Heather Bussing is a returning contributor to our HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board. Heather has practiced employment and business law for over 20 years. She has represented employers, unions and employees in every aspect of employment and labor law including contract negotiations, discrimination and wage hour issues. While the courtroom is a place she’s very familiar with, her preferred approach to employment law is to prevent problems through early intervention and good policies and agreements. Full bio…
Don’t Be a Drag, Just Be a Queen
by Heather Bussing
Last week in John Sumser’s article HR is Female, these words set off a string of comments by people who were offended.
“Being a fundamentally female function, HR behaves differently than other parts of the organization. It’s more networky and can be nurturing. It’s natural that development is housed here.
The essence of HR might be its ability to make clear judgments about really intangible things like personality, potential and match-making. These are stereotypical female things.”
The more articulate called Sumser sexist. One Facebook commenter referred to him as “a douchey smarmster . . . ick.” However, this isn’t about Sumser. He’s often provocative. But he is generally an equal opportunity offender.
Many women were upset at being called “nurturing” at work. They want you to know that they can handle the union busting men of HR and are really most concerned about the financial bottom line. They are busy managing a business. They are not nurturing.
Would you hire these women as a Vice President of HR? Not without knowing how she deals with people, I hope. You might also want to get a good employment attorney.
The role of women in the workplace has changed a lot in the last 25 years. I started working as a lawyer in 1987 after graduating in the first mostly female class at my law school. The US business world was run by 50 year old white guys. As a young lawyer, I was groped, sexually harassed, brought along to carry papers and look cute, called kiddo, darling and always paid less than my male colleagues. I didn’t have children until my very late 30′s because being a professional and having babies were mutually exclusive.
I’ve worked on many gender discrimination cases, including the executive who was excluded from the management retreat because she couldn’t pee off the side of the boat, and the female prison guard who had suggestive tattoos on her leg—of naked women. I have advised insurance companies, banks, hospitals, garbage companies, sheriff’s departments and local governments about gender discrimination. My clients are CEO’s, business owners and HR Departments. Here’s what I’ve observed about how women and the workplace have changed over the last 20 some years.
- The US business world is still run by 50 year old white guys. But these are not the same 50 year old white guys from 20 years ago. These are the guys I went to college and law school with. They have been working with women for 20 years. They have daughters in college who want to run companies. They usually want the smartest person with the best insight and experience doing the job and they don’t care if that person has a y chromosome or not.
- The current crop of 50 year old white guys was mentored by white guys who were a) in charge; and b) didn’t know how to work with women who weren’t secretaries or personnel managers.
- The current crop of 40-50 year old women worked for the old school 50 year old white guys. We were mentored by women who had to work harder, be smarter and put up with a lot of crap. We learned to fight because we still had to.
Gender discrimination still exists in the workplace, but it’s not the same as it used to be. Women run large and small companies. Women run for president. Women are on the United States Supreme Court. Things have changed a lot.
Women now have the opportunity to be complete assholes, just like men.
But many choose not to. Instead, they bring their stereotypical female traits of compassion, empathy, listening and consensus building to the workplace. These skills are especially useful when working with people who, regardless of gender, need to be heard and appreciated.
It’s ironic, but all the sports analogies are really designed to promote working together toward a common goal and improving communication so that the team is both efficient and effective. Many women already know how to do this—whether or not they played team sports—because that’s how girls play together.
One of my favorite clients manages a medical practice with multiple offices and several different work shifts. She oversees all the HR functions of hiring, discipline, benefits, compliance as well as facilities operations, purchasing new equipment and dealing with the physicians– who are all men. She is brilliant, funny, creative, tough and has a penchant for wild glasses. She understands the bottom line and all the lines in between. And she is both caring and nurturing. She signs her name with her title abbreviation QOE—Queen of Everything.
Women business leaders need to be strong, smart, tough and decisive. This does not preclude being compassionate, caring and nurturing. So perhaps it’s time for women to stop being so defensive and be themselves.
Don’t be a drag, just be a queen. Of everything.