Harley Earl was First to Create Better Paying Jobs for Women In Detroit
Truth be told, many women have struggled to find encouraging male role models they could truly identify with, over the last half century, in the world of big business. Well, when inequality reigned in the 1950s, along came a giant "advocate of women's rights in the auto industry", as stated in the Women Designers Plot Style Revolution newspaper article featured further down.
Harley Earl was proactive in combating sexual discrimination and went way out on a limb creating the first prominent all-female design team in America's mid-twentieth century business world. Another article below titled Designing Women, demonstrates the bold new direction Detroit's auto world was supposed to go in, "I believe the future for qualified women automotive designers is virtually unlimited. In fact, I think that in three or four years women will be designing entire automobiles" said Harley Earl.
But, just as Harley's longtime friend and business associate made painfully clear to a reporter in 1951, "The price of progress is trouble!" said Charles E. Wilson, who after being president of GM served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1953 to 1957 under President Eisenhower.
Once GM's leading artist-engineer Harley Earl saw the future and put women designers alongside his "all-male" car designers, you could just sit back and watch the feathers fly, but the end results quickly proved to be groundbreaking, controversial and extremely successful. Mr. Earl's new credo of establishing a brash new "think equal" team concept inside his Styling Section division at GM, the world's largest industrial design studio, was strictly geared towards turning out "winning car designs by the millions flying off of all GM's assembly lines. Read the unbiased 2016 article below how Harley's successor, William Mitchell, chose to nix starting in the early 1960s.
As a March, 2016 news article entitled, The Story Behind GM's Celebrated Damsels of Design reported, "Unfortunately, the Damsels' tenure at GM only lasted a few years, coming to an abrupt end when Earl retired after the 1958 exhibition. His successor, Bill Mitchell, was less than enthusiastic about working with female designers, and most of the women scattered to other jobs in design."
With GM's other male leaders of finance and engineering fully backing and supporting Mitchell's about-face decree, the movement of women gaining any further ground or traction in Detroit's auto business world stopped dead in its tracks. What does this mean today? Early on, Harley laid the foundation to help women obtain the same legal, economic, vocational, educational, and social rights as men. More evidence is shown below, providing a poignant reminder that a major inflection point took place at GM going into the calendar year of 1959 whereby, afterwards, the story was largely glossed over for decades of time (for future generations).
The decision of halting progress of advancing women rising up in GM's chain of command was a fatal flaw and a game-changer for America's largest company heading into the mid-1960s. It's one of the primary reasons GM and America's auto world topped out in history and started going down.
By the turn of the 21st Century, the story-line of America's first all-female car designers was languishing in obscurity and that's when Richard Earl started increasing awareness, starting on the internet in 2002, by first breaking the story wide open at his new online venture – www.carofthecentury.com – on GM's unique Designing Women team and their unparalleled contributions to the success of GM. Not surprisingly, this is right at the time Richard started receiving flak from GM's then-current execs, and, many of GM's retired top leaders didn't like any of this historical information resurfacing.
Publishing some of America's premier mid-twentieth century auto history on his website in 2003 went on to land Richard in the hot seat (notice his unvarnished viewpoint, directly above, stating how, Mitchell nixed Earl's women's movement and promptly booted all the Damsels down the ladder). In any event, his new carofthecentury.com website continued providing a new historical view into this untold side of Detroit's history and supplied the newspaper articles of the era to support his case.
The behind-the-scenes Harley Earl saga, which includes creating the first all-female designers was buried and secreted for decades of time. It was only after Detroit's auto industry collapsed in 2008, that many other writers would go on to cover this groundbreaking women's team in business, and how H.J. Earl championed this movement for equal rights for women.
Harley says in this film how women will "SOON" be designing entire cars. He and other giant GM leaders, who stood alongside, him knew it was better to tackle this "equality" issue sooner rather than later.
All these new professional women designers loved Harley Earl (in the late-1990s, Richard interviewed many of GM's first women designers) for his foresight of lifting up American women in business. Important to note, there is no evidence that anything similar was happening in any other large industry during the mid-20th Century around grooming women to be top execs!
Syndicated newspaper articles were reporting on this hot new trend and circulated around the country showing how Harley Earl was an early pioneer of the women's lib movement. It was extremely unprecedented for the time; nobody else was getting the word out there allowing women to have new power to stand up for equality. Women all over the US were empowered and eager to take the challenge, and the results were amazing! Hence, this one man and his GM team gave women everywhere in America a "beachhead" to rally forward on this new social issue.
Let's recap, from the late 1920s up until the end of the 50s when Mr. Earl retired, GM was the Apple of its Day. He and the other top leaders did something remarkable during their tenure--using "change and modernity" to cement this company at the top of the business world.
After which, the reins were handed to the younger up-and-coming generation of GM male leaders that, starting in the early 1960s, charted an entirely new course to go in for the world's largest company and that's when Mr. Earl's expansion program of swiftly advancing women car designers up the ladder was canceled. Once the healthy competition between the sexes was eliminated in the most important design department in the world, GM's new leaders shot themselves in the foot.
Why is Richard Earl so dedicated to revealing the truth behind one of the top most successful leadership stories of the 20th Century? He likes to say, "for the future generations of Americans, that's why. This overall story isn't so much about the past, it's really all about the future success of America's auto industry, i.e., the world's automotive capital has been in Detroit for over a century now and naturally I want to be a part of making sure it stays this way for a long time to come!"