The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Women and Work

Just the other day, I finished a cleverly written and entertaining book in which there were no women in the main characters’ offices. I thought, how weird. I’m now reading another book in which the career woman is “the bad guy.” Fortunately, these are anomalies, and I’ll leave the full critique for their individual reviews. But it did get me to thinking about how the workplace has changed over the past 30-some years.

Here’s what the Boomers — my generation — did: we swarmed. We swarmed into the colleges and universities, we swarmed into the workplace, and we made a strong female presence the norm. I’ve talked to other Boomer women who feel unappreciated by the following generations, or who regret that there’s still more to do, but none of that bothers me. We went to school and work for ourselves, and there was no way we were going to eliminate sexism in a generation. It was too much to do in too short a time. But we made it easy for our younger colleagues to follow us and take over where we left off. The glass ceiling will shatter someday, make no mistake about it. The women who will accomplish that are in school and the workplace now. We got them in.

A couple of vignettes from my own “brilliant career”:

I began my corporate life as a statistical analyst at a Fortune 500 company. My first day on the job, the woman I was replacing took me into the coffee room, showed me the coffee pot, and told me that since “the girls” took turns, I’d be making coffee for “the men” on Tuesdays. The following Tuesday, I accidentally-on-purpose broke the coffee pot. It was replaced a couple of weeks later. I made vile coffee for a couple of weeks, then accidentally-on-purpose broke the coffee pot again. It was never replaced. Some of the men would make comments to me about wanting coffee, and I’d look at them blankly, then duck around the corner and laugh. No woman ever made coffee in that department again. Yes, two coffee pots died at my hands for the cause of feminism and are now buried deep within a Massachusetts landfill. That was my first contribution; I was 23.

I decided it was time to be promoted. I worked hard, I worked long hours, I worked weekends. I developed new reports for “the men” and furthered their corporate cause. They kind of had to promote me, because otherwise they could never justify another promotion of a junior-level man. When I left, they replaced me with two people, both women who probably picked up where I left off — at least I hope so. I was 25.

There are a lot more vignettes, like the time I sat in a meeting with the Vice President of Marketing at my new employer and gasped “oh, my gawd, that’s awful!” when an ad agency muckety-muck proposed an insulting and demeaning print campaign targeting 20-something women (I was 27), the time a consultant refused to work with “that woman” (me, at 35) and by the end of the day told my boss that he wanted to work with me as much as possible in the future, etc., etc.

The point is, I’m not special. Just about every woman of my generation who worked outside the home has stories like mine. It was hard, it was infuriating, it was exhilarating, and it was all worth it. Whether or not succeeding generations appreciate what we did, we know what we accomplished. And now it’s their turn.

I’m self-employed. I can say “no”, I can set my boundaries, I can pursue goals that are unrestricted by a corporate infrastructure. I can blog in the middle of the afternoon, even! Things have loosened up, too. Unlike the 70s and 80s, I can now call my friends “the girls” without feeling like I’ve diminished them in some way. Women can look pretty at work instead of wearing dreary suits with bows that were really tie-substitutes. I had a wardrobe full of those at one time. Now I have work clothes that make me look like me, rather than like an aspiring man. It’s a big improvement.

We’ve made lots of progress, and there is lots of progress yet to be made. But we’re getting there.

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September 18, 2008 - Posted by | random thoughts | ,

2 Comments »

  1. Excellent post! As a younger woman (25), I do appreciate everything the past generation has done for women’s rights. There is still so much more to be done. I dare say we’ve entered the “seperate but (supposedly) equal” phase of the movement.

    Although the workplace has made room for women, the thought patterns of the older generation have not always changed. My mother is 55, and believes that men should still be the breadwinner, and that women should not be “head of household” income wise. I doubt I’ll ever change her mind, but my family has made its own rules. My post “Stay at Home Daddy” goes into this further. http://freedomwriting.wordpress.com/2008/09/11/stay-at-home-daddy/

    Comment by kferrell | September 18, 2008 | Reply

  2. Hi! This is a good post, thought provoking. .

    Comment by Rusty | September 24, 2008 | Reply


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