In this course in the early 1990's, we were reflecting on the experiences and the changes for women in the paid labour force over the last 20 years. The rules for making it as a woman in the working world have changed in 20 years - but how much?
for A Woman in A Male-Dominated Field in 1972
let on that you're female
that you'll get paid less than a man
what they ask you to do and donít complain
obeyed the first rule. Like many women back then, I dressed for
success just like a man; I wore pantsuits and even ties, and
although I was not willing to cut my long hair short, I did wear
it wrapped up so it looked short. I used my initials for
correspondence, signing myself M.L. Ripley, and if someone wrote
to me as Louis Ripley, I never bothered to correct them because it
got treated much better if
they thought I was a male. I
downplayed all aspects of femininity, refused to allow a door to
be held open for me, and never breathed a word
about womenís rights or feminism.
broke the other two rules. What didn't I do? They asked me
a time clock
simple request, perhaps. Lots of people do it.
I was a professional and I had worked prior to this as a public school teacher
putting in long hours that I never got compensated for. I had
worked as the Executive Assistant for the president of a small
investment house in Chicago, which was
investigated one spring by the U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission (more on them later), and in all the weeks when we were
putting in 18 hour days, the boss working with us, none of us ever
punched a clock, asked for overtime or even for compensatory time.
I was a professional, and expected to be treated as one, and I was
insulted enough that I started asking questions.
did I have to punch a time clock? Who exactly punched the time
clock, because clearly not everyone did. I checked the clock and
noted that no men in the department I worked in punched the clock. My
boss, when I asked him about that, said, "The guys in
the mail room, they all punch." The boss asked me, if I was
so upset by it, why hadn't I bothered to ask when I was hired if I
would have to punch a time clock? For the same reason, I told him,
that I did not ask if I would have to ask permission to go to the
I found out that Bill who had held my job before me did
not punch the clock and then I found out why.
was a Company
less than $866.67 you punch the time clock
more than $866.67 you don't punch the clock
Math for an MBA Finance Major
(which I was at the time)
Bill's monthly salary
575.00 my monthly salary
almost $300/month difference
had paid Bill almost $300 a month more for doing the exact same
job I was doing.
The difference was that while Bill had a
secretary to type his final copy, I typed my own.
Research Bond Issues
Talk to Bond Traders
Gather Last Minute Data
Research Bond Issues
Talk to Bond Traders
Gather Last Minute Data
to secretary to type
Final Copy Herself
I asked the boss about the differential in pay, he told me that
they paid Bill more because he was management material. Avoiding
the tempting but trite retort, "and what am I, chopped
liver?" I went back to my desk and thought it over. Although
this practice of paying a man more because he is supposedly
management material and the woman is not, was by now strictly
against the law, recently challenged and upheld in the case of a
woman working as a salesperson, I had found out in my research, I
nevertheless decided I would punch the time clock to buy some time
and see what evolved. I
decided to punch the clock for a number of reasons.
|I was self-supporting and needed the job;
despite the fact that my boss told me that women
don't need high salaries because they only work for pin
money, I actually needed my salary.
was a recession on; it was 1972, and not that easy to find
was now enrolled in the Loyola
University of Chicago M.B.A. programme and felt that in
the long-run this would help my case (it did).
wanted a career in Finance and didn't want to
wreck my chances making a fuss over something that
maybe was not that important (decision making that my Nova
Scotia colleague labels: "you gotta pick your hill to die
I got the brilliant idea that to make myself "management material" I
would train as an institutional bond trader. One day I too would
have a secretary to type my material. For
some insane reason that I really can't remember now, in 1973, I
actually wanted to be an institutional bond trader. It was a crazy,
stress-filled, ulcer-producing job, far worse than Air Traffic
Control, a relentless, vicious, mean, tough career that ate people
up and spat them out like cherry pits, but it was also
exhilarating, challenging, exciting, rewarding, and it came with a
hefty salary, and I wanted it.
applied to become a Registered Representative. In the U.S., at
that time, you had to do this through a company, and it gave you,
after a rigourous training and education period, the right to
trade in stocks and bonds.
One did this through the Securities
and Exchange Commission (the SEC), so I went to talk to the
boss about it and lo and behold! he said yes! I was flabbergasted,
astounded, and perhaps even a little embarrassed -- here I had
found out that all I'd had to do to progress upward in the company was
filled in the forms, sent them off to New York headquarters, and
waited in joyous anticipation for their return. Several weeks
later, they came back, approved...
I went to see the boss, he told me I could not be an institutional trader because
bankers and lawyers are all men and they wonít talk to a woman.Ē
Thatís a direct quote. Documented. All I could be was clerical.
He assumed, he told me, that this was what I had meant when I had asked
about it. Now,
you have to picture Chicago.
worked on West Madison Street and right down the street from where
I worked was the office of an amazing bunch of people. In 1964,
the US had passed the Civil Rights Act which included Title VII,
which said among other things that it is right and necessary to pay two people the same amount of
money if they do essentially the same job.
responsibility for enforcing this was given to the
walked out the door and went down the street to
guys were my heroes. When it looked like no one else in the world
cared what happened to me at that job, the two men I talked to at
the Wage and Hour Division of the Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission gave me hope. I
had been to see them earlier, when I first found out I was being
paid $300 a month less than a man who had done the same job. At
that time they
had given me some good advice:
a diary and document everything
of the most important pieces of evidence
To effect change, one must usually file a suit
before, I now had nothing to lose
if the company had not been so insistent upon my punching a time
clock, I might never have found out about the salary difference. I
actually ended up filing my complaint, not over the fact that they
had told me that I could not do a job that I knew I could do,
which is always hard to prove. Not over the fact that they had
played favourites with the other person which is always hard to prove. Not
over whether I could sign up as a Registered Representative
because they can always dream up reasons why you can't represent them
that seem justified. I sued them over the fact
that, incontrovertibly by the mathematics of the situation, they
must have paid a man AT LEAST $300 a month more than me to do the
same job I was doing.
Many people have
said that I was brave to file a formal complaint against my
employer. I say that I had simply had enough. My personal journal
from the time documents my anger and upset. Over and over and over in
that document, I read of my frustration at not being able to get
myself taken seriously as a committed worker with a future other
than clerical work. The company's refusal finally to even allow me
to train to move up, was the last straw. I wasn't
brave. I was just fed up. You reach a
breaking point. When they take away your dreams, you don't have
anything more to lose. It couldn't get any worse....
||Don't ever say
those words. It can always get worse and it usually does. You can
always sink further down in the barrel. It is
astounding how far down the bottom can be, and when you
reach the bottom, often it's a false one and you can fall even
You can't crawl out of a deep barrel yourself; you have to
have help. The stress of living through this process was so
bad that there were times I'd sit down to dinner and could not eat
because the pain in my stomach was so bad. I went for every test
known and of course there was nothing physically wrong; it was the
stress of living day to day in a situation so unpleasant that you
would give just about anything to get out of it but know you have
to continue. By then the EEOC had started their investigation and
the company knew that I had filed a suit against them. I had a
supportive husband and friends, far-away but supportive family,
but I needed more.
new rules as we
re-wrote them the second time I taught this course, include the fact that you must not fight alone.
You must find a support group, people who think like you and who will stand
with you. The
two men I talked to at the EEOC were great. They were
supportive, honest, up-front; they pulled no punches; they made no
false assurances; they told me what it would be like. They told me
that the law says you have to be guaranteed confidentiality, but
they explained to me how, given that I was the only person in this
particular job, when they came in to investigate, the company was
going to know it was me. But
they also told me about cases the Commission had won. They told me
how important a task it was to challenge these companies, how if
it were not for people like me, they would not be able to do the
job they thought was so important to do.
told me too that not a lot of people win Equal Pay suits because
companies pay good money to tough lawyers to fight these battles
for them, but that if a company fires you because you have filed
a suit, then the odds are about 99 out of 100 that you will get a
settlement. This gave me courage.
also found support from fellow employees. One was a boss' secretary, a
woman who had raised four children on her own,
working most of her life as a cocktail waitress before she went
back to school at night and trained to be a secretary, a woman
for whom the loss of her job would have been an unspeakable
hardship, she risked all that to get me the confidential documents
I needed to to prove my case about the salaries.
a fellow researcher, stayed my friend when many didn't. That may
not sound like a lot to you, but imagine working in a place where
every day when you go in, you know that they know that you know
that they know that you have filed a suit against them with the
federal government and most people, even the most well-meaning,
just don't even want to think about that, much less be seen
talking to someone who did it. Carol stayed my friend and had
coffee with me and went to lunch with me and talked to me. (Carol,
if you're out there somewhere, I sit here writing this with happy tears in my eyes as
I remember you.)
secretary of another company boss was the president of the local
chapter of the National Organization for Women. She took me to a
women's consciousness-raising group where I met Betty Friedan, who
had co-founded NOW, the National Organization for Women, seven years before, and who gave me encouraging words and wrote them in my copy of her book, The
everyone was supportive. Gladys, an older woman, was
angry with me and showed it. Later, just before I left the company, Gladys came to tell me why
she had been so upset with me. She had fought a similar battle
when she was about my age (26), and had lost bitterly; she said
could not stand to see me go through what she had gone through.
While I would have preferred to have her support and to know her
story earlier, I could sympathize.
the company had merged with another and was in the process of
moving everything to New York. Finally the day came when they
moved the Bond Office, and they could safely let me go. I was one
of the last they let go, partly because they had good reason to be
scared that if they
did it too soon, I could successfully claim they had fired me
because of the Equal Pay suit.
someone who usually experiences what the Germans call
"staircase wit" -- thinking of the witty reply you
SHOULD have made as you walk down the stairs from the
old-fashioned upstairs-ballroom to leave the party at
which you were insulted.
time, I thought of it then and there. When the boss called me into
his office to tell me that they were going to have to let me go, I
said, "Glory Halleujah, Praise the Lord, I have been
delivered," turned on my heel and walked out. (The irony
is clearer here if you know that I am a Unitarian Universalist
and normally come nowhere near any such fundamentalist utterings).
long after that, the EEOC pushed the company to offer me a
settlement out of court. They told me that it was largely
my detailed diary and documentation that enabled them to get the
employer to settle; given the explicit detail with days and times
noted and direct words quoted, it was very difficult for them to contradict.
They offered only US$1000, which was roughly three months' differential,
but the EEOC urged me to accept it, advising me that if I went to court
to try to get more it could take years and any extra money would be
eaten up in lawyers' fees. Besides, it was as it so often is, the
principle that mattered. "Take the money and run," were the
words of one of the guys who had been so supportive, and so I
cheque came a few weeks later, for US$721 after taxes. I put it in the bank.
It started the savings account with which I eventually bought my harp
and I never regretted my decision to stop the process there. It
had been hard enough going that far.
I came back a few days after that to say goodbye to the last two
women who were still there, I overheard the boss saying on the telephone
to someone in New York, "I wouldn't give the bitch
one red cent" and I suspected that I guessed correctly about
whom he was speaking. That was the only time back then
that I ever felt I had won anything.
years I questioned what I had won. Sure, with the help of the
United States government, I had forced a large American
stockbrokerage to admit they had done wrong, and to pay me some
money, but would it make a difference in how they treated women in
the future? Or would they just be more careful, slyer, more
deceitful next time? And at what a cost to me? The experience was so grueling,
demeaning, frightening, gut-wrenching, that for three years I could not
talk about it without tears running down my face, and for ten
years I never mentioned it professionally. Legal action should always
be the last resort; it is not an easy thing to do.
when Professor Meg Luxton of York's Women's Studies programme
asked me in the late 1980's to speak at a film she was showing about women in
business, did I for the very first time tell my story in a
professional setting. That experience with Meg was part of what
inspired me to start this course. And it has been in teaching this
material that I have come finally to accept that it was worth it. The
new rules that came out of the second time teaching the course in Women
and Business, we called
Rules of the 1990's
|1. Realize that, in most jobs, you are going to get paid less than a man, unless you are prepared to fight for your rights. Learn about Equal Pay for Equal Work, and about Equal Pay for Work of Equal
2. Don't fight alone. Find other people who think like you do and who share similar experiences. Work together to change
|3. Pay your dues and get your credentials. Get an education. Work your way up through the ranks. Watch out for that glass ceiling!
4. Do something you are happy doing and that fits your value system. What are our values anyway? In the 1970's, women adjusted to the corporate world by cloning themselves into men, and perpetuating the status quo; now, perhaps, there is a chance to change the corporate mentality and make life more
livable for everyone
|5. Be flexible. Be willing to change gears, to look at something from a different angle, to try a new way to accomplish
6. Believe in yourself
7. Practice networking and include men in your
|8. Strive for small victories, and share
9. Offer suggestions and share ideas. Sometimes people don't change because they don't realize how it could be done. Suggest some ideas for
10. Be clear on your career objectives. Know what you want and have some idea of how you will achieve it, and who could help you achieve
11. Be supportive of others who are working to make changes. Just as you need someone to bolster your spirits, someone else may need
|12. Be proud to call yourself a feminist and be willing to explain what it really
I was back in school by now, working full time and doing my MBA
part time. Although there was no such thing then as a
"Women's Studies" degree, I made my own by reading everything I could find
issues of gender in business and doing all my papers on women's
issues. At that
time the MBA was an almost totally male-dominated degree
programme. In 16 courses, I had one female teacher. In a class of 60 students,
there might be one other woman. The textbooks all used
"he" exclusively, as in "if the manager feels he
must respond, then he should," and the only time women were mentioned
at all was in phrases such as, "The weak sister in our
distribution chain is Joe's Warehouse out in
Father McMahon's MBA class on Social Responsibility, we were
required to do a
project at work that involved getting the firm we worked for to
think with more conscience. Almost all of us worked full time then
in the evening programme, but I had just left the job at the
stockbrokerage and was unemployed. Fr. McMahon suggested I write
up my case for my class project, and I did. I eventually
completed my MBA.
Part of this story is about CREDENTIALS. Credentials are crucial. You can't do
much from outside and I knew from growing up as the daughter of a
labour union organizer that you can't get in without a union card.
the labourer the union card is literally the membership card and
its attendant dues and respect for what the union stands for, for upper management, the "union card"
metaphorically is the MBA.
one, it's difficult for anyone to get there, male or female. It
if not literally membership in a union, at least membership in a
select group of men and women educated above the bachelor's level
specifically for careers in management. The
are the 2 years full time, 5 or more part-time, to get the degree.
for what the union stands for is represented by the beliefs
inculcated in you by the years in management classes - if you're
the university professor, the "union card" is the Ph.D.
And in the spring of 1997, we learned that it is also literally a union
card. Your York professors are a unionized workforce, and I
am proud of that.
# 4 advises to do something you are happy doing and that fits your value
quit the business world, went
to Southwest Texas to take a job teaching fifth grade in a
classroom of 23 students, 3 of whom spoke only
Spanish; I was close to being bilingual when I moved to Canada.
finished my MBA in the summer of 1977, but swore I'd starve in the streets before
I'd work for the corporate world again.
I was unusual, thought it was just me, thought it was my fault. I'd not been happy anywhere
in business. I'd worked for a number of companies and I was never
happy. Always the structure of the systems, the values that lay behind
the structure, and the absurdity of the way the work was organized
appalled me. When I moved to Canada, my mother's homeland, I found
work at Atkinson College of York University and have remained there ever since.
I thought I was a failure. For over a decade, I thought I was strange among my fellow M.B.A.'s, an oddball, a misfit, a woman
not really cut out for the competitive world of men. Then, in
February of 1988, The Globe and Mail did an article
on the top women graduates from University of Western Ontario's
M.B.A. programme ten years ago, and where they are today. Their
year, 1978, was the year I also graduated with my M.B.A.
had had similar experiences to mine - oh not exactly, none with
equal pay suits, but certainly with equally abusive companies and
colleagues and lifestyles. And I sat and cried as I read their
stories. I still can't tell their stories in the classroom without
tears coming to my eyes.
woman who worked in banking told of three male colleagues who one day
when she was home sick, starting literally to move her office to a
remote corner of the department. Only the outrage of the
secretaries, who respected the woman as a boss, had stopped them.
told of realizing that her daughters were 16 and 13 and she barely
knew them. She had simply never had time to be with them while
they were growing up.
told of discovering that her daughter had been abused by the last
sitter she was with, but hadn't told her mom because she knew how
hard it was to find sitters.
women had asked themselves, as I had asked myself, as I will ask you to
think about -- Is
this what women fought so hard for? To work for inhumane, overly-competitive
corporations with no sense of human dignity? To be able to be just
like the men that women always complained about? To work 80 hour weeks,
never know our children, miss dinner with the family, and fall
into bed exhausted too tired to speak to our spouse, much less
nurture a relationship?
came to ask, what are my values? What are the values of the
society in which I live? Did I really want to be a corporate bond
trader? And at what cost?
are our values? Are women going to adjust to the corporate world
by cloning themselves into men and perpetuating the status quo,
or are we perhaps going to try to change the corporate mentality
and make life more livable for everyone.
What exactly is failure? If I had been "successful" at
the stockbrokerage, I might well be a corporate bond trader today. I would
never have known my husband and son. I would probably never have moved to Canada
and taught at York. I would not have had the pleasure of
providing the School of Administrative Studies with at least one
tenured feminist scholar, and I would not be teaching this
would have missed out on a whole lot of wonderful things if I had
been "successful" in Chicago. Perhaps my
"failure" there was the best thing that ever happened to
|Here is someone who taught me
a whole lot about failure. Her name is Amber and shewas a failure at the
lost every race she ran at the Wisconsin racetracks where
she languished in a miserable cage until saved by a
greyhound rescue effort. She is now my beloved companion
who gets me out of the house and takes my mind off the
stress of my job. I credit her literally with saving my
life during the darkest depths of depression when she
first came into my life. She is no failure. She just started
her life in the wrong job.
need to take a good hard look at what we value, both men and
women, and how we define failure. The women's movement is not only about women. It is about
women and men and children and business and how we balance work
life and home life, and about our whole
society and what we value in it. When we fail at one thing,
perhaps it is just a gateway to something better.
lesson of this story that I want you to take away with you is the very
real cost of paying a woman less than a man to do the same job. Equal
Pay for Work of Equal Value is a difficult concept, admirable in
principle but difficult to operationalize. But Equal Pay for Equal Work
ought never even to be a question. If two people are doing the same job,
they should be paid the same amount. The damage done by not honouring
this principle is not only in money. It cost me money and it cost me
tremendously in damage to my health. It cost the company money, but it
could have cost them a lot more, not only in a potentially larger
settlement, but in the damage done to their reputation as word of this
kind of practice gets around. In this case they did not have to worry
about that; I took no small pleasure in reading a few years after this
that the company had gone bankrupt.