How much progress have women made since Ann Hopkins?

Published by Jeannie R. Ferrell

Nov 17, 2022


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Featured Case 9.1
Ann Hopkins v. Price Waterhouse: ‘Wear Makeup and Jewelry, Style Your Hair, and Carry a Purse! (Not a Briefcase!)’
Eighteen years after the passage of Title VII of the CRA prohibiting sex discrimination, Ann Hopkins was nominated for partner at Price Waterhouse (PW) accounting and consulting firm. Of the 88 candidates being considered, Ann was the only woman, and only 7 of the approximately 2,600 PW partners worldwide were women. Hopkins, also a wife and mother, had worked for PW for four years, demonstrating excellent performance, successfully managing difficult accounts, and earning more revenue than any of the other candidates being considered for partner that year. Based on her performance, Ann should have been promoted.
However, after consideration by the full partners, forty-seven of the eighty-eight candidates were offered partnerships, twenty-one were rejected, and Hopkins and nineteen others were put “on hold” for possible consideration the next year. Although Hopkins learned that other candidates who had been ranked similarly had been promoted, she continued to work for PW, participating in developmental activities that would ostensibly improve her chances for being made a partner the next year. Thomas Beyer, a partner who had supported her candidacy and considered himself her friend, gave Hopkins some ideas to increase her chances of obtaining partnership in the future. Beyer said she should “soften her image,” curse less, avoid drinking beer at lunch, wear makeup and jewelry, style her hair, and carry a purse instead of a briefcase. In other words, Hopkins was told to act more like a woman.
When it became clear that she would not be nominated for partner the following year, Hopkins left PW, started a management consulting firm, and sued PW for sex discrimination. After many years of judgments and appeals, Hopkins won back pay and a partnership at PW. Hopkins was the first person ever to be admitted to partner by a court order—thus the title of her book on the subject, “So Ordered”. The court stated that for employers to penalize women for behaving aggressively when job requirements necessitate aggressiveness for successful job performance places women in a bind. Such women are “out of a job if they behave aggressively and out of a job if they don’t.”Footnote This influential decision clarified the illegality of using compliance with gender roles in job decisions.
Questions to Consider
1. Instead of telling Hopkins to act more like a woman, what should Beyer have done to address the gender discrimination against her in the candidacy process?
Speculate on the chances Hopkins would have had to make partner had she worn lots of makeup and jewelry and behaved demurely? Had she been promoted in that case, what gendered, sexist ideas may have been offered about why she had been promoted?
Investigate the current proportions of women accountants and partners. How much progress have women made since Ann Hopkins?


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