When I was starting out, women and minorities couldn't get a good job in journalism. Women may have had a few jobs on "women's" pages and minorities got to work in the minority press, but that was about it.
On my college newspaper, I worked for several women who were better than I was: Jeanne, Pat, Shirley. I still remember their names.
But after college, I got the chance to show what I had. They never did.
Today, women sometimes have an advantage. I recall coming up for a big promotion. It would have thrown me into management, the world of decision-making and stock options. But a woman got the job. A couple of years later, when I was quitting that organization, the big boss told me I deserved that job, but they were being sued by the women, and wanted a quick promotion, so, the boss said, they screwed me. He said he was sorry.
At the time, I recalled all the women that never had a chance and told myself it was okay. I still believe that, yes I do.
I believe in affirmative action, which to me means going the extra mile to help someone. When I've been in a position to hire, I went out of my way to look for qualified women and minorities, and I found them.
All this is leading up to the sales/marketing leadership atCorp. There are a lot of women here. Three of the six "divisions" are run by women: Pontiac/GMC, Saturn and Oldsmobile.
In addition, seven of 38 brand managers are women, and 27 of 95 GM assistant brand managers are women. The vehicles with women brand managers include the Chevy S-10, GMC Sonoma, Oldsmobile Bravada, Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Prizm and Tracker, Pontiac Bonneville and Buick Park Avenue.
That's a lot of women in key marketing positions, and I ask myself, "Why?"
I don't question the intelligence and talent of these women. I assume no one gets to those positions unless they are good. The head of Pontiac/GMC, Lynn Myers, is A-No.1, top of the heap and the kind of leader people would follow to hell and back. Cynthia Trudell of Saturn comes out of GM manufacturing, has risen fast and seems to have a lot on the ball.
Karen Francis of Oldsmobile is out of brand marketing at Procter & Gamble. I think some outside thinking is good for a company, and some people I know at Olds say she is terrific.
I'm sure the women brand marketers and assistant brand marketers are good, too. So if everyone is so wonderful, what is the point of this article?
The point is, why did they get these jobs, because there are lots of good people at GM. Women are by no means filling other high-level GM positions in the same kinds of numbers. Why is marketing at GM being feminized?
Some possible reasons:
n These women are the best for the job. A very possible reason.
Still, I recall former GM group vice president John DeLorean saying it was common that promotions went not to the best person, but to the one who would be most indebted to the one who got him the promotion.
n Second, there could be a quota system. The best marketing man I knew at GM left when he didn't get one of the above jobs.
I also know, from 40 years of observing the business world (at The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Forbes magazine), that the typical male executive, when filling slots with women or minorities, often puts them in places he doesn't much care about, like human resources. I'm not saying people in human resources, or other areas that get feminized, aren't excellent people, I'm just saying that they get put there because the boss doesn't care much about the operation. Any of you out there disagree?
n A third possibility involves power - where it is and who has it. Maybe management feels that women will be more compliant, less likely to challenge the direction of the company or the product. That they are grateful for the chance they are getting and less likely to storm into manufacturing and shout, "Get a fourth door on those pickups in six months or I'll kick you down the stairs."
Put it another way: They're throwing the women into combat. With some out-of-date weapons, too (like the S-10 small pickup truck without four doors like the competition), some with little training.
There are going to be casualities. I wish them all luck. O
- Jerry Flint is a former senior editor of and columnist for Forbes magazine