Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Walmart - jobs for the girls

Walmart found itself at the centre of an equal pay scandal yesterday, with six plaintiffs vying at the Supreme Court to allow the case to be heard as a class action, ie an "institutional gender discrimination" case involving over a million female employees.  I had heard about this on the radio and was awaiting the results with interest.  

Meanwhile, I was in a grump with the dog yesterday morning because he had attacked a tiny spaniel the night before.   Tock had walked past me, around my bike and past another large husky who we'd been walking with, in order to pick a fight with the tiniest, most timid dog you can imagine.  The little spaniel was so scared that he pee'd himself while the owner was screaming hysterically at me to get my dog off.  Tock did not obey me (surprise!) and ignored me yanking his choke chain.  In the end the other husky's owner intervened, pulling my angry beast upwards by the scruff of his neck.  I was horrified and embarrassed by what had happened.  I phoned the spaniel's owner later on and she told me that the little guy was ok; scared but not hurt.  She was very understanding about Tock being adopted and still getting used to city dogs.  Still, I was angry with myself for letting Tock get into that situation and so it took a lot to get me out the door the following day for his morning walk.  I also wanted to take Tock on a different route to avoid the poor little spaniel, so we swung by the Capitol and the clever husky dragged me right past the the Supreme Court just in time to see the BBC's Washington correspondent, Rajini Vaidyanatha wrapping up her broadcast, and take the photo above.

It was a surprising example of how my dog makes good things happen.  He forces me to go outside when I'd just like to curl up in a ball and sleep.  He drags me to new places (mainly pubs - good boy!)  He exercises me more reliably than any gym membership and he occasionally deigns to obey instructions in return for food. He's not perfect:  he is dog-aggressive and human-demanding.  Stubborn and disobedient (if my dog had a bumper sticker, it'd say: "I sit for belly rubs").  But I have to keep reminding myself that he is wonderful in ways I rarely notice.  Training my dog positively means rewarding positive behaviour only.  The debate rages on whether good teaching also requires rewarding the absence of negative behaviour.  Tock's lack of barking, his ability to sleep in until 9.30am without a pee break, his respect for barriers both visible and invisible and the way he now quietly sleeps through evenings while Hank and I go out; these things cannot be rewarded because the dog would have no idea what absence we were rewarding him for.   Moreover, they are things which every dog should just DO.

My reward system is the opposite of the career development system alleged to have existed in Walmart.  If the world's largest retailer truly did reward men with promotion because they had families to support and were doing not a bad job, while ignoring women who had families and were doing a better job, what did they expect this would do to their profits?  If the complaints being made against Walmart are true, they may well be about to find out the hard way, that reinforcing ONLY positive behaviour really is the best way to develop your team.  

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