Business Report

An Opelousas woman who rose to become the executive vice president and treasurer for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reminded Baton Rouge business leaders today that the state’s gender and ethnic pay gaps need to be addressed.

Reiterating numbers that have come up recently in a debate about equal pay, Claire Babineaux-Fontenot reminded the business leaders that black men make 75.1 cents for every dollar a while man makes. She added that Hispanic men make 67.2 cents, white women make 78 cents, black women make 64 cents and Hispanic women make 54 cents for every one dollar earned by a white male.

“There’s clearly a problem,” Babineaux-Fontenot said. “But it isn’t a female problem. It’s not a black problem. It’s not a brown problem. It’s our collective problem.”

Babineaux-Fontenot spoke today at the Cook Hotel and Conference Center as part of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Signature Speaker series. The 52-year-old Opelousas native talked for about 40 minutes about growing up with 107 siblings through birth, adoption and foster care, the pride she feels for graduating from an HBCU, and how unconscious biases affect people every day.

In referencing George Orwell’s 1945 dystopian novel Animal Farm, Babineaux-Fontenot discussed discrimination in the workplace and how some people fail to see themselves as both part of the problem and part of the solution.

She then asked everyone in the audience to stand when she described them in an exercise to show that everyone is discriminated against whether they realize it or not.

Babineaux-Fontenot outlined traits of everyone in the room—baby-faced people, people standing under 6-feet tall, those who have an accent, etc.—before saying each of these groups of people are generally discriminated against, based on scientific studies and surveys. Those discriminations usually amounted to fewer call-backs for a job, making less money and general decreases in household incomes.

“The type of inclusion that catalyzes winning is focused on adding seats to the tables, not removing chairs,” she said. “Executed property, diverse and inclusive teams grow the pie of organizations.”