Blonde HR professionals: The chosen ones?

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The HR online community has been ignited after a salacious post on well-known blog suggested young blonde HR pros are being given senior roles by CEOs as they don’t have the experience to challenge them.

The post on Up the Down Escalator, by Richard Westney, head of HR Australasia for FNZ, was inspired by a conversation Westney had with Angela Atkins, Elephant Training & HR general manager. According to Westney, Atkins said “we have to get the business to want HR to deliver and know what to ask for. Too many CEOs still hire young blonde girls into HRM/HRD roles because they don’t have the experience to challenge them.”

While acknowledging it’s a provocative statement, Westney wrote it was “more than a grain of truth”

“I have seen a few junior colleagues over the years go off into sole charge roles, working for a CEO or CFO when they are still a little wet behind the ears and perhaps have only a year or two of experience,” he wrote.

Atkins, who contributed to the blog, wrote that she herself was a young blonde female appointed to an HR manager role that she wasn’t qualified for.  She believes she was hired because the “CEO didn’t want someone who would challenge him and wanted to pay half the salary the role was worth. I saw the other candidates’ applications. Most were men. All had 10 years+ HR experience on me”.

Atkins added that while they are great roles to learn from, but at what cost to the business?

Westney adds the debate is not about attacking the young, usually female HR practitioners that are appointed to roles that are not equipped to do, it is aboutCEOs and other business leaders who want a nice compliant HR function that asks few questions, challenges few assumptions and just makes sure people get paid on time”.

The blog has struck a chord among HR professionals.  Amanda Sterling, who wrote her own blog post in response entitled, “Just because I’m young, blonde and quiet doesn’t mean I’m stupid”,  posted that the generalization of blondes made her mad, and it discredits those “who have a brain”.

“CEOs want to hire the young, inexperienced who don’t challenge. Well they also don’t take seriously those who are young, blonde, intelligent and do challenge,” she wrote.

“Can I introduce another angle to this too? You don’t have to be loud and out there to be assertive. It seems like a curve ball but ‘young, blonde, nice’ seems to equal ‘inexperienced, dumb, pushover’. What about considering individual differences, strengths and their contribution to productivity?” she added.
David D’Souza added that he didn’t think it was fair to assert CEOs want to hire young people who won’t challenge. Instead he suggests they want to hire people that make them feel successful - “being in charge of beautiful young people really helps them feel like a success”. He explores this take more in his own blog in a post called "Sexy women of HR – post implementation review."

Another reader commented that the issue wasn’t about gender and that it goes back to the issue of HR having to “fight for a seat at the table”.
Do you agree with the viewpoints expressed by Westney and Atkins? Let us know your thoughts below.
  • Kathleen on 4/30/2014 11:45:08 AM

    I worked with a CEO that loved to say at the beginning of every meeting "I want you to push back on me" when in reality it was propaganda! I knew if I pushed back it would be career suicide. One day I took that leap and he was ranting about an org chart not represented by circles and he wanted to see circles, which he proceeded to draw the same as I presented (only with his circles) and I asked "in the end isn't it the same?". The barrage that followed was confirmation that he was not a true leader and I knew I could not work for him or the organization that supported his bullying tactics!

  • Patricia Ferry on 4/30/2014 10:05:30 AM

    On one hand, I can't believe I am responding to this thread but, on the other hand, I have seen it happen time and time again. Not just CEOs but anyone in a leadership position who is neither a leader or a great business person who has the emotional intelligence of a knat and actually believes, it will make them look good to surround themselves with people who are not the best and brightest. Loser leaders as I call them who believe having a team of good looking yes men and women at their beck and call makes them appear smarter or with it or savvy. It is unfortunate that this loser leader rose to the level where they can make such stupid decision but there you have it. Human Resources is a critical function in any organization and at times, it is necessary to go up against a leader for the good of the company and sometimes for the good of an individual or a group. If that isn't happening, the company suffers. And we haven't even addressed the issue of diversity and the hopes of anyone who doesn't fit the pretty young thing mold. Most "young blonde women" are not people of color, people of a certain age or men in general. And it also degrades brainy young blonde women who might think they won't get the opportunity because of how they look. It is ridiculous but it is reality. So, HR leaders of the world, make sure your organization has some logical controls in place so that this won't happen because your leaders are smart, and understand that leading requires followers and challengers alike.

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