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A Pregnant CEO - In Whose Lifetime?

By Lawrence Perlman, Lawrence Perlman is president and CEO of Ceridian Corporation, formerly Control Data Corporation. This piece is excerpted from his keynote speech at a 1992 conference co-sponsored by The Conference Board and The Families and Work Institute. / October 19, 1992



MY daughter recently graduated from college. She looks forward to a career and to children of her own at some point. What makes me angry is that she must seriously consider that when and if she has children, it will have an impact on her career. Some of the men who will make the decisions relating to hiring and promoting her will discriminate against her because she is a woman and has the potential to become a mother.

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This issue is not just a feminist issue, a liberal issue, a fairness issue. Ultimately it is a question of American business competitiveness. To the extent that we in the United States deny women the opportunity to develop in business to their full potential, we are ruling out contributions from some of the most capable people in the work force.

Women, whose contributions are more than equal to those of their male counterparts, still must manage a career, childbearing, and child care with little support from the society and their companies. We should be encouraging men to participate more fully in the care of children and families. Instead, we continue policies that encourage women to drop out of work and men to drop out of family.

Because we see the personal pain created by the recession, some of us tend to look around for someone to blame. So we round up the usual scapegoats - foreign competitors, too much government, or too little government. Even immigrants are back on the list again.

We have to look within our companies and ourselves to identify the problems and find ways to unlock the strengths that will allow us to compete and win. Nowhere is the inadequacy of the American business response to the problems it faces more obvious than in its unwillingness to tap the potential of thousands of talented women who are ready and qualified to step into leadership positions.

I am not suggesting that just having more women in top management will cure all the ills we face, but it will help. Maintaining barriers to women is an example of how we are not playing to our strengths as a nation - one of which is a work force that is flexible, adaptable, and productive.

This lesson is indelibly etched in my memory from an experience I had with a group of workers in a plant in Oklahoma City. We had major quality and cost problems with a component that was assembled in the plant. Some of the managers were considering moving the operation to Asia. Most of the workers were women. Many of them were minorities and single mothers. I very much wanted them to be able to keep their jobs. So we challenged them to come up with a solution in their own way.

We worked with them to organize into teams. They then took over. They found ways to streamline the assembly process. They reduced scrap costs. They asked for and got training so they could maintain and calibrate equipment. They even shopped the malls on weekends to get a better price on Q-Tips than our ace corporate purchasing department could get.

They did a superb job of solving cost and quality problems. Today they are the most competitive supplier in the world of this particular component.