updated 4/20/2007 4:40:56 PM ET 2007-04-20T20:40:56

Management ranks at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. saw modest increases last year in women and minorities, even though they are more abundant in the retailer’s work force than in the population at large, according to figures the company released Friday.

This is just the second year that Wal-Mart, which faces the largest discrimination class-action lawsuit in U.S. history, has publicized its report to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and therefore the first time any changes can be seen.

Compared to the report on 2005, the 2006 numbers showed small increases in the overall presence of minorities and women among Wal-Mart’s 1.35 million U.S. employees.

Women made up 60.9 percent of Wal-Mart’s employees last year, compared to 60.5 percent the year before. Minorities were 33.1 percent versus 31.8 percent, including blacks at 17.5 percent, up from 16.8 percent.

Hispanics accounted for 11.4 percent, compared to 11.2 percent in 2005. The rate for Asians was 3.1 percent versus 2.7 percent in 2005. Native Americans were barely changed at 1.2 percent after 1.1 percent the year before.

Wal-Mart noted there were increases for minorities in all job categories, from clerks and technicians to managers and professionals.

“Wal-Mart continues to be an employer of choice and a leading employer of minorities in the U.S.,” spokeswoman Sarah Clark said. “We are proud of our accomplishments and believe this is a result of our long-standing diversity initiatives and our commitment to diversity. We will continue to work toward becoming an even better corporation in all aspects of our business.”

But Wal-Mart’s union-backed critics called the report “a joke.” They cited the report’s revelation that women made up 39.7 percent of Wal-Mart’s managers and officials last year, compared to 38.8 percent in 2005. Minorities held 23.2 percent of those positions, compared to 21.3 percent the year before.

“Wal-Mart’s own statistics prove what an embarrassing failure its diversity initiatives have been and paint a disturbing picture of how incredibly difficult it still is for women and minority Wal-Mart workers to get ahead,” WakeUpWalMart spokesman Chris Kofinis said.

A religious investor group whose lobbying helped prompt Wal-Mart to start publishing the data said the report showed the company still has room for improvement.

“A corporation of this size should reflect the nation as it exists. It should show the same face,” said Sister Barbara Aires of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of religious investors that advocates for social and environmental causes.

Wal-Mart faces a class-action lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco on behalf of an estimated 1.5 million current and former female employees, alleging women were passed over in favor of men for pay raises and promotions.

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