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Employment and Jobs

Still Broke: Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism — A Book Talk and Panel Conversation

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About this Event

Most households in the US primarily support themselves through the income they earn from work. As a result, businesses have a significant influence on the economic security and opportunities for economic advancement available to individuals, families, and communities across the US. Often issues of wages and working conditions experienced by working people are framed in business discussions as a function of market conditions and considered separately from issues of household or community well-being, but in recent years more companies have been exploring the intersection and explicitly considering worker well-being as part of a new approach to business, sometimes termed conscious capitalism. As part of this trend, the Business Roundtable in 2019 overturned the two-decade statement that stated a corporation’s principal purpose was to maximize shareholder returns and wrote a new statement that corporations should also deliver value not only to shareholders, but also to customers, communities, and — importantly — their employees, thus resulting in long-term prosperity for both business and society.

In his latest book, “Still Broke: Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism,” Rick Wartzman considers the experience and history of Walmart moving towards a more conscious capitalism and the recent efforts the company has made to provide higher wages and better benefits and opportunities for their employees. The book raises important questions about how much an individual company can do on its own to improve the quality of jobs and people’s ability to earn a living through their work, the degree to which business imperatives encourage companies to improve jobs and when those incentives conflict with that goal, and whether public sector action, either through labor market regulation or the provision of social supports, needs to be strengthened to ensure work in today’s economy is contributing to an inclusive economy in which all can thrive.

On March 30, 2023, the Aspen Institute Economic Opportunities Program hosted a book talk that explored these questions and more. Please enjoy this conversation featuring Rick Wartzman (Bendable Labs), Byron Auguste (Opportunity@Work), Julie Gehrki (Walmart), and moderator Maureen Conway (The Aspen Institute).


I enjoyed hearing @RWartzman (@BendableLabs), @byron_auguste (@OpptyatWork), @jgehrk (@WalmartOrg), and @conway_maureen (@AspenJobQuality) #talkopportunity about the limits of socially conscious capitalism. Watch and learn more.

Video: @Walmart’s Transformation and the Limits of Conscious Capitalism. Featuring @RWartzman (@BendableLabs), @byron_auguste (@OpptyatWork), @jgehrk (@Walmartorg), and @conway_maureen. Hosted by @AspenJobQuality.

In his latest book, @RWartzman (@BendableLabs) considers the experience and history of @Walmart moving toward a more conscious capitalism. Learn more from Rick and others in this video by @AspenJobQuality.

Work must contribute to an inclusive economy in which all can thrive. Do we need stronger public action to make that happen? Hear @RWartzman, @byron_auguste, @jgehrk, and @conway_maureen #talkopportunity with @AspenJobQuality.

Through “conscious capitalism,” companies are exploring the intersection of wages, working conditions, and worker well-being. What can we learn from their experience? Find out in this event by @AspenJobQuality.


Photo of Byron Auguste

Byron Auguste @byron_auguste
CEO and Co-Founder, Opportunity@Work @OpptyatWork

Byron Auguste is the CEO and co-founder of Opportunity@Work, whose mission is to rewire the labor market so that the 70-plus million STARs – US workers who are Skilled Through Alternative Routes, rather than through bachelor’s degrees – can work, learn, and earn to their full potential.

Prior to co-founding Opportunity@Work, Byron served for two years in the White House as deputy assistant to the president for economic policy and deputy director of the National Economic Council, where his policy portfolio included job creation and labor markets, skills and workforce policies, innovation, investment, infrastructure, transportation, and goods movement.

Until 2013, Byron was a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in Washington DC and in Los Angeles, where he was elected principal in 1999 and director in 2005. Over 20 years at McKinsey, he worked primarily in the fields of technology and communications, information and media, services-based businesses, education, economic development, and innovation, leading McKinsey’s High Tech Services sector from 2002 to 2006, and its global Social Sector from 2007 to 2012.


Photo of Julie Gehrki

Julie Gehrki @jgehrk
Vice President of Philanthropy, Walmart @WalmartOrg

Julie leads programs that help create economic opportunity, advance long-term environmental sustainability, strengthen local communities, and accelerate racial equity. In fiscal year 2022, Walmart and the Walmart Foundation awarded more than $1.5 billion in cash and in-kind donations globally.

Walmart and the Walmart Foundation take a shared value approach to their strategy to create significant and lasting improvements in the global and local systems that are relevant for their business. This includes a whole-system, multistakeholder effort to address the drivers of systemic racism in society and accelerate change through the Center for Racial Equity, established in 2020.

Julie joined Walmart in 2008, and prior to that she worked in the nonprofit community on issues of anti-racism, homelessness, and community revitalization.  Internationally, she has done program evaluation in Kenya and Tanzania and taught English in Eastern Europe.

Julie has a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Rhodes College and a Master of Arts in Public Service from the Clinton School of Public Service.  She was a Jane Addams-Andrew Carnegie Fellow at Indiana University’s School of Philanthropy.


Photo of Rick Wartzman

Rick Wartzman @RWartzman
Co-President, Bendable Labs @BendableLabs

Rick Wartzman is co-president of Bendable Labs, a technology, consulting, and research firm that builds and tests social innovations in the areas of lifelong learning, workforce development, and job quality.

Rick’s five books on the intersection of business and society include his latest, “Still Broke: Walmart’s Remarkable Transformation and the Limits of Socially Conscious Capitalism;” “The End of Loyalty: The Rise and Fall of Good Jobs in America,” which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in current interest and named one of the best books of 2017 by strategy+business; “Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath,” which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history and a PEN USA Literary Award; and “The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire,” co-authored with Mark Arax, which won a California Book Award and the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

Before co-founding Bendable Labs in 2023, Rick spent 15 years at the Drucker Institute, where he was the founding executive director. He advised California State Controller Betty Yee on job quality metrics and has spoken about workforce-related topics at the Aspen Institute, Brookings Institution, Harvard University’s Trade Union Program, the California Future of Work Commission, and other venues. Rick serves on the boards of the progressive publication “Capital & Main” and the employee benefit corporation California Harvesters, and he is a fellow at the Burning Glass Institute.



Maureen Conway

Maureen Conway @conway_maureen
Vice President, The Aspen Institute; Executive Director, Economic Opportunities Program @AspenJobQuality

Maureen Conway serves as vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Institute’s Economic Opportunities Program (EOP), which works to expand individuals’ opportunities to connect to quality work, start businesses, and build economic stability that provides the freedom to pursue opportunity. Maureen founded EOP’s Workforce Strategies Initiative and has headed up workforce research at the Aspen Institute since 1999. Maureen also curates a public discussion series at the Aspen Institute, Opportunity in America, which brings together voices from business, labor, policy, human services, media, academia, and others to discuss the challenges experienced by many in today’s labor markets and new ideas for addressing these challenges. In addition, Maureen oversees EOP’s leadership development programs, which connect innovators, both within communities and from across the country, to peers working to help low- and moderate-income Americans access opportunity. Read Maureen’s full bio.

Opportunity in America

Opportunity in America, an event series hosted by the Economic Opportunities Program, considers the changing landscape of economic opportunity in the US and implications for individuals, families, and communities across the country. The series highlights the ways in which issues of race, gender, and place exacerbate our economic divides, and ideas and innovations with potential to address these challenges and broaden access to quality opportunity.

We are grateful to Prudential Financial, the Surdna Foundation, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, Bloomberg, and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth for their support of this series.

Learn More

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

Event information
Thu Mar 30, 2023
12:15pm - 1:30pm EDT
The Aspen Institute
2300 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20037