“The Old Boys Club”

In recent days there has been much news about the arrogance of French men and their treatment of women. The most celebrated case occurred in New York where a Frenchman, the former Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) resigned amid rape charges while in France the Junior Minister for Civil Service resigned after being charged with sexual harassment. Now it seems that more women are speaking out in France against “the Old Boys Club” environment that has kept women in their place, subjecting them to sexual harassment and limiting their advancement.

In the mid 1970’s after becoming president of our company’s international division I was unhappy with the performance of our French subsidiary and appointed myself as its president. As I delved into the company’s performance it was clear that certain changes had to be made, including a restructuring of organizational responsibilities and the reassignment of personnel based on merit as opposed to their longevity with the company. One of those changes called for the establishment of a new division and the appointment of the most qualified person to run it—who just happened to be a woman.

No sooner were my plans formulated than a contingent of four senior executives came to see me to explain why I could not appoint this person to that position.

“Has she done something wrong that I’m unaware of?” I asked.

“No,” was the unanimous response.

“Is there something in her work record that makes her unqualified for this position?”

“No,” was again the unanimous response.

“Well, then what is it,” I asked. “Why should she not be promoted to this position?”

Silence descended on the group as they looked from one to the other. Finally one of them said, “Because she’s a woman and in France we don’t put women in those management positions.”

I was momentarily taken aback, which gave the others a chance to reiterate why I should not make such a cardinal sin as appointing a woman to this position.

When they finished, I said, “I hear your complaints but they’re all bullshit. We need the most qualified people to manage this company and as far as I’m concerned she’s one of them. I will give you twenty-four hours to come back to me with a real reason to deny her this promotion or it will become effective.”

No one came back and she was promoted. That was my introduction to male arrogance toward women in France but it was also the last time it was ever an issue in our company. By the way, years later after our company was sold she went on to ever more responsible positions.

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