My, My, How Our Attitudes Haven't Changed
Why I Never Hire Women Under Thirty
The Experiences of a Business Executive
From American Magazine, August 1920
A friend of mine asked me to call to see him on a matter that was important to me, but much more important to him; and after luncheon I stepped into his office. In the outer room a blond young goddess combined the duties of reception clerk and telephone operator. It as in the latter capacity that she was employing herself at the moment of my entry, and while I shifted from one foot to the other in the entry, and while I shifted from one foot to the other the following conversation flowed gn an on, its smooth course interrupted by many a giggle, many a "lissen," and many a "Is that so?"
With a look that said plainly enough, If you haven't any more manners than to stand there listening to a lady's private conversation you ought to be ashamed of yourself," she turned to me, and condescended to report my presence to her employer.
I might conclude.this article right at the beginning by pointing to this blond young goddess and saying, "There is the reason why I hire no woman under thirty;" but that would be less than fair. Not all young women under thirty invest the business hours in personal telephone conversations (though no man ever gets the busy signal in answer to his call without having dark suspicions). I have seen in other men's offices young women who impressed me as exceedingly businesslike and efficient; momentarily I have coveted them. But always there as come up the warning memory of my own experience to halt my covertness. Why take a chance, I have said to myself, when I know that I can avoid trouble by sticking to my rule? So thirty is the minimum mark for women in my employ, and there is no maximum limit. I believe that modern business is overlooking a large and valuable asset in the too common prejudice against the middle-aged woman. Some of the women in my organization are well past their fiftieth year, and they grow more useful every year, so far as I can see. There isn't one of them that I would trade for the most dashing young queen who ever hung up her furs,on an August day, and wished she was in Atlantic City.
If no customer ever says to me, "Joe, I kinda like to come into your office, those girls you got are certainly not hard on the eyes, neither does any customer write to remind me that, "The enclosure mentioned in yours of the 28th inst. was not enclosed." In the long run, I think the ad vantage is on my side; and for certain, very definite, reasons.
The number of women in business was far smaller than at present, when I graduated from law school thirty years ago. The conservative old firm to which I went as a clerk had no single member of the sex in its office. Our letters were dictated to men and copied on a clumsy letter press, the last remaining evidence of the Senior Partner's aversion to typewriters, telephones, and all the modern destroyers of the atmosphere of scholarly research that should characterize the practice of the law.
I shall never forget the sensation that was caused when the Junior Partner one afternoon escorted a lady through the office, introducing her to each of us as Mrs. Peter Campbell, and announcing that she had consented to assist us in the filing of our records.
Mrs. Campbell was a compact, efficient little person of thirty-three whose husband had been suddenly removed by pneumonia. Why she should have chosen our musty establishment as the place for beginning her career, and by what arguments she prevailed upon the sympathies of the Junior Partner I never knew. The simple fact was that she was there, and none of us knew exactly what to do with her.
Our uncertainty was of short duration. There was no nonsense about Mrs. Campbell, very little indeed of the "clinging vine." She was not the kind of person who allows herself to be taught to swim every summer, or pretends, to be more helpless than she is for the sake of exciting the male protective instinct.
We were all inclined at first to treat her with a rather exaggerated chivalry --opening doors for her, hurrying to pick up her pen, and suggesting that she go home early on warm afternoons. She soon made it clear that she wanted none of this. In the black hole of Calcutta where we kept our files, she gradually produced order and cleanliness; without obtruding herself in any way she little by little annexed other simple duties, and one day during the luncheon hour I surprised her in'the act of studying an elementary book of law.
She attempted to slide it under some papers at my approach, and was obviously embarrassed, as a child caught meddling with Father's tools. I pretended not to have seen the book, but the incident caused me to regard Mrs. Campbell thereafter with new interest. I soon discovered that she was reading our correspondence while she filed it; she began to know our clients by name, and they seemed to appreciate her welcome when she chanced to meet them in the reception room.
I found it necessary as the weeks went by to revise my whole thought of woman in an office, so far as Mrs. Campbell was concerned. We had taken her in out of pity, to give her a little breathing spell, a chance to recover her interest in life as one might give shelter to a bird with a broken wing. As soon as her spirits were revived an she had sufficiently replenished her wardrobe, we supposed that of course she would spread her wings and fly away after a new mate. To our surprise she showed every intention of remaining in business for keeps; and by the end of the first six months even the gruff old Senior Partner had to admit that she was more than paying her way.
It was at about this time that she rendered a service that put me permanently in her debt. We were engaged in preparing an important case, and there was one weak link in our testimony. We we needed certain facts that none of our witnesses seemed able to supply. One afternoon while I was puzzling over the matter, she rapped at my door, and entered the room with another woman, whom she introduced as Miss Mason.
"She has some information in the Hawthorne case," Mrs. Campbell announced. "I knew that you would be glad to talk with her."
Before the visitor had spoken a half a dozen sentences I realized that our case was won. I called a stenographer and had her statement reduced to writing. Then, when I was sure we had all the information she could give, and had noted the address at which she could be reached when we needed her, I ushered her out and turned to Mrs. Campbell.
"You're going to make a good lawyer," I said to her.
She smiled. "I don't want to be a lawyer."
"Why not?" I demanded. "When I tell the Old Man what you have done in this case he will be just as pleased as I am. He'll want you to go on with your law i studies; he'll insist on it."
"No, he won't," she laughed. "Because you aren't going to tell him."
"Not tell him? I repeated. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that I want you to have credit for this case all the credit," she answered.
I started to protest, but she interrupted me. "I have figured the thing out, so far as I am concerned," she said firmly. "I like business, but I don't like the law business. I don't think you like it overmuch yourself. You're really a salesman, and you are too fond of administration to stay in a law office forever. Some day you'll get out into business for yourself, and when that time comes I would like to go with you."
There was just the slightest suggestion of embarrassment in her manner, but she went on bravely. Obviously she had thought out this speech and knew exactly how the conversation ought to end. And I was too taken by surprise to interrupt.
"Business is a pretty hard row for a woman who tries to go it all alone," she continued. "We're not pioneers by nature; we are conservers, helpers, assistants. If I stay here in this office, I'll see one youngster after another come in and pass me, because I am not aggressive and they will be; because I need comparatively little in the way of money, and they, for the sake of their pride and their families, must have a great deal. If I set up an office for myself I'll have a lonesome career and the cases that come to me will be those that the men don't want. It is far better for me to make myself invaluable to some man; and, by helping him to build his career, build my own.
It was the most remarkable speech that has ever been business. Set down in black and white it might be capable of misinterpretation. One could easily read into it a note that was not there. Her manner was as matter of fact as though we had been two men together. No element of personal attraction existed between us. We had never seen each other outside the office, but I knew that she understood that I was engaged to be married. She had simply reasoned it out to her own satisfaction that she could travel further in business with a man than she could travel alone; and, by some process of selection, she had picked on me as the man.
That was twenty-six years ago this fall. Until four years ago, when she retired to her little place in the country, Mrs. Campbell was my right-hand man. Her intuition regarding the probable course of my career proved correct. It was only a few months after the conversation just related that I was given the opportunity to reorganize a poor old wreck of a business that had drifted onto our shores. I took her with me. She shared the struggles of the first few years, when we hardly knew from week to week where the payroll money would he found. As the skies brightened for us, they brightened for her, also, so that today she has her own car, her own home, and a comfortable little fortune.
I need not say that she has been worth to the company every cent she has received, and more. She has been more valuable to me than any one man has been, or could have been. Yet a dozen men have passed through our office in these years who are now successfully in business for themselves. She has never been tempted to leave, and in this decision I am sure she has been wise. Her quick intuition and my slower man's judgment have done better for both of us than either of us alone could have done.
4s soon as we were established in our new offices we began experimenting with girls. It was before the days of "employment managers," or such technical terms as "labor turnover." The rule of "hire and fire" was the code under which business was done. But, partly out of curiosity, partly because we suspected it might have some business value, we kept a diary for each girl and woman who entered our employ. We recorded her age, her looks, her coloring, her education and previous training; why she had come to work, and why she left.
After two or three years we began to make up some tables and charts based on the diary, and it didn't take us long thereafter to decide that for our purposes women of mature years represent a far more profitable investment.
In the first place, of course, we found that the older women were much more permanent. To keep five positions filled through the year we had to employ nine or ten girls; but if we limited ourselves to women over thirty we could fill five places, and keep them full, by employing six or seven. The younger girls were quicker to pick up the work, but they were far quicker to pick up and leave. Marriage removed some every year, and temperament removed others. To lose a job meant little in their lives; their fathers or brothers could support them during the period of transition from place to place. A little tiff, a reprimand, a desk where they could not look out of the window, and, presto, they were off to greener fields. It was difficult to build up that elusive asset known as "morale" among them. Their attachment to the concern was very slender, in spite of anything we could do. They were giving us a few hours of their day, a few days of their lives; but the evening hours were far more important in their sight, and the tinted future that lay beyond the job was always more absorbing than the job possibly could be.
Who shall blame them? They were young; and one is young but once.
The older women not only took the job more seriously, but they lost far fewer days from ill health. Middle age dresses to be comfortable; youth dresses to be seen. Middle age eats to be nourished; youth eats for the joy of eating. An office employing fifty girls will have some absent almost every day.
The telephone rings at a few minutes before nine, and Mamieís mother speaks:
"Mamie will not be at the office today. She has a sick headache.... No, not serious. She will be all right to-morrow, but she must stay in bed to-day."
You find on investigation that Mamie left the office a half-hour early the preceding afternoon, and left in high spirits at that. You suspect that the dance was a little more than was good for Mamie, but you can't do anything about it. And for !hat day the office is slowed up in so far as its operations are dependent upon Mamie.
Men and women both tend to harden physically as they pass thirty. The body has become accustomed to the demands of routine; it is trained to its task like a machine. At the time when we were making in our studies, the science of labor costs had not been developed. No rnanufacturer knew what it cost him to hire a new employee, and train him or her; nor how much was lost by a day's absence on the part of an employee. Too few have any definite data on the subject even now. But we have figured in our plant that the older women are -worth at least twenty- two thousand dollars a year to us more than the same number of girls simply because they come with the idea of staying, and can be depended on to work as many days a year as a man. That twenty-two thousand dollars, by the way, goes into a special pension fund which we have established for our women workers. We believe that any woman who gives us the active years of her life has a right to expect that she will be protected from any fear of want or helplessness in her old age.
The second thing which we discovered very early was that the older women got on together with far less friction. That bitter old pessimist Schopenhauer is hardly to be taken seriously in his comment on women; but he does make a point in which there is a modicum of truth. Men, he says, get on together because of a certain impersonality in their relationships. Women, young women at least, cannot achieve that indifference in their attitude, and for the very good reason that there is always between them a certain "trade jealousy." No matter what their business positions may be, their real trade, says Schopenhauer, is the same, -- namely, marriage. Consciously or unconsciously they are all in competition, all measuring themselves one against the other; and that underlying element of rivalry tinctures all their thought.
I can well anticipate the storm of protest that will go up from some of my readers at that paragraph; but the fact remains that among our younger girls there were constant misunderstandings, petty feuds of one sort and another, hot words and tears. The older women had learned, as all of us must, that life is made up of give and take; that we are all more or less irritating to each other and need a world of tolerance and sympathy and forbearance in our contacts. Some of them had been married; some had put the thought of marriage out of their minds. All had experienced that taste of suffering, at least, which is necessary to make us really mature.
No man would want to risk his life by asserting that the American girl is brought up with more of privilege and deference than is really good for her. Even if that were true, perhaps a little special privilege was coming to the sex; life was certainly a hard, drab experience for women until a comparatively short time ago. William Hard, in his book "The Women of To-morrow" has compiled the marriage records of the early graduates of Harvard and Yale. Take these figures for example:
Marry, bear children, and die -- that was the rule of women's lives, even among the best of our own ancestors. If girls are now being spoiled a bit, perhaps, as I say, the sex is entitled to it.
Yet it is rather hard for business to have to teach girls so many of the simple things which ought to have been taught them at home. For Business is forever in a hurry, and too often has no time to be kind.
Our older women had already learned the simple rules of the game of life. They had got over expecting to be treated always as queens. They knew that every human being must pull his or her own weight in the boat. They asked men to treat them with justice, and nothing more; and men were willing to deal on that basis with them.
But to find a man who will correct or reprove a young and pretty girt is almost impossible. He will hold an older woman to her task, even as he expects his own wife to perform her duties well. But he cannot stand tears of self-pity in the eyes of a girl. He will spoil a pretty stenographer in the office just as he spoils his daughter at home.
The bane of business is the monotonous, routine job. Men hate monotony; young girls hate it, too. We found that to put a young girl at a routine task meant one of two things: either she would force herself out of it into something better -- not so much from ambition as from sheer hatred of the drudgery -- or she would settle down into it and do it inefficiently. An older woman, on the other hand, has a certain pride in doing even a commonplace thing well. She makes an art of so simple a task as filing letters; she keeps her corner of the office as neat as her married sister keeps the kitchen. The maternal instinct in her that makes another woman content to spend all day in the petty business of amusing a sick child keeps her satisfied with an unvarying round of little things.
The monotonous tasks of business have to be done: no office can be organized in a way to obviate them entirely. The older women do them well; and we try to reward their faithful performance with something more than merely a wage.
I have referred once before to the pension fund which we maintain for our women employees. Each year the corporation draws a generous check to that fund -- yet we figure that those checks represent no charity on our part. They cover merely what the older women have saved to us; first, by their habit of permanence and of steady work; and, second, by the instinct for economy that is bred in every woman who has done work about a house.
A woman who has made soup out of a bone, knows that scratch paper can be made out of old envelopes instead of the firm's embossed stationery. A woman who has paid a bill for the telephone at her house knows that it costs money to make telephone calls, and doesn't make them unnecessarily. She doesn't leave the electric light burning in the office when she goes home at night; she doesn't overlook the cash discount that can be earned by paying a bill promptly, just because the amount is small. In a thousand and one ways the saving habit that her home life has bred manifests itself in her office experience -- and the total of those little savings mounts into figures that are very large.
A good deal of tommyrot has been written, I think, on the subject of woman's instinct. Enthusiasts have talked as though every female child, at birth, were endowed with some sixth sense that would forever be more trustworthy than any man's developed judgment possibly could be. As a matter of fact, womanís instinct, according to my observation, is a quality very like man's judgment in two particulars: In the first place, few women gave it -- as comparatively few men have judgment -- and in the second place it is an acquired asset that comes only with years.
Mrs. Campbell, to whom I have already referred, used to amaze me with her penetrating comments on men and affairs. For years, I never made an important decision without giving myself the benefit of her incisive reactions; and usually I arrived by the slower path of man's calculations at the same point to which her quicker instinct had taken her in advance. But no other woman of my acquaintance has the same capacity for being right; and even with her it was a development. She was a far more trustworthy guide in her later years than she had been at first. Most women are, l believe.
As for the girls, their vaunted "instinct" was nothing more than what, in men, we call "playing a hunch." A substitute for thinking; an unwillingness to weigh the facts; an easy assumption that it's better to act quickly and be right fifty-one per cent of the time than to wait and work and decide. For that sort of instinct I care little. But I do think that business has sacrificed a great deal in being so willing to pay for the youth of women, and so slow to appreciate the value that lies in the "feminine instinct" when it has been matured and trained by the experience of years. It is as if we paid only for the muscles of men; and discarded them at the very period when they were beginning to be ripest and most dependable in judgment.
Because they are steadier; because they are healthier; because they work with less friction; because they are less restless under monotony; because they do not ask for special favors, these are some of the reasons why we employ only women of thirty or more. And there is another reason, that lies rather in the realm of sentiment than of business. No employer likes to lose an efficient employee; and yet every employer ought to hope that every young woman who works for him will be lost to him -- will leave as soon as possible for a business of her own.
I don't want to have on my conscience the lives of any girls who might have been married if I had not made our office such an attractive place to work. Even though a girl's marriage is not altogether happy; even though she has to come back to the office to work again, as many do; it is still better for her to have been married unhappily than never to have married at all. It is the great experience in life; and we have life only once. That it should always end ideally is impossible; but that is no reason why anyone, with any adventure in his or her soul, should shrink from it.
Few men place a higher value than I upon the value of women's services in business-as I hope this article proves. But I am old-fashioned enough to believe that business should have the second, not the first, claim upon the women of the world. It should be content, as our business is content, to take those who for one reason or another have passed by marriage or have lost their men, or have found it necessary to supplement the income of the household. It should not seek an equal place with marriage in womenís eyes as a career.
Too many of our present troubles are due, I think, to the fact that the home is falling down on its job. We expect the school and the church and the Sunday school to do what the parents once did and these outside institutions cannot, and never will he able to, meet that sort of demand. We need to put a higher, not a lower, value on the supreme importance of the work that women do at home. Monotonous as it often is, filled with petty detail, it is nonetheless the most important business in the world.
So it is that only women who have not made a definite, full-time place for themselves in that more important business can work in our business. We do not compete with the home: we give love and marriage the ten years between twenty and thirty without reserve. At thirty, and after, we bid for women's services; and never, under any circumstances, before.
My Six Rules For Hiring Women
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