Reflections from an 84 Year Old Feminist:  BLATANT HIRING DISCRIMINATION

This is Part 2 of a four-part series.  In the first part of this series (blatant discrimination), I discussed historically how men have been promoted instead of well qualified women and how gender biases still plays a role in today’s workplace. Additionally, we highlighted how some male leaders may be oblivious to “promotion blind spots” in their organization and why women feel discriminated against when they are not selected for opportunities with more responsibilities.  You can read part three and part four of this series as well.  

Why More Women Are Not Being Hired For Jobs Traditionally Held By Men

Historical Perspective of Hiring Discrimination from 1963:  The next chapter in my feminist education came in 1963 when I started my own Employment Agency. A big focus of our agency was recruiting for sales and entry-level manager training positions. To my amazement, I found myself constantly challenging sales managers who obviously discriminated against hiring female college graduates for sales jobs. I kept asking them, “Why?”:

  • Why does Playtex only hire men to sell women’s bras?
  • Why does Hallmark only hire men to sell greeting cards?
  • Why does Scott Paper hire only men to sell toilet tissues?

Their answer always was, “We have always done it that way!”  What is seemingly idiotic now, was actually quite normal back then.  Men predominately held the sales jobs – even for products for women or predominately purchased by women.

One of the first companies to break this discriminatory cycle was Hanes Hosiery. They began to hire women to call on grocery stores and stock their racks with women’s hosiery (products not normally sold by a grocer at that time). These women were paid a reasonable salary and given a panel truck to use for their job.  It was an incredible advancement!

My battle with other sales organizations continued for years.  Eventually, sales managers realized that, if given a chance, many of the women worked harder and out produced their male counterparts. Unfortunately, what they also soon realized they could also pay them less money than their male counterparts, too.  In their eyes, it was a perfect business solution – better productivity and better outcomes, at lower wages.  Genius!  This experience was my earliest education of pay inequity – realizing that women were doing equal or better work than men, but getting paid exponentially less.  Women have not only faced hiring discrimination, but even when hired they’ve then faced pay inequity for as long as I can remember.

When I First Learned I Was A Feminist

In 1964, a woman in our office invited me to a Women in Business (WIB) luncheon. She told me I was getting an award for my efforts to get women hired in jobs traditionally held by men. I wasn’t aware of the WIB organization, let alone the award. I was just doing what I believed was right – and what made good business sense – I wasn’t looking for a trophy or even recognition.  There, I learned even more about the hiring discrimination women faced during that time.  I was honored to be recognized as a Male Feminist or what we now call a “male ally”, yet I still did not fully understand the significance and importance of the feminist movement.

Fast Forward 60 Years – Hiring Progress to be Celebrated

It may have taken 60-years, but we can celebrate a lot of success as a result of the feminist movement(s) and their impact on more non-discriminatory hiring.

  • Playtex no longer requires that only a man could be hired to sell bras!!
  • Today, there is an increasing number of women who are leading major corporations and college; are being hired for C level jobs; and/or are running their own businesses.
  • Virtually every organization strives to be a great place to work and has some training that relates to gender bias and how it applies to hiring.
  • Organizations who have a good balance of women in leadership roles are outperforming their competitors who are predominantly led by men.


The Bad – Hiring Women -Problems Still Exist – It Is Just More Subtle

“Hiring Blind Spots”: Most senior managers report their organizations are a great place to work but when it comes to hiring women, it is my experience that they have some “Hiring Blind Spots” of which they are not aware. They can’t fix a problem they do not know exists. The following are a few examples.

  • Excuse – Pool of Candidates: I hear HR and hiring managers say, “We posted this job and most of our candidates are men. We just did not have a large enough pool of female candidates to consider for this position. Keeping this position open until we find a woman is very costly to the organization, so we hired the best person for that role. It just happened to be a white man.”
  • Excuse – Pool of Industry Specific Candidates; Some industries such as construction, science, engineering, IT and others have less women focusing their educations on these technical fields of study. My experience is that senior managers would like to address the issue but do not know how. Other that some superficial attempts at campus recruiting or hiring a token intern, few have specific gender balance goals or someone accountable for their achievement.
  • Excuse – No Qualified Internal Candidates: Women who are not proactive in applying for posted jobs, are often overlooked. It is my experience that some supervisors use the excuse – “She does not meet ALL of the requirements…she is ‘not quite ready for the job’. This indicates a weakness in the organization’s ability to identify internal talent or willingness to provide them with the coaching they need to be successful, even when they are not a perfect fit.


Immediate Solutions: 60 years ago, I “pushed” sales managers to hire women. Today I am still championing gender balance initiatives, except my efforts are now directed at executives. If we are going to achieve gender balance goals quickly:

  • It Starts At The Top: If an organization is going to be a great place for women to work, executive leadership, men and women, must be consistently engaged in the strategic planning and execution of these initiatives. It starts with sourcing the best and brightest women wherever they are.
  • Metrics and Performance Bonus – Top management must set gender balance goals for both recruiters and managers at every level. From my perspective, the best way to hold them accountable is to tie part of their annual bonus to achieving gender bias goals! If top management does not measure it, they can’t manage success.
  • Teach Women To Take Ownership For Their Own Careers – To Be Their Own Advocate. Most bosses have little time to sit down and learn about a woman’s career goals or work life balance needs; or to develop and carry out specific leadership development programs that will prepare that person to assume more responsibility. The solution -enroll them in “How To Take Ownership For Your Own Career” programs to help fill that void.

What do we do about it? How do we make progress towards gender equity faster? I am certain, if you are reading this article, that you care about the topic. In retrospect, we have made a lot of progress overcoming discriminatory hiring practices but much more needs to be done.  A first steps of the solution is to budget a survey to determine if “gender blind spots” in your organization that are occurring unnoticed by top management’s. It’s critical that you KNOW if these issues are occurring in your organization without your awareness or knowledge. The best one I have seen has been developed by Jessica Gendron and her team at The Center for Leadership Excellence.  Visit their web site

Next Topic: In the Part Three part of this blog series, I will discuss Why Women Don’t Have Workplace Equality.

Bio: Richard Butz is founder of The Center For Leadership Excellence whose mission is “Making Indy A Great Place For Women To Work” He has been recognized as a pioneer and a passionate advocate for gender balance and gender equity in business for over four decades.

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