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Wal-Mart Names Chief of ‘Office of Diversity’

From Reuters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., stung by negative publicity over a massive sex-discrimination lawsuit, said Tuesday that it had opened a new “office of diversity” and named its human resources director to lead it.

The company said Charlyn Jarrells Porter would report to Wal-Mart Vice Chairman Tom Coughlin, who oversees Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores. Porter, an attorney, prosecuted crimes against women and children before joining Wal-Mart 11 years ago.

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. private sector employer, faces what could be the biggest ever sex-discrimination case in California, covering as many as 1.5 million current and former female employees.

The retailer also made headlines recently over a federal roundup of workers suspected of being in the United States illegally, most of them employed by an outside contractor, at some of its stores.

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Porter said the negative publicity had not hurt Wal-Mart’s ability to recruit women and minorities. She said examples of sex discrimination outlined in the lawsuit were “isolated incidents” and repeated Wal-Mart’s assertion that there was no pattern of discrimination.

“We take all of it seriously, and if it’s valid we’ll use it as an opportunity to improve,” she said. “There are numerous groups that don’t want us to succeed for their own reasons.... We keep their comments and actions in perspective.”

Porter said her goals included increasing the pool of qualified diverse candidates and coordinating diversity efforts across the company.

Porter, whose 71-year-old mother recently came out of retirement to be a Wal-Mart greeter, said the retailer’s rapid expansion had made it easier for women to advance.

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For example, Wal-Mart traditionally has moved managers around to different stores across the country to gain experience, a practice that discouraged many women from applying for those jobs. The retailer now has so many stores that managers can get experience without moving, she said.

Still, the overwhelming majority of Wal-Mart store managers are men, a fact that has figured prominently in the sex-discrimination case. Wal-Mart has said the number of men in management positions reflected the higher number of applications it received from men.

Wal-Mart also named Esther Silver-Parker vice president of diversity relations, effective Dec. 1. She is currently AT&T; Corp.'s vice president of corporate affairs.

In July, Wal-Mart broadened its anti-discrimination policy to cover gay and lesbian employees, bringing it in line with most other big U.S. companies.

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