01 Dec 2012

An Advocate for Women's Equality

Re: Fred Malek (MBA 1964)


When Barbara Hackman Franklin (HRPBA 1963, MBA 1964) was appointed to recruit women for leadership positions in the Nixon administration, there was a problem right from the start: her title. That Franklin was "staff assistant to the president for executive manpower" was an irony not lost on many, including herself. Manpower? As she answered a press inquiry about the title at her introduction, "This is a good question with no good answer." Franklin's story as a pioneer in the women's equality movement is detailed in the recent book A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and a Few Good Women (Penn State University Libraries), written by Lee Stout.

Nixon's advocacy of women's issues, often at odds with his own staff, is not well known. For starters, in 1969 Nixon established the groundbreaking Task Force on Women's Rights and Responsibilities. That body's recommendations, included in its "A Matter of Simple Justice" report, was a blueprint for working toward gender equality in the White House and beyond the Beltway.

Franklin was a key player, leaving her executive position at First National City Bank to work to put more women in leadership roles and to serve as a spokesperson on women's issues. Even with Nixon's backing, significant pressure against her came from inside the administration. For example, Chuck Colson, special counsel to the President, wrote a memo to Franklin's boss, Fred Malek, who was her MBA classmate, saying she was "getting a little out of hand and why didn't he shut her up," Franklin remembers. Malek "just sent it to me with an 'FYI.' So in effect, I was doing my job better than some people wanted it done."

Despite the obstacles, Franklin and her cohorts proved extremely successful. In 1972, a year after her arrival, the number of women in policymaking positions had increased from 36 to 105. More than 1,000 women were placed in midlevel positions and 330 more appointed to boards and commissions. The first six women generals in the armed forces came at this time. On the policy side, Nixon's Labor Department enforced new requirements for contractors to hire and promote women; conducted compliance reviews of universities; and gave the Equal Opportunity Commission enforcement powers to pursue sex discrimination cases.

Two years after her appointment, Franklin left the White House to become vice chair of the Consumer Product Safety Commission; later she would serve as US Secretary of Commerce and form a business consultancy. By the time she left government, writes Stout, "a fundamental change had occurred in...the work of government and...the attitudes of those who practiced those skills of public administration and politics." Changes still to come would be authored by women whom Franklin recruited to public service. —SEAN SILVERTHORNE

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1964, Section K

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