Wednesday, 25 April 2018

The origins of Pale Male and Stale

I got to wondering where this phrase bandied about when diversity is mentioned, 'pale, male and stale', comes from. It is sexist and demeaning, if descriptive. It has become quite fashionable in the media, and the more I see it, the more I think we could do without it.

The saying feels quite new, but it is at least twenty years old. The earliest incidence I found of this quote was in a journal article by Lawler (1996), about NASA Administrator, Dan Goldin, with the saying being attributed to him.
"Although Goldin was part of that community - he worked at NASA briefly before joining TRW to climb the corporate  ladder - his Jewish background, brash manner, and unconventional ideas set him apart from what Goldin gleefully dubs the 'pale, male, and stale' coterie at NASA and in industry." (Lawler, 1996, p. 800)
But the quote is - probably - older than that. A book by Scandura and Mouriño contains a chapter by Goldberg, Gilson & Nesci (2013, p. 146), which states:
"[...] be shared with other groups as well as senior leadership, which is usually comprised of White males described as 'pale, male, and stale" a term coined in the 1940s, but rose to prominence in 1992 when NASA administrator Daniel Goldin declared that the agency was too 'pale, male, and stale'."
So the saying is almost grandfatherly. What is interesting is that when Dan Goldin says it, I don't feel it is sexist. Interesting what a shift in perspective does!


  • Goldberg, C., Gilson, L. & Nesci, S. (2013). Chapter 5: Leading Women, Unique Challenges and Suggestions for Moving Forward (pp. 137-160) in T. A. Scandura & E. Mouriño (Eds) Leading Diversity in the 21st Century. North Carolina, USA: Information Age Publishing, Inc. 
  • Lawler, A. (1996). Goldin puts NASA on new trajectory. Science, 272(5263), 800-803

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