Blonde HR professionals: The chosen ones?

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The HR blogosphere has been ignited after a post on well-known blog, Up the Down Escalator, by Richard Westney, suggested young blonde HR are being given senior roles by CEOs as they don’t have the experience to challenge them.

The blog post, entitled CEO’s prefer blondes, was inspired by a conversation Westney had with Angela Atkins, Elephant Training & HR general manager in which 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 about “CEOs 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 generalisaton 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 The sexy women of HR.

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.
  • Terry McCaul on 2/05/2014 5:14:20 p.m.

    I agree completely with the viewpoints expressed by Westney and Atkins and awesome that they have done so. I think people who have seen this shouldn't get too upset by the blonde reference. The point is well made though and I can say from personal experience that it does have a lot to do about gender. That, and the ego mixed with CE incompetence is unfortunately what makes it so hard to achieve true diversity in business.

  • Ashley on 30/04/2014 3:42:06 p.m.

    I strongly disagree with Westney’s views. I am in a sole charge role and I guess I would fall under his description of “still a little wet behind the ears and perhaps have only a year or two of experience” and “young blonde girl”. I have to admit when I started out in the sole charge role I was quite over whelmed and I often thought I may have bitten off more than I can chew, but I can honestly say that if you ask the CFO and CEO I definitely challenge them on a regular basis. During the interview process their expectations of what the business need from HR and my experience matched up. The Senior Management team have been very supportive in my development and it has been an amazing but steep learning curve. Whilst I may not have a large amount of practical experience under my belt and may have to ask a question from time to time, I have brought a fresh and perhaps a more up to date view of HR which is reflected in the polices and systems I have been able to implement. Whilst in my previous role for those sticky situations, having a manager at hand to ask was great, but working for perhaps a HR practitioner that has been in the industry for a while, made me lose sight of the sparkle that initially attracted me to the world of HR. Taking this sole charge role has been the making of me. Whilst the sink or swim approach may not work for all people, following a rigorous recruitment process, for those ambitious ‘young blonde girls’ a sole charge role can be the best way to sky rocket to the top and inject a little life back into some of the HR ways. And what does being blonde have to do with anything?!

  • Troy on 30/04/2014 2:21:16 p.m.

    Westney's view confirm the stereo typical view of his industry - arrogant oafs who profess to be HR seniors who actually employed these blondes suggesting, one would therefore think, that he saw value in them. Why did they leave I wonder?

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