I spent almost 40 years in corporate America both as an employee and a consultant. I got to make and witness many changes. This story about the ‘good old days’ of the early 1970’s is a lead-in to this week’s Morning Feature series on Angry White Men. (More)
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I started my career at Honeywell as a technical writer, moved to corporate copywriting and then to training and development. I wrote some speeches for corporate executives which gave me a network and an understanding of power and problem solving. To make a very long story short, an old white man decided to replace me with a white man who could ‘deal with’ the executives. He basically upgraded my job from a 7 to a 10 and started looking for “a man with grey hair” to do basically the same job under a different organizational umbrella.
I was not a happy camper. I gathered a group of friends and advisors and plotted my strategy. I wrote a letter to the President and CEO pointing out that the jobs were essentially the same and I already had the job. I made no threats but asked some serious questions about affirmative action and how they expected to make progress with this approach. I do remember a meeting with the Corporate VP of Personnel. During our meeting I saw a picture of his family on the credenza behind him. I asked him, given the circumstances and what he knew, what advice he would give me if I was his daughter. I kept my job, got promoted to a grade 10, got a very sizable raise and learned a lot. I should point out here that my “advisors” included three very progressive white men who were totally supportive and essential to this plan.
In the era before job posting, I and another woman created an after hours training program called “Women in Business.” Think the consciousness raising groups combined with corporate networking and a support group. I heard through the grapevine that some of the executives were worried that I was unionizing the women. I invited some of the execs for whom I had written speeches to come and speak at our last classes. Viola! In no time Gloria and I were invited to speak to the executive committee and I left with a new job to take the program to facilities around the country training trainers to present the course. Big resistance and big success. A woman’s network was born and is still going.
The big resistance came from white men who felt invaded and excluded. I was asked to develop a course for how men and women would work together in this new reality. A great male trainer and I developed a course called “Men and Women Working Together.” I’m sure you can imagine the issues and the agenda. Affirmative action was new. A government contractor needed to comply. Men in the classes needed to understand the law and their new responsibilities. Before men learned appropriate language, there was a lot of raw frustration and anger about these changes. There was more competition, more clarity on job responsibilities, and the end of ‘the good old boys’ network. They were really frustrated. They were vocal. They learned some things but really to take on a new world in 2 days was kind of silly.
I remember Peter and I talking about their reactions. This was 1974. I said, “In time these guys or their replacements are going to be screaming about reverse discrimination. The backlash will be spectacular. People, men, don’t willingly share power.”
Peter said, “But they don’t have any choice.”