In response to my Oct. 17 post Sexism is Alive and Well in ISO 9001 Certification Bodies I’ve received a unusual amount of email commentary. Some of it was hate mail, from the very type of men the post was intended to flush out (one wrote, “go back to the kitchen with your women and let the men do the auditing.”) I have no problem pissing off those guys, since I measure my success by the douchebaggery of my enemies.

The second set of comments came from women who pointed out, to my surprise, that there’s no known documented reporting of sexism in the ISO certification scheme at all… ever… anywhere. Go ahead and test it: Google “ISO 9001 sexism” and all you will see is stuff I wrote. Even I can’t believe that I’m the first person to be publicly talking about this.

I’m shocked that this has been an issue for so long and yet has remained so neatly kept out of any public discussion. I’m also horrified by some of the stories coming in from women about their experiences, nearly all submitted to me anonymously, for fear of retribution.

Over at the O-Forum, user “melanie” posted the following. (It’s just a snippet, so I recommend you go read her whole post.)

Auditor during re-certification in a middle sized company  wanted me to sit on his knees (as one chair was missing) during the audit opening meeting, saying : “You turn me on” (!!)

Auditor during lunch break in a restaurant wanted me to let him know what “kind of men” I would prefer in bed

Auditor phoning me at 20h on my mobile if I would like right now to come to join him in a “special” bar (which was well known as being a bar for professional ladies, you understand me…)

Auditor wanted me to wear other clothes …”you should wear something special, that would please me (!!)”

It would be unbelievable to hear this in the 21st century if (a) you’ve had your head under a rock for the past few decades or (b) you’re a guy doing this sort of thing to women, and are in deep denial. While it does appear to be commonplace — “melanie’s” account mirrors that of the client I wrote about in the first post — the stories are nevertheless intensely disturbing.

In an email to me, another woman writing as “Sandine”told a similar story:

I was hired by a large registrar in Australia and worked for them for about 3 years. I was one of the younger women working there and the majority of other auditors were (and still are) men in their fifties and sixties. They treated me like a doll they could pull around to show of to clients. I was always paired off with one of the male auditors, and even after my second year, was never allowed to go on audits alone even though I had earned Lead Auditor status. It was common for the male auditor to make comments about me to the client, right in front of me. On two occasions I was told to wear a “short skirt” because the client was upset about some older nonconformities and they wanted to smooth him over. When I wore an business suit with pants the certification manager said “you’re not helping the team by wearing that.”

I followed up with a few of the women who wrote in and asked a question that was necessary, even though we knew the answer already. Why hadn’t they reported it?

The common answer is that they did. It just went nowhere. Anyone thinking that reporting sexism to a male-dominated profession would result in changes is kidding themselves.

I suspect there are more — a lot more — of these stories to come. I would say we should watch to see what the CB industry does about it, but since they don’t abide by the rules which directly address their certification activities, they are not likely to start expanding their awareness to things which aren’t addressed in those rules. Yes, they should be subject to law, but CBs have also shown an unwillingness to abide by those, either, and to date they get away with it.


Another interesting statistic that I am still fact-checking: it appears that the Accreditation Bodies are nearly universally run by men, and that the IAF has no female representatives at all.  Like I said, I’m still digging. If so, it would help explain why the ABs seem to not have much to say about sexism, even when they are sitting in the room witnessing it.

About Christopher Paris

Christopher Paris is the founder and VP Operations of Oxebridge. He has over 30 years' experience implementing ISO 9001 and AS9100 systems, and is a vocal advocate for the development and use of standards from the point of view of actual users. He is the author of Surviving ISO 9001 and Surviving AS9100. He reviews wines for the irreverent wine blog, Winepisser.


Traditional Tri-System