While the furor and threatened boycotts regarding Walmart's very public stand against anti-gay legislation in Arkansas---and generally in other states---aren't going away anytime soon, we are beginning to learn more about what lead to the important decision, like what did a many by the name of Bob Witeck have to do with Doug McMillon's decision?
When Walmart sided with gay rights by saying that Arkansas’s religious freedom reformation act sends the “wrong message”, it surprised many. The nation’s largest employer is more commonly associated with low wages and red-state religious values than with LGBT rights. But in working with Bob Witeck, the DC-based head of the gay and lesbian-focused communications group Witeck Communications, Walmart addressed charges by critics that it ought to put its money where its mouth is, and lobby to avert dangerous anti-gay legislation in its own backyard.
I think the backyard angle was critical here. Walmart might have taken a lower, or no, key approach to the issue in other states (as the company did do in Indiana), but to stand by in the Arkansas just wouldn't do.
An early reason corporate America waded tepidly into these fights was because they “wanted top talent”, which often includes gay executives. After Massachussets made same-sex marriage legal more than a decade ago, it was an outlier to be able to have a recognized gay union. It “didn’t become palpable until the last five years”, Witeck says of corporate America, that they could be losing talent all over the country to queer families who won’t give up their legal protections easily where they have them. Corporate America has, improbably enough, been stepping in as state legislatures roll back rights for LGBT workers in increasingly aggressive ways: the “boldest” move, Witeck notes, was Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff offering employees $50,000 relocation packages to move from Indiana if they feel uncomfortable. But not all LGBT employees, especially Walmart workers who live in Arkansas, are executives who can pick up and move to a new state. Witeck says that when he first started working with corporations on these issues, he had to help them understand LGBT rights don’t affect only gay versions of Don Draper, but “chambermaids”, people for whom English isn’t their first language, and blue-collar workers. Walmart’s workers, gay and straight, are notoriously known to be among the most economically exploited in the nation. Yet Walmart recently announced it is modestly raising its wages, though not by nearly as much as the Fight for $15 would like. Witeck gives Walmart a lot of credit for understanding this “movement among employees about wages and benefits”. Walmart and McDonald’s are moving, if too slowly, to reflect how voters are acting. “There was big support for wage increases everywhere, during an otherwise Republican wave,” he says.
What this fight demonstrates for me is that Walmart will act progressively when to do otherwise costs the company, and shareholders, cash. Don't think for a moment that Walmart is getting all warm and fuzzy, that will never happen, but to bring change to Walmart you have to prove that change means protecting existing, or increasing future, profits. Jeff Hess: Have Coffee Will Write.

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