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#1 UIC professor’s male bias theory to play big role in Wal-Mart case03-29-2011, 12:14 PMUIC professor’s male bias theory to play big role in Wal-Mart case
By KIM JANSSEN Staff Reporterkjanssen@suntimes.com Mar 29, 2011 02:08AM
A University of Illinois at Chicago professor’s theory that white men have an unconscious bias against women and minorities is likely to be center stage Tuesday when the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether nearly 1.5 million women can join in an employment discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart.
Sociology Professor William Bielby — who has taught at UIC since 2007 — has served as a star witness in dozens of discrimination cases against big business. His testimony has proved crucial because it doesn’t rely on “smoking gun” evidence of prejudice, such as a sexist e-mail or memo, to take on what supporters say are “check-box” corporate equality policies.
Legal experts say the Supreme Court’s ruling in the multi-billion dollar Wal-Mart case could have major implications for employment law.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege the world’s largest public corporation has a “culture that is rife with gender stereotypes demeaning to female employees.” They say the company pays women less than men to do the same work and unfairly passes women over for promotion, even though its own data shows women are more experienced and effective.
Wal-Mart denies the charges and argues the handful of California Wal-Mart workers who filed the case aren’t representative of the “potentially millions of women supervised by tens of thousands of different managers.” More than 20 major corporations including Bank of America, Microsoft and Costco are backing it in the fight.
But Bielby, who declined to give an interview, wrote in a report for the trial court that Wal-Mart doesn’t do enough to examine why two-thirds of its low-level hourly paid workers are women while two-thirds of its salaried managers are men. Its policies allow managers in the field to apply gender stereotypes in hiring, promotion and pay decisions, he argued.
Even people “whose personal beliefs are relatively free of prejudice or bias are susceptible to stereotypes,” he wrote, adding that managers make unfair assumptions that women are less ambitious and more interested in their families than their career.
A federal appeals court ruled 6-5 in favour of the plaintiffs last April, with the court finding that “Dr. Bielby presented scientifically reliable evidence.”
But critics — including the academics who coined the term “social framework analysis” that Bielby says he practices — say Bielby’s conclusions go too far because they are based on laboratory studies of students’ reactions to strangers, and not how Wal-Mart managers evaluate employees they may have known for years.
Harvard Prof. Christopher Winship, who has opposed Bielby in several cases, said Bielby’s analysis was “not even-handed,” adding that Bielby tends to dismiss evidence that doesn’t fit his theory.
My point here is that generally, part-time employees (however valuable) don't make the investment in time, skill, or team relationships that full-time employees do. In terms of promotion, who's the better bet? The gal who is full-time or the gal who is 20 hours a week? I have limited resources to develop employee career paths. Should I spend that money on my 40+ hour employee or on my 20 hour employee who has no interest in becoming full-time?
03-29-2011, 12:23 PM
People absolutely hate the idea that any of their actions could be motivated by unconscious desires/fears/conflicts.
It's interesting, people really want to believe that they have "themselves" under their own control with perfect self-awareness and something they aren't aware of couldn't possible be motivating them.Originally Posted by Adam Smith - Wealth of Nations
03-29-2011, 12:29 PM
I totally support maternity services for women such as paid leave, affordable childcare, health services, so that women will be able to more fully partipate in the running of our society.
I think it's perfectly fine for women to be able to choose to be a mother or to be a businesswoman, however it's unfortunate that so often hey are forced to make that choice, a choice that most men don't have to make (although some men do choose to be stay-at-home dads or part-time workers).
If that's what they want to do that's great I'm all in support of strong families but women should at least be given an option and current social norms result in women facing the increased burden of family duties.
Women do far more work than men, that's just a fact, unfortunately the kind of work that is usually considered a "woman's domain" such as the household, is usually not paid work. It still is work that is still necessary to keep the society functioning, but that's not where the money is at.
Last edited by Wei Wu Wei; 03-29-2011 at 12:31 PM.Originally Posted by Adam Smith - Wealth of Nations
03-29-2011, 12:39 PMGovernment is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.
We could say they are spending like drunken sailors. That would be unfair to drunken sailors, they're spending their OWN money.
03-29-2011, 12:41 PMPeople absolutely hate the idea that any of their actions could be motivated by unconscious desires/fears/conflicts.
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It's interesting, people really want to believe that they have "themselves" under their own control with perfect self-awareness and something they aren't aware of couldn't possible be motivating them.
03-29-2011, 12:50 PM
I am not a Walmart fan. I'm a union member, I shop at Meijer. Walmart is my store of last resort, after Big Lots (just kidding, I don't buy things at any store that smells as badly as Big Lots).
My sister, on the other hand, is a big fan. When she worked at a program that was geared toward helping women get jobs and get off of welfare, she thought very highly of Walmart, and said that her women that were hired by them did very well in the long run. She even told me that Walmart will promote women more often than many other companies, including my beloved Meijer.
My sister's observations are of one community/state and one program from about 10 years ago. Her clients were also looking for full time employment, not part time employment, which really is what differentiates retail employees on the "management track" from the people who are just looking to make a little extra money. How many women in retail (not just Walmart) are part time employees?
On the other hand, if the group suing Walmart wins, it sets a precendent for those of us who work in female-dominated fields to make our case for discrimination. Although it could be good for me, personally, I'm not sure that it would be good for all the unions to start filing suits based on the ruling.
03-29-2011, 12:54 PM
Society absolutely needs nurturers and caregivers but almost everybody short of a psychopath can learn and perform those basic skills with no education, formal training, or government supervision. That's why they are "worth" less in the job market.
03-29-2011, 12:55 PM
Even so, whether it's culture or sex differences or whatever, you're right that almost anyone could learn to do those "basic skills", but even though anyone could do them it still is done mostly by women.
It may just be a coincidence that women just happen to end up doing the most labor that is paid the least, but when you keep getting that consistent result, it's something to think about.
Last edited by Wei Wu Wei; 03-29-2011 at 12:57 PM.Originally Posted by Adam Smith - Wealth of Nations
03-29-2011, 01:12 PMDoesn't take much training to be a garbage man but at least they get paid for it.
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