When I was asked to contribute to this series, I immediately thought of Julia Sugarbaker from Designing Women.  In college, my friend Leah and I would watch reruns of Designing Women for hours on end.  I reached out to Leah to have her help me articulate why we loved Julia so much and what we learned from her.  Here is what we came up with.

She could handle herself in a man’s world

My first role out of college was most definitely in a boys club.  There were no women in upper management or even in middle management.  More than that, HR was a necessary evil that the company had to have, but did not take seriously.  Being a women then in the HR department, meant that I was pretty much invisible unless someone thought I was nice to look at.  What today would be considered blatant sexual harassment was prevalent — yet nothing was done about it.  Julia would never let herself be considered nothing more than an object to look at.

She took herself seriously, but knew when to finally let loose,

even if it got her in trouble

In one episode, Julia and her team were working at the Governor’s mansion.  All day long the team is acting goofy and taking pictures with statues or doing silly things.  They try to get Julia to join, but the consummate professional refuses.  Finally, she caves and sticks her head through a fence, getting it stuck.  You can imagine what ensues after that.  As a leader, and especially an HR leader, we tend to take ourselves very seriously.  While professionalism is certainly important, the people we work with need to see that we are human and can let loose a little.

She was agreeable…..to a point

One of the biggest complaints about an HR department is that they are the “no” police. When Julia was asked to be a team player, she was more than happy to oblige.  She did not jump in with why something wouldn’t work or why it could not be done.  She did what was asked of her even if it seemed ridiculous.  If the project started going down a bad path however, she was not afraid to step up and straighten everyone out.

She was not afraid to tackle the tough issues

HR professionals often shy away from religion, politics and any present issue that may cause controversy.  The reality is that since we are dealing with people, these things are real.  Julia was not afraid to share her views on these subjects while respecting that everyone’s beliefs may be different.

She got her hands dirty

When a vendor was having difficulty filling a curtain order, Julia and team went and helped make curtains.  HR practitioners have to be willing to get their hands dirty.  They have to be willing to sit on the front lines with employees and do the work if they are ever going to be able to understand the work.  Jumping in when things need to get done, whether it is HR’s responsibility or not, is crucial to it’s success.

Julia Sugarbaker was a shining example for women in the workplace.  She never apologized for who she was, could handle herself in any situation, was not afraid to show her human side and most of all respected each and every individual for who they were.

I can’t think of a better recipe for success.


Today’s post was written by Sabrina Baker, PHR.

Sabrina has over a decade of HR experience in the retail, healthcare and customer relationship management industries. She began her own consulting firm, Acacia HR Solutions, in 2011 offering solutions for the full employee life cycle through talent acquisition, development and management solutions for businesses.  In addition, Acacia offers individual services to job seekers working as a coach and advocate.

Sabrina is passionate about helping job seekers work through the difficult task of finding employment.  In addition to the services offered through her business, she also volunteers for the McHenry County Workforce Development Net to help job seekers brush up on their interviewing skills. She also manages a job seekers group on Linkedin to ensure job seekers have the skills they need to develop a successful job search strategy.

Sabrina regularly writes on her blog, HR Chatterbox.  She focuses on human resource issues specific to leadership and communication, gives helpful tips to job seekers and talks about current trends and events in the HR community. Connect with her on Linked In and follow her on Twitter.


Check out the other posts in this series: