidence that in an industry that markets primarily to women, that is made up of some of the smartest and most talented women that I have ever met, (that) there remain pockets of dinosaur-like thinking that reflects the very worst of male chauvinism. (To say there is no such thing as gender discrimination seems like the kind of thing that only a guy - and not that many guys - would say. I am not saying here that women don’t have choices, or that they should play the victim when not treated fairly. But that is not the same thing as suggesting that sometimes they do not have choices, and that sometimes they are treated unfairly, and that they have the right to equitable treatment...)
One MNB user wrote:Kevin, you're a very brave man. And you've just made yourself the idol of women everywhere!
I think the only tiny bit of what might pass for reality in Mister Livingston's comments is the part about choices. I have faced at least 2 times in my career where I had to choose between a situation of obvious discrimination (passed over for promotion, asked about my "childbearing plans") and taking the risk of leaving those jobs for better ones. I can even remember my first summer job in a large corporation when I was in college, and how I felt when I found out that the male summer intern made twice as much as I did. Oh, and no one ever asked him to type anything. Never went back to work there.
I have known women who would not make the same choice, over fear of taking risks due to having breadwinner responsibilities. I'm sure there are women living in rural areas where there just aren't any other employers, and hence no choices. Or perhaps some women have self worth issues from repeatedly facing situations where they were told they just didn't deserve the same pay as men. I knew men in the workplace in the past who considered it a good day if they could make the secretary cry. I've been in supervisory positions and been verbally abused and threatened by male employees with performance issues (no pun intended). Fortunately that doesn't happen much any more. I'll stop there, and just summarize by saying that women are not always treated the same as men. And they're expected to just be quiet and take it.
The problem is that young women entering the workplace today have no idea this ever happened. And they never expect it to happen to them. So how will they react, when it does? Because it certainly will. Will they be "good girls" and go along with it, just to keep the job? Will they be feisty and say "no thanks" and go elsewhere? I have no idea. But maybe we should be talking to our daughters about it.
Many employers feel the same as Mr. Livingston about hiring women to do work for less. But how does a woman know how much her male counterparts are making? I certainly have no clue, and may be underpaid now as well. Who knows? Should salaries be public?
Getting back to choices, I think that the only power women have in how they're treated in the workplace is through their choices. The most effective way for that to happen is through communication across communities of women. If an employer discriminates, first go elsewhere if you can (and let it be known why!). If you can't go elsewhere, then network to find other women in the same situation. Then take action. Social Networks can be key in this effort.
Remember, 100 years ago women could not vote. Women did not gain the right to vote in this country by being "good girls". They earned it by being strong, being consistent, and never ever believing that they didn't deserve exactly the same rights as men.
And don't forget, there are also wonderful employers who treat employees fairly. Find them, work for them, do a great job and help them prosper. They deserve to.
Another MNB user wrote:David Livingston never fails to entertain. I look forward to reading his commentary in MNB. Please don't stop. As Livingston said, “Women have had to do it for less” because insecure, chauvinistic men, like him, have been in the decision making roles controlling salary allocations and been threatened by anyone who may be smarter than they…..no matter gender, color, religious affiliation, etc.
And another MNB user chimed in:David Livingston starts his statement with: There is no such thing as gender discrimination. And then proceeds to show how deeply ingrained gender discrimination is by writing two paragraphs chock full of misogynistic gender bashing...and he doesn't even see it! The point kind of makes itself.
MNB user Geoff Harper wrote:I do not know him (don’t care to) but it seems to me that the appropriate type of discrimination is to discriminate against hiring David Livingston. Unbelievable!
MNB user Karen Labenz wrote:As a professional, MBA-educated woman, I found Mr. Livingston’s comments completely ridiculous. Throughout my 20+ year career, I have accepted positions in the food industry for what I considered fair wages, having no knowledge of what my male counterparts were making. How would I know? If the companies I have worked for chose to offer and pay me a lesser wage than my male counterparts, shame on them. I’d like to think that I have been fairly compensated over the years for my talent, regardless of being a female.
Another MNB user offered:My point of view on David Livingston is: Complete cave man with no clue - probably spends his day listening to Glenn Beck or something...
MNB user Robert J. Wheaton wrote:Oh my God. Did he really write that?
Nice reflective, perspective reply on your part.
Still another MNB user wrote:I am highly offended by David Livingston's comments about gender discrimination in the workplace, and I thank you for sharing his point of view with us.
As a woman is the CPG industry for the last 25+ years I've seen and received discrimination because of my gender, and it can come in the most subtle of forms, but there's no need to hold a pity party for me. I am fortunate enough to have received a good education and good training from top drawer companies that I believe have made me a good manager, in spite of inequities in pay and other rewards. As a manager I try to mentor all of my staff to try for, and achieve more as there should be no glass ceiling for anyone.
Mr. Livingston's point of view is short sighted at best as he assumes that we all have the luxury to "pick and choose our compensation and career path" Really? While I believe that everyone should try and better themselves not everyone thinks that way, or has the means to do so. Not everyone is lucky enough to have parents who push their children to go to college or receive scholarships and a means to pay for the education so they can get better paying jobs, and not everyone has the opportunity to choose between multiple job offers - if they are lucky enough to receive more than one - especially during this current economic downturn. Not everyone has the ability to be self employed as Mr. Livingston suggests, but I'd love to be part of that 1/10th of 1% or whatever the statistic is that can become a professional athlete (hey, even at 49 I'm entitled to have a dream!), so I too can be self employed.
If I were one of those women currently working for Mr. Livingston I hope they heed his own advice and go looking for a better paying opportunity than what he offers since clearly he has no problem sharing his "dirty little secret" about hiring for less, and shouldn't be surprised to see these bright, talented women, who do "outstanding work", do it somewhere else.
MNB user Tom Reilly asked: I have been a Morning News Beat Reader since 2003. It's a great source of information and insight; and enjoyable to boot. I have to ask though; is David Livingston a real person, or just your homage to Norman Lear's Archie Bunker???
I get this question a lot.
From yet another MNB user:What rock has this guy been living under? Does he have a wife or daughters that he wants to work and get ahead or see them held back with low pay by dated inane attitudes like his?
And, from another MNB user:If you hadn’t posted his name, long time readers would have known who said it anyways. Whenever there is a need for the caveman point of view, we can count on David for supplying the comments.
In Mr. Livingston’s defense, I happen to find his commentary helpful every time he provides it. His bravery in saying what millions of people probably still believe helps remind me that the world is not made up of homogeneous millions who believe what I believe. As a marketer, it is critical to keep that in mind when creating and positioning products. As a human, it reminds me that diversity is everywhere and I should consider that before I open my gob and blurt since I may hurt someone’s feelings.
As a thinking person…I have enough sense to ask that I be kept anonymous (should you feel my opinion worth sharing).
I think that’s enough. More than enough, probably.
My point here is not to pick on anyone. Everybody has a right to their own point of view. Even if they’re as flat-out wrong as David Livingston.
When I read these emails, I thought of my mom, my sisters, my daughter, and of course, my wife. And it is, quite frankly, hard to imagine countenancing the lower payment of women ... especially if you have any women in your life. (Which most of us do. Though, to be honest, I can’t imagine holding such an opinion even if you didn’t know any women at all...simply because it seems wrong on so many levels.)
Guys who say there is no such thing as gender discrimination, in my view, have zero credibility.
Let’s move on.
Responding to my coverage yesterday of Walmart’s annual meeting, one MNB user wrote:While I have taken you to task many times about your unabated adulation of Wal-Mart I have to ask at what size does a company have to become to worry you? When a company the size of Wal-Mart can make or break any vendor that does business with them is scary. They force many if not all companies that service them, and their competition to have multiple playing fields. Since I have a personal stake in this I find it unnerving.
And another MNB user wrote:I can’t help but believe that you have taken a drink of the Walmart kool-aid … sure they may add 500,000 jobs to Walmart’s payroll, but this will not add 500,000 jobs to the economy. These jobs will simple replace higher paid positions elsewhere, for a net loss in payroll earnings for the economy as a whole…
I have to admit that I am at a loss to understand when exactly I began to demonstrate “unabated adulation” of the company that I frequently refer to in this space as the “Bentonville Behemoth” - hardly the most generous moniker I could have come up with.
Let me be clear. I am not a fan of all things Walmart. I don’t shop there very often, and hate what their expansion can do to a Main Street. I think communities have the right to limit big box expansion within their borders. If I had to guess, I’d be willing to bet that they’ll have to settle the gender discrimination suit rather than take it in front of a jury. I worry that a price-driven, lowest common denominator and sometime even predatory approach to marketing is not good for retailing diversity, consumer choice, or even the economy in general. And my inner cynicism means I’d rather have a proctology exam than give the Walmart cheer.,
However, I also believe that Walmart is not evil incarnate. I believe that Walmart is in many ways the very reflection of an intrinsically American dream. I believe that while a lot of people profess horror when they look at Walmart, many of them feel at least a few pangs of jealousy. I think that the company has done a lot of things right, from its focus on environmental issues to the ability to drive costs out of a distribution system that is often bloated and inefficient. I’m not sure that the Chicago situation isn’t as much about politics and power as it is about jobs.
And I think that to look at Walmart and see only black-and-white is a mistake. The Bentonville Behemoth does some things well, and some things badly. Of course, that pretty much describes every person and every company...but when you are behemoth, the scales are bigger, the spotlight brighter...and the responsibilities greater.
Finally, I believe that the only thing unabated that I feel for Walmart is curiosity.
(I also believe in the small of a woman's back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, and that there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. But that’s another narrative...)
MNB user Randy Aszman had a thought about the wisdom of the late John Wooden:I think the line that made the most impact on me (besides “use the backboard!”) is “We make a living by what we got. We make a life by what we give.”
The most remarkable thing that Wooden’s players all seem to say about him is that he didn’t just coach them in basketball, but also prepared them for life.
Thanks for sharing.
Finally, thanks to MNB user Ken Hillman, who was kind enough to write:You Rock!!! Best morning reading around!!!
Couldn’t do it without you all.