Melissa Byrne is happy to see a woman in charge at a Fortune 500 company, but does not agree with Marissa Mayer’s support of Wal-Mart, which she says is known for exploiting its workers.
I think its is easy for us to agree, especially those who identify as female, that it is still hard to be a woman in America. We are disproportionately lower wage workers. We are rarely seen as CEOs, even less rare as board members. We have to worry about how getting pregnant might affect our careers. We sometimes can’t walk from point A to point B without getting sexual advances from men we’d rather ignore. We get bombarded with articles wondering if we can have it all. We are judged on if we marry, if we don’t, if we have a baby, if we don’t, if we nurse, if we don’t…the list is endless.
So, I think it is easy to see why women and men across the country are excited to see a young, pregnant woman chosen to be the newest CEO of Yahoo!. Between my Twitter feed and Facebook feed, Marissa Mayer has taken over updates, tweets, and retweets. There is a lot of excitement to see the walls of the boys’ suite in the business torn down a little bit. And, I must admit, there is a little, tiny part of me that is always happy to see a woman succeed. I also want to roll my eyes at the naysayeers who are judging Yahoo!’s decision to hire a pregnant woman. Especially, because now the whole literati gets to debate the details of Marissa’s maternity leave.
For me, though, I am less than thrilled to see Marissa advance in her career because I take seriously the impact of decisions on low wage workers, especially women. In June, Marissa was elected to the board of directors of Wal-Mart after being nominated in April.
Wal-Mart and its founders, the Walton family, have built an empire based on the simple calculation of exploitation. They pay the lowest wages. They hire fancy firms to lead union busting campaigns. They priced Mom and Pop stores out of business. They’ve sold sweatshop made products in their store. Honestly, I could write a several articles on the problematic aspects of Wal-Mart. I haven’t even touched on their political donations, former role in ALEC, and many others decisions they have made over the years.
I am concerned that young girls and grown women will look to Marissa as inspiration for a corporate career. But, behind her stunning rise up the corporate ladder, is an abdication of her responsibility as a human being to do the right thing by her community. As soon as she embraced her role on the Board of Wal-Mart and praised their business, she became part of a corporate culture that deprives so many of our neighbors of their basic dignity. She accepted that there is systematic pay discrimination against women. She accepted that many of associates have to go on Medicaid because they don’t offer health insurance.
I’m worried the values of Wal-Mart—greed at any cost—will seep into the still growing tech sector. Will Marissa become chummies with the Waltons? Will they trade secrets on union busting? Will she influence Yahoo!’s political giving to support conservative, anti-worker candidates?
I want women to succeed at business. But, I want no one to succeed at business who doesn’t respect the rights and dignity of workers, especially low-wage workers, most of whom are women.
I do wish Marissa the best. Mostly, I wish that she would spend a few days with low-wage workers and decide to leave Wal-Mart.
Melissa Byrne likes gardening, posting too much on Facebook, and experimenting with quinoa. She has been a long-time organizer and first noticed gender discrimination as a first grader when the boys had twice as much playground area as the girls. Right now, she is working on ending the jobs crisis and loves all things about Social Security.