Women have traditionally been under-represented in manufacturing and factory jobs, with those positions typically filled by “more physically able” men. This is particularly true in some of the poorer countries around the world that manufacture goods for pennies on the dollar, including India, Bangladesh and China, among others. In fact, it’s rare for women in those countries to have jobs outside of the home at all.
Wal-Mart is trying to see an end to that. Last week at the 2014 APEC CEO Summit in Beijing, Scott Price, CEO Wal-Mart Asia and executive vice president of international strategy and business development, announced $10 million in grants from the Wal-Mart Foundation, the charitable arm of the business, for the Women in Factories Program. The program, which was launched in 2011, has set a goal to employ 60,000 women working in 150 factories in India, Bangladesh, China, El Salvador and Honduras by the end of 2016. To date, more than 40,000 women have been trained and are working at factories in these countries.
“We want to help empower women around the world through this training that teaches critical work and life skills, because we’re committed to the communities and people in our supply chain,” said Price in a company press release. “We’re investing in our global communities by making this training available to any factory or organization that wants it.”
Considering some of the reports we’ve seen of deplorable working conditions and staggeringly low wages for all workers at overseas factories, it’s admirable that Wal-Mart is trying to make a difference. That said, Wal-Mart has a vested interest in seeing that these factories operate efficiently — it sources a high volume of products from them. What’s good for the workers in these communities is good for Wal-Mart in the long run.
Wal-Mart’s Women in Factories program is part of its larger Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative (WEE), which intends to train nearly 1 million women, increase sourcing from women, and improve the lives of underserved women. The WEE initiative is focused on the following three areas:
- Sourcing: Wal-Mart will source $20 billion in merchandise from women-owned businesses for its U.S. business and double its sourcing from women for its international markets. The retailer has also launched a dedicated women-owned product marketplace on Walmart.com called “Empowering Women Together.”
- Training: Wal-Mart will train nearly 1 million women through farmer training, factory training, retail training and U.S. career opportunities programs.
- Diversity and Inclusion: Wal-Mart will engage its supplier networks, including professional service firms, merchandise suppliers and global accounts, to promote diversity and inclusion within their teams.
The real challenge for Wal-Mart will be to establish a culture where the advancement of women through the ranks of these companies is promoted. It’s a great start to give these women an opportunity; it’s even better to give them the chance to thrive.