Women and Walmart - What the Supreme Court Decision Really Means

There's a lot of confusion about the upcoming Walmart v Dukes Supreme Court decision.

The biggest confusion of all is that this is not a decision regarding whether there was or wasn't discrimination against the women of Walmart, when the case was first brought forward by six female Walmart employees.

And that's a very different subject.

Because now we're talking about big business.  Giant sized business.  The biggest businesses of them all.

Which is why twenty companies - all with the same size and scope issues as Walmart - have written in support of Walmart's position.  And why the US Chamber of Commerce is arguing on Walmart's side as well.

Part of Walmart's legal argument is that they have policies against discrimination and, because of that, the corporation can't be held responsible for decisions made at the store level.  Those are local decisions.  Not corporate.

After all, with over 4400 stores and over 1.4 million employees in the US, alone, how could they ensure that such actions would not exist or occur?

Which makes it worth noting that Walmart isn't saying that bad decisions haven't been made or that discrimination hasn't possibly occurred.  Just that it's out of their control.

On the other hand, you have the plaintiffs.  It started with one woman, Betty Dukes, who was then joined by five others - who have now grown to represent a class of women in the hundreds of thousands who claim that they have been discriminated against based on their gender.  Since 1998.

Their argument is that the company systemically pays women less than men, gives them smaller raises and offers fewer opportunities for promotion. Unfortunately for Walmart, their own numbers tend to support that argument as the proportion of women in management drops substantially the higher up in the organization one looks.

If the case goes forward, the costs to Walmart will be in the billions.  That's even if, as is usually the case in class actions, it is settled out of court.

It also almost inevitably opens the door to other like-sized class actions against other employers.

So, even though this is about a point of law, it's worth going back to where this began.

Walmart is, evidently, discriminating against its employees.  Whether systemically or not, the fact is, it's happening.  And, for a company that was founded on the principals of and prides itself on the world-class systems that other organizations worldwide have adopted, it's a bit difficult to argue that in this one arena, there are no monitoring or enforcement systems in place.

Whatever the ruling, it will be landmark.  More immediately, though, what are you doing in your organization to ensure that you have the doors open to all the talent matter the gender? 

(Originally published on Technorati.)

The Toilet Paper Game Changer

Kimberley-Clark has not had what some would call a sterling reputation in the eco-world, according to an article in USA Today.

That makes their announcement that they are test-marketing a new tube-less toilet paper roll even bigger news.  It follows on their Smart Flush Bag, a water-saving device for the toilet, announced last year and is part of a larger strategy to reverse their reputation and take advantage of a more environmentally conscious consumer marketplace.

Good for them.

It's also not by accident that they're introducing the new product through Walmart and Sam's Club (a part of the Walmart corporation).

By being the only provider of the product for the foreseeable future, Walmart simultaneously increases its enviro-cred and gets a jump on the rest of the market ahead of when the product goes national.  Or global.

And, typical of Walmart, they are setting the competitive price base point against which every other shop or chain that sells the product will have to compete.

But there's another game changer in here and it's one worth looking at by every corporation - because it shows just how valuable innovation can be.

First, the numbers.  According to the article, Kimberley-Clark estimates that:

  • 17 billion toilet paper tubes are produced each year in the United States
  • If placed end-to-end, the tubes would do a double round-trip to the moon
  • Because the tubes aren't always recycled, they account for as much as 160 million pounds of landfill-bound trash.

By doing something as simple as figuring out how to get rid of the tube, Kimberley-Clark can make the case that it's changing the world.  It's doing good.  It's supporting the environment and the consumer's need to contribute to the protection of planet earth.

Great marketing.

But what it has also done is energize a product and market that has been stagnant for years.  Sure there were advertised changes to softness, aesthetic design and scent - but, for the most part, toilet paper has been toilet paper for decades.

Now, through innovation, there will be a completely new reason for consumers not only to think about which brand of toilet paper to buy, they will be able to clearly discriminate between Kimberley-Clark's brands and any others with the tube still in.

Big win.

Moreover, Kimberley-Clark is looking at extending the technology to paper towels - another market that has had little movement over the years.

Bigger win - because it's simply building on what it's already achieved.  The hard work is done.  Now it's just profits.

Too often, innovation is seen only in the context of new information technologies.  If it's not an Amazon or a Facebook or a Twitter - let alone all the b2b applications that make up how every company does business every day - it's not innovation.


From changing how you answer the phones to finding a way to remove a tube from a household product, innovation is innovation.  It doesn't have to be big and sexy.  It just has to represent positive, developmental change in how you do business and what you offer your customers.

So, manufacturer or service provider, the question for you is:

What innovation opportunities are out there as well as within your enterprise that you can start to access and move on - now - to create an even more successful future?

Figure it out.  Because someone else is already working on it.