Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sexy Secrets Revealed!

Or not at all!

Because this is maybe the least sexy secret ever! Whatever!

Evil Secret!

* * * * *


I nearly choked on my diet coke when I heard.

"You're working where?" I asked my friend, who I had always thought shared my political beliefs. "But...but...how?...are they...they're out here? How did this happen?"

My reaction was shared by others. You don't live in San Francisco and then up and work for Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart!?!? It just isn't done.

"It's not exactly Wal-Mart," she said. "It's Walmart DOT COM, and it's not what you think."

But I didn't want to listen. I didn't want to hear it. I didn't want to have my friend's place of employ be a source of contention in our relationship. She knew all the arguments I would make, anyway.

Certainly you're familiar with them. You know, the ones where you lay out any basic liberal premise and then illustrate the ways in which Wal-Mart fucks it.

I just shrugged my shoulders and tried not to think of it. It's not like I could persuade her to change her mind and quit her fabulous new job.

And as her uber-liberal, British boyfriend said to me, "She didn't create the problem. Maybe she can help be a part of the solution." Or something like that. Fine. Whatever.

But then a few months after she started working there, she learned that I was officially looking for a new job -- something that would actually advance my stalled career. And she did what any good friend would do: started forwarding me job descriptions from her company.

I didn't want to seem ungrateful, and I didn't want to spark controversy, but um. No. I do not go to work for Wal-Mart. That's the craziest thing I've ever heard. I don't care what the position is, I can't go in and --

-- huh? What's this? The best job description I've ever read?

Fuck.

So what did I do? Did I declare, "Absolutely not! I don't care that this position was written with my very own resume in mind! I don't care that it would mean working for the largest and most reputable companies in the entire world, because who cares what Fortune thinks? Old white men! I live in San Francisco! Yay Peet's Coffee! Boooooooo to the boxed stores! Fuck you all!"

I did.

And then I forwarded my resume to my friend anyway.

The truth is, I was weak. I desperately needed a new job -- not just for more money, but because my kick-ass boss was on her way out and her replacement? Oh, for the love of pete. May I someday have the balls to write about him because I want to and he deserves it.

No, I could not have handled reporting to that man.

And so I interviewed at Walmart.com.

And it was...well, it was nothing at all like I expected. I expected the worst, and found myself instead at a typical Bay Area dotcom. I met cool people, smart and interesting people, people who cared about what they were doing, and took pride -- however modest -- in the fact that their work would impact millions of people every day.

So when they offered me the job, I took it.

Yes, dearest Invisible Internet Friends who are right now at this moment deleting me from their bookmarks and RSS feeds, I worked for Walmart.com.

I. Worked. For. Wal-Mart.

Sheesh. It seems so odd to write that. To see it in type. But it's true. I did work there, and I had a pretty darn good time doing it.

Does this mean I'm pro-Wal-Mart? Um, no. It does just mean, simply, that I think some elements of Wal-Mart and its brethren aren't completely, 100% spawned from the devil. Some of the ideas, some of the ethics are admirable. Yes, the execution falls short...

Ultimately, I think:
  • Wal-Mart has the ability (size, power, capacity, infrastructure) to change the world for good. It does. Period.

  • Wal-Mart does not understand why people hate it so much. I don't think it takes its dissenters seriously. Or if it does, certainly it's not seriously enough.

  • Until Wal-Mart embraces and internalizes why and the extent to which they are hated, real positive change won't be possible.

  • In the meantime, I would like to see the dissenters offer realistic proposals for change, working WITH Wal-Mart and not against it. Wal-Mart has almost unlimited reach and resources that could help millions of people worldwide. Why aren't they?
* * * * *

Anyway, there it is. Hardly sexy, but revealing nonetheless. And in case you're wondering?

Yes, I had to do the Wal-Mart cheer.

No, I didn't have to wear the blue vest.

31 comments:

  1. Because they are entrepreneurs, not social entrepreneurs.

    They could take a hint from Google. The Google Foundation isn't a nonprofit, but they have some very good reasons for choosing to be a for-profit social justice org. I'm eager to watch what they do. They could be about to create a great template.

    Maybe someone should send someone high up at WalMart the CIA's 2020 Project Report - because given WalMart's reach & size, they'd be crazy not to be planning strategy around that right now.

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  2. wow. a guy i work with now is leaving to join wal-mart dot com. i had exactly the same reaction.

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  3. Okay. I live in a cave. A cave near Wal-Mart. And I shop there often. Why is it that I'm supposed to hate them? Their price rollbacks have saved me (the mother of three) a fortune. Hard to hate that. Also had a friend who was a cashier there. She loved it.

    (I suspect I am going to regret asking the question....)

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  4. serre - it would be nice if they did, but they probably won't until they "have" to, either because someone is outpacing them or...well, i can't imagine what other "or" there is.

    sparkle - yeah. it's really a pleasant place to work. but still, i know.

    tyra - there are some very basic reasons why WM is so reviled. among them are: 1. The benefits suck, as do the wages.
    - in actuality, their wages are entirely comparable to the rest of the market. it's just that because they're in such a position of strength, they have the power to improve this. wages and benefits could/should be enough for a full-time worker's family to live on...without HAVING to shop at WM.

    2. WM puts small businesses out of business. The collective bargaining power of WM is such that smaller shops can't compete. When WM moves into a new city, the mom and pops go belly-up.
    - there are stats that refute this; this is a highly arguable point.

    3. WM helps fuck over artists - musicians in particular get screwed by the way WM distributes product.

    4. WM has a history of unfair labor practices, racism, discrimination...
    - there are lots of lawsuits and cases about this; the only other side of the story is that wm is the largest employer in the world (i think) and percentage-wise, the number of suits against them are pretty standard.


    5. WM is very red state-y and conservative.

    those are the basics.

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  5. And now you got me started.

    I, for one, have nothing against Wal-Mart. We, as a country, encourage capitalism, so it boggles my mind when we promote free enterprise in the same breath we backhand Wal-Mart. If you don't like it, don't shop there. Turns out there are lots more who do, otherwise it wouldn't be in the top of Fortune every year.

    As for some of their other practices (labor, environmental impact, etc.), they're trying. They are full-on attempting to change their practices and have converted trucks to more environmentally friendly fuels at a huge cost, have worked on their hiring practices, etc. It bugs me, though, that when they attempt to right things, it isn't chronicled in the media like when something goes awry. So we end up with people who have heard third-hand about stuff they did 5-10 years ago and are still spouting about it.

    All that said, I still don't shop there often because I can't stand the clutter and screaming children. But when I do (shop there), the prices are amazing, the selection is outstanding for one retailer, and the salespeople I can find are friendly.

    No, I don't work there. :)

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  6. Oh you must blog about him. I can't wait to read the post and pee my pants.

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  7. I am sorry to have missed karaoke night, but if you promise to do the Walmart cheer, I will definitely make the next one. I ::cough:: promise not to bring a video camera.

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  8. if we each had to agree with and support all of our employers' policies and practices, most of us would be out of work.

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  9. Beth--

    I agree. And, good news doesn't sell newspapers, nor does it make you tune in for the nightly news. We are a country of bashing, gossiping, and bad mouthing as it relates to the media. Good news is no news.

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  10. K -

    1) it is more surprising that you commuted to Brisbane everyday!

    2)I have to say that is seems a bit uncool to bash them now that you are not there. You obviously took the job because it was a good fit and you could enhance your skills. Your expertise/job was event planning (as near as I can tell), not setting corporate strategy. IF you thought they were SO awful, you should not have taken the job. Just my 2 cents

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  11. Kirin

    I don't see her bashing them, just offering up the ways they could improve, not only the world, but their image in the world.

    After all, she is putting out a call for "dissenters [to] offer realistic proposals for change, working WITH Wal-Mart and not against it."


    K-

    Don't worry, I worked for an aerospace manufacturer in the shipping department. I shipped out parts for missiles, but I also shipped out parts for airplane black boxes. Some bad, some good.

    We all do what we have to do to get by.

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  12. kirin - i don't mean to come across as bashing them now. i don't think they're SO bad, and certainly i wouldn't have taken the job if i hadn't been so pleasantly surprised and impressed by the people i met/found at the .com. overall, it was an enlightening experience. a lot of my assumptions about the company were challenged, and i tried to be open to new perspectives. (just as i tried to refute the basic arguments about WM in my comment above.) like, some of the Green/sustainability stuff they're doing is pretty remarkable, and i was amazed at their response to Katrina.

    HOWEVER, my perspective now, and after being there for 1.5 yrs is what it is. i saw some good stuff, but i saw some bad stuff, too. and my overall impressions (which i posted) took a while to form. it's not like i didn't voice those opinions while i was there. i did my little part to try and advocate change.

    i do think they're trying to improve, i just know how good they'll be at it.

    and the commute! i'm honestly surprised i never ended up stranded in So. SF somewhere.

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  13. *sigh* I have to weigh in on this, mostly because it's something I've covered in some depth on my site, and I feel like I might be getting called to the carpet a little bit on this. (you can read the whole thing at: Black Friday, or, Oh How I Hate Walmart.)

    Kristy, I certainly don't begrudge you working for a living. I've worked for companies that are less than socially upstanding out of necessity. And you will notice that I have never once condemned anyone for working for the company. I realize that in many communities Walmart is the only choice for employment (one of the problems) and people have to feed their families.

    However, for those that don't understand the problems, or think that Walmart has made some 'great strides' recently, and all us detractors can talk about is events that happened 15 years ago (as if they are any less relevant)...

    Just last month Walmart caved in to the American Family Association’s threat to boycott the chain in protest over Walmart’s contributions to gay rights groups.

    And last week, Walmart announced that they were scrapping the politically correct "Happy Holidays" in favor of "Merry Christmas." Sounds ridiculous, that something as innocuous as a greeting could have many people up in arms... but it shows Walmart's attitude towards the community.

    Believe me, I understand that the "savings are great" and that a family can stretch their dollars further at Walmart. What is less apparent, and important for everyone to understand is that shopping there only perpetuates the NEED to shop there. They destroy local economies, pay less than livable wages, offer virtually no benefits (actually going so far as to encourage an atmosphere where employees get on public assistance so that taxpayers can foot the hefty medical bills) and send more and more manufacturing jobs overseas. This makes your dollar weaker and weaker.

    I don't want to hijack Kristy's blog any more than I have. If you want to know more, read the post on my site, and check out some of the links I provide in that article.

    And Kristy, congrats on the new job away from the Big Blue.

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  14. Hey kiddo - I know how you feel about them, and mostly agree with you. I only offer what I've already said, really. Having been there, I believe they are trying to change.

    Or at least, they know they should...

    I honestly think their biggest problem is that they don't totally understand why they have to change.

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  15. I was wondering when you would finally announce where you worked :)
    For two years, I worked for a software company that designed software for bill collectors. So while I wasn't calling up people and harrassing them for money, sometimes I stopped and thought, hmm, is my karma being damaged with every line of code? I'd think, how many of my friends are in someone's (name of program) database?
    This is Sarah/botanylicious...every time I try to log there's an error and my comments don't get posted.

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  16. Another reason Wal-Mart is reviled (actually a fairly new one) is their recent foray into the organic food market. I'm no expert, but...Organic farmers tend to believe in paying a living wage. They also tend to serve the immediate area, as part of organic farming is about sustainable living. Hence, organic food is more expensive than "regular" food. Wal-mart then comes in and promises to sell organic food for something like only 10 cents more per pound than regular fruits and veggies. They ship this organic food from all over the world and also buy from large agribusiness - the same ones that are putting small farmers out of business and, to our detriment, controlling the food supply.

    BTW - love the blog!

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  17. Ah yes, I hate Walmart. I rant about it at length. I really think that if they had a different view of their impact on the world they could so some tremendous good. I am lucky enough to work for a company that implemented a full benefits program to all of our part time, seasonal and even temporary employees as of last year.

    We are much smaller than Walmart and it hasn't affected our profitability, it actually boosted employee engagement and shot us up to number 9 on Fortune's "Best Companies to Work For" list.

    If only there were more companies out there willing to change things..

    And I hold nothing against you@ :)

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  18. Kristy, there are many, many things that need to be added to your list of what is wrong with Wal-Mart.

    For example, Wal-Mart *costs* all of us. By employing part-time workers rather than full-time ones (so they do not have to provide health care benefits), by providing as little in health care benefits as possible, workers end up relying on the public health care system, such as it is. This means Emergency Room bills that the patient cannot pay, so the public must. That sort of thing.

    Lots of corporations do the same thing. McDonalds... probably all fast food places. The reason Wal-Mart is vilified for these sorts of practices is that it is a massive corporation with massive profits. Even if it provided adequate healthcare for its staff, it would STILL be enormously profitable. And people would be healthier and taxpayers would not be footing Wal-Mart's bill.

    Wal-Mart is not only crushing small businesses in this country, but in many others. In Mexico, for example, there are a number of Wal-Marts disguised by other names. Because they can offer cheaper products, people shop there instead of at local businesses. But Wal-Mart's profits do not stay in the local community (or even in Mexico). So when Wal-Mart decimates local businesses in already poor countries, the ripples hurt people in untold ways.

    Wal-Mart also harms the environment. You know, I'm not even going to start on this one.

    And wasn't it Wal-Mart that refused to carry Plan B (the "morning after" pill to prevent pregnancy)?

    Basically, Wal-Mart not only represents but actually IS a negative force in the world.

    You say "Wal-Mart does not understand why people hate it so much." Well, Wal-Mart does not *want* to understand why people hate it so much. And it does not need to understand. The people with power in Wal-Mart have no interest beyond their own profits, unless you count their interest in adhering to their right-wing political views. They have shown that time and time again.

    They certainly developed an "understanding" of what was happening outside their doors very quickly when they decided not to carry the Dixie Chicks music after one of them said whatever derogatory (and perfectly reasonable) thing she said about Bush. If they wanted to understand why people hate them, they just would. They are ostriches and the sand is quite nice.

    There are consumer groups and environmental groups that work to develop "incentives" for corporations to be less horrible. For example, one recently coaxed Victoria's Secret to start using some recycled paper in its catalogs. That group is trying to get corporations to take steps so that they destroy the environment more slowly at least.

    Personally, I could never do the work those groups do because it would kill me to have to confront every single day the pure selfishness and destructiveness of the people who lead these corporations. But I am glad these groups exist.

    Yes, Wal-Mart has the power and capacity to change the world for the better. This is evident in the ways it changes the world for the worse. At the heart of this issue is the nature of capitalism itself. Some believe that, in capitalism, nothing other than profit is relevant. Others believe that society's well-being must come first. As the neoliberal view prevails, Wal-Mart represents it.

    Given the values you have expressed on your blog, I do believe it was hypocritical of you to have worked there because receiving Wal-Mart paychecks = profiting from its bad practices. Yet the fact is that everyone is hypocritical in some way (or many ways). None of us walk the talk as much as we could and would like to. I don't minimize your hypocrisy and I don't minimize my own. The important thing is to own it, be honest about it and do the best we can to be clear with ourselves about our values, and then live them the best we can. We all have different thresholds for the kinds of compromises we can make, and different reasons for why we will compromise in one area but not another. And we are whole people, not simply this hyprocrisy or that one -- just as we are not simply this great thing we did or that one.

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  19. No. Way. Whoah. Although I have never met you, I feel like I know you. I've been reading your blog for about 2 years... and well... wow. But hey dude... it pays the bills, right? And I'm working at a real estate development company, so I have no legs to stand on here. But look at where its gotten you! You now have a wonderful job doing exactly what you love to do for a company you support. Go you!

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  20. Haha, I totally agree with Terry. Nice comment.

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  21. OMG. I can't believe it. I would never, in a million years, have guessed that you worked for "The Evil Place." (That's what my mom calls it whenever she talks to me about it. As in, "Oh my gosh, I got the greatest towels today, and they were only $3! But you wouldn't want them; they came from The Evil Place." She's got a misguided sense of my feelings on the subject.) Sooo, does this mean that The P works there, too? (Hi Beth!)

    I could go into a rant about Wal-mart right now, but I won't, because, well, everyone else has done a pretty good job at that. (Ok, ok, I do have to say, if you haven't heard about what they did to John Edwards--my personal favorite for the 2008 elections--go search for it in Daily Kos. Their capacity to be evil is just staggering at times.) So I will share a funny story about my Wal-mart hate. (Hate is a strong word here. I don't actually hate it; I can just afford to put my money where my mouth--or heart--is, so I do.)

    My brother brought his girlfriend over for Christmas Eve dinner last year, and we pretty much all hated her because she's dumb and self-centered. After dinner, we were chatting about assorted things, and somehow the fact that I don't shop at Wal-mart came up. The girlfriend piped up,

    "Oh, I REFUSE to shop at Wal-mart..."

    (Here's where I begin to think, maybe I've misjudged her, maybe she's more enlightened than I give her credit for, etc.)

    "Every time I go there, it's always full of THE MEXICANS."

    Yikes. Thank GOD they broke up not too long after that.

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  22. Please, please, PLEASE go the Walmart cheer. PLEASE.

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  23. Quite frankly, I have a ton of respect for a person that sees a good opportunity for self-development and goes for it. I get that everyone in the higher tax brackets (except perhaps the highest) thinks they're evil and I acknowledge the veritable litany of complaints about them. But really, I think it's so important that you took a job that was going to move you in the right direction. And you rose above the all the back-and-forth about how evil WM is and kept an open mind about it while furthering your career. Plus, I love that you invited the litanies of complaints by writing this post. That gets my respect as well.

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  24. onebadsue,
    I am the anon 12:29 a.m. and I could not be farther from the "higher tax bracket" you assume. You may disagree with posters who don't support Wal-Mart, but it is absurd to categorize them as wealthy.

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  25. anon - I don't think that OneBadSue was necessarily directing her comment at you. I think (correct me if I'm wrong, please) that she was saying that a lot of people end up choosing to put their income/career path ahead of what could be more ethical decisions.

    mindless jobs. soul-sucking jobs. good jobs with bad companies...

    lots of us take these positions because they will offer us the opportunity to earn more and advance our careers...hopefully so that someday we can start our own companies or organizations and give something positive to the world.

    but in the meantime, it's really hard to find well paying, career-advancing opportunities among the few wholly ethical companies out there. so we suck it up and find some way to look our hypocritical selves in the mirror.

    oftentimes by saying, "this is only temporary."

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  26. I encourage all of you who want to know more about Wal Mart to rent or buy the movie "The High Cost of Low Price."

    It's a documentary / expose about Wal Mart. Very disturbing information.

    Everybody in this country has a right to shop wherever they want, and I fully respect that. But I also encourage people to make informed choices.

    And, Wal Mart has the right in our free-market capitolist society to be as big and profitable as they want to be -- but that doesn't make what they do RIGHT.

    (I used to be in the music / apparel / trend / toys/ marketing / retail business, and Wal Mart basically drove us out of business).

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  27. Nice try but where WOULD a person expect you to work.

    Walmart DOT com sounds perfect.

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  28. All this heat for simply working for a company? I'm looking to move to S.F. in a few months myself. After looking around, and somparing it to L.A., S.F. wins in my book.

    Your article illustrates one of the big drawbacks of S.F., as far as I've seen (besides insanely high prices for rent and basic needs). Seems that S.F. folks believe that they are "the most open minded people on earth", and also "the least judgmental people on earth".

    In fact, many of them spent hours and hours, talking about how "We're better than people from L.A., because we don't judge people. L.A. people are inferior, because they are so judgmental"

    Seriously. And they said all that, without even a twinge of sarcasm implied. Its as if they, themselves, didn't hear a word that *they* (themselves) were saying! Hahaha! Such a riot.

    Then as for "open minded", that's true. They are COMPLETELY open ... to any idea that they already believe in. That's about it. Anything outside of a certain set of parameters is "horrifying" and "shocking".

    I mean, if your mom runs a sex-toy store and drinks her own urine, because she thinks its "Vedic health food" or something ... she's cool as hell! Practically a local hero!

    But if you buy a convertible, because you want to feel the breeze and have fun when you drive, you're a "self-absorbed show off" who probably "works for The Man". (hmph! [turns up nose] Avert your eyes, children! That awful man is 'part of the system')

    Well, that's ok, though. I come from a city filled with its own brand of stupidity, so I can cope with it. All in all, after my little riff here about San Francisco, its a pretty nice place. I think I'll like it, actually.

    BTW: WalMart was a "mom-n-pop" store once, too. So was Target. Most 'liberals' (as they define themselves incorrectly these days) LOVE MOM AND POP STORES. They love the livin' crap outta them. Until they are successful. Then they HATE them.

    Oh, god how they hate them! The more successful, the more they hate them. Starbucks used to be a cool little chain of struggling coffee shops. Local heroes of Seattle. But now look. They succeeded! So now they're 'part of the system', and 'white men' (like that's a crime, to be white and male).

    So basically, "liberals" love to see Mom-and-pop-stores that are in the verge of failure and ruin. Something about the idea of it is romantic.

    You know: The thought that a family is struggling, and almost homeless because their little shop can't get traction. Bills stuffed into their mailbox, and mom and dad crying at night, afraid that they won't be able to buy little Sally's clothes for the next school year. I guess it make them feel "good", to see others struggle on the verge of disaster like that. 'Cause once that family has "made it", they're 'evil'.

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  29. Very nice article,I enjoy reading this thanks for the share.

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