What Walmart and the Trumps Get Wrong About #WomenWhoWork

And why we should all be listening to #WalmartWomen

Janie Grice was astounded when she heard that Trump asked Walmart CEO Doug McMillion to headline a discussion on women in the workplace with his business advisory council earlier this year. She was equally astounded when she read an excerpt of Ivanka’s new book, Women Who Work. The hypocrisy felt too real to stomach.

Janie is one of the 900,000 women who work at Walmart. She lives in Marion, South Carolina and made about $15,000 last year. While her hourly pay has gone up in recently, Walmart won’t give her full-time work even though she wants it. In Janie’s store, white people and men are more likely to get promotions and have full-time jobs. Janie is going to school to become a social worker, but Walmart gave her a “promotion” that required her to have “open availability” for her schedule.

Open Availability means her manager can schedule her whenever he wants, even if it conflicts with her school schedule or being home with her son in the evenings. She once had to leave her son alone overnight at the hospital because she would have gotten disciplined and couldn’t afford to lose her job.

I asked Janie what she wanted to change about her job and she told me, “I just want to be able to live…to know that every month I can pay my bills, feed my family and be there when they need me. Maybe, one day, I would like to be able to go on a vacation.”

Listening to Women Who Work at Walmart

Last month, Janie and I surveyed 1,000 women who work at Walmart, the country’s largest corporate employer of women. Like Janie, Walmart women want stability for their families. They don’t want to get fired because they miss work due to a chronic health condition, they don’t want to be sexually harassed, and they don’t want their pay to fluctuate week to week. Walmart women want jobs that pay the bills, that are stable and allow them to take care of themselves and families. They want jobs that allow them to live a life.

As the largest corporate employer of women and people of color in the United States, what Walmart does ripples across the economy. Spread throughout non-metropolitan regions of the United States, there is no better barometer of the pain, hopes and dreams of working-class women. The experiences of Walmart women show us the human cost of current corporate employment practices, what is at stake as Trump moves to dismantle the safety net and basic protection for working people and how badly Ivanka’s book misses the mark.

The Disconnect from Reality

What’s most glaring about Ivanka Trump’s new book, Women Who Work: Rewriting the Rules for Success, is how out of touch it is with the real economic struggles of so many working moms, and with everything we hear from Walmart women. Her book focuses on the self-conscious female business executive, calling for women to give themselves permission to do things like take their kids to the office, share photos of their children on social media, and let colleagues know they’re leaving work early to pick up the kids (as long as you’re available to answer emails at 11:00 p.m.).

“If I can help celebrate the fact that I’m a super-engaged mom and unabashedly ambitious entrepreneur, that yes, I’m on a construction site in the morning and at the dinner table with my kids in the evening, I’m going to do that,” she tells readers.

She ignores the reality of the vast majority of working women, who not only can’t leave work early or Facetime their kids on the clock, but who are really struggling to afford child care, to take time off to care for themselves and their families, and to find work that offers equal opportunity for advancement in a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.

What Will Actually Protect Women’s Economic Stability

Women need the corporations they work for to give a real return on the profits made by their work. Women need a real safety net. They need policies that ensure basic economic stability, that are made for and by them. Here is what Walmart women are calling on Walmart to publicly commit to:

  • Ensure people have the time they need at home when either they or family members are sick by ensuring they can earn designated paid sick time without incurring penalties and by accepting medical providers’ notes.
  • Stop forcing people to choose between time to care for their children and having full-time hours by accepting scheduling accommodation requests and eliminating the ‘open availability’ requirement.
  • Provide access to full-time hours to those who want them before hiring new people into more part-time positions, and provide predictable, stable schedules.
  • Ensure equal pay and opportunity, starting by disclosing pay rates and part-time/full-time status by gender and race.
  • Offer people working hourly jobs the same time to take care of their families that you offer salaried managers — 12 weeks paid family leave — and provide the same time off to both women and men who have or adopt a new child, or need to provide critical care for a parent or guardian. Respect that people have different kinds of families by allowing associates to provide care for people they consider family equivalents.
  • Take responsibility for a safe workplace by accepting pregnancy accommodations, enforcing a strict sexual harassment policy by involving a third party, and disciplining those who sexually harass women and the managers who fail to take action.

Janie and I invite you to join us by reading, sharing and signing on to Walmart Women’s Call for Economic Stability signed by #WalmartWomen across the country and A Better Balance, National Organization of Women (NOW), UltraViolet, Make It Work, National Women’s Law Center, National Partnership for Women & Families, Paid Leave US (PL+US), 9 to 5, Equal Rights Advocates, Family Values at Work, African American Policy Forum, Demos, One Billion Rising, National Employment Law Project (NELP).