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Louise Ripley

Gender Issues in Management
Pay Equity: Louise's Story

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most-often-asked money question

For someone who spent her career working on bringing men and women together in the workplace, I was blown away by this exchange at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's swearing in. A reporter asked why a gender balanced Cabinet was so important to him and he replied, "Because it's 2015".

man and woman standing on money
Louise Ripley's Equal Pay Story

A basic tenet of feminist pedagogy is that it matters who is teaching you, where she comes from, what her experiences and biases are. One of the major events that shaped my professional life and who I am was my equal-pay suit against one of America's largest stockbrokerages, a quarter century ago. This is a brief retelling of it. It is important that you realize that this is the story as I remember it and as I tell it. This does not make the story any less powerful or less true, but there are always (at least) two sides to any story and you will hear only mine, but it supports my case if you also know that the Wage and Hour Division of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of the United States Government came in on my side.  

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? 

Rules for A Woman in A Male-Dominated Field in 1972

Never let on that you're female 

Accept that you'll get paid less than a man

Do what they ask you to do and donít complain

I 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 meant I 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.  

I broke the other two rules. What didn't I do? They asked me to 

Punch a time clock
time clock
A simple request, perhaps. Lots of people do it.  

But 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.

Why 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 washroom.  

Then I found out that Bill who had held my job before me did not punch the clock and then I found out why. 

There was a Company Rule 

Make less than $866.67  you punch the time clock 

Make more than $866.67 you don't punch the clock

Basic Math for an MBA Finance Major
(which I was at the time)

$866.67, Bill's monthly salary
- 575.00 my monthly salary
= almost $300/month difference

The had paid Bill almost $300 a month more for doing the exact same job I was doing. Well, not exactly. The difference was that while Bill had a secretary to type his final copy, I typed my own.

man at office desk woman at office desk
His Job
Research Municipality
Research Bond Issues
Research Syndicates
Talk to Bond Traders
Gather Last Minute Data
Calculate Yields
Write Prospectus
Her Job
Research Municipality
Research Bond Issues
Research Syndicates
Talk to Bond Traders
Gather Last Minute Data
Calculate Yields
Write Prospectus
Give to secretary to type Type Final Copy Herself
Proof-Read Final Copy Proof-Read Final Copy

When 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. 

There was a recession on; it was 1972, and not that easy to find a job. 

I 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).
I 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 on"). 

Then 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.  

I 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. 

US Securities and Exchange Commission logo 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 to ask. 

I 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...

but changed...


Box not checkedRegistered Representative


Box checked Registered Clerical

When I went to see the boss, he told me I could not be an institutional trader because 

"The big 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. 

city of Chicago I 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. 

The responsibility for enforcing this was given to the 


I walked out the door and went down the street to the EEOC. 

Superman on tall building These 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:

Keep a diary and document everything

One of the most important pieces of evidence

To effect change, one must usually file a suit

Reluctant before, I now had nothing to lose

Interestingly, 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....

barrel of toxic waste 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 lower. 

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. 

The 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. 

They 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.  Don Quixote

I 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. 

Carol, 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.) 

The 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 Feminine Mystique cover of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique

Not 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 she simply 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. 

Meanwhile, 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. 

I'm 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.  spiral staircase

But this 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). 

Not 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 did. The 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. 

one U.S. cent coin
When 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. 

For 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. 

Only 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 

The 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 Value  bag of money
2. Don't fight alone. Find other people who think like you do and who share similar experiences. Work together to change things 
3. Pay your dues and get your credentials. Get an education. Work your way up through the ranks. Watch out for that glass ceiling!   Union Card
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 something meshed gears
6. Believe in yourself
7. Practice networking and include men in your network
8. Strive for small victories, and share them   Dom Perignon champagne
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 change 
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 it 
11. Be supportive of others who are working to make changes. Just as you need someone to bolster your spirits, someone else may need you 
12. Be proud to call yourself a feminist and be willing to explain what it really means  feminine symbol

The Aftermath

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 on 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 Denver."  

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. certificate

While for 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. Without one, it's difficult for anyone to get there, male or female. It represents, 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 dues are the 2 years full time, 5 or more part-time, to get the degree. Respect for what the union stands for is represented by the beliefs inculcated in you by the years in management classes - if you're not careful!

///yufA logo For 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. 

Rule # 4 advises to do something you are happy doing and that fits your value system. I finally 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. 

Texas long horned cow forward arrow Canadian beaver

I 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 thought 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.

But 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.   The year 1978

They 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.  

desk in office One 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.
Another 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. baby girl
frightened child Another 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. 

These 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? I 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?

What 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 course. I 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 me.  

Here is someone who taught me a whole lot about failure. Her name is Amber and shewas a failure at the racetracks. She 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.   Amber the greyhound

We 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.  

The 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. 

waving hand Exercise
I'd like to think that this kind of thing no longer happens but I'm afraid it still does. Your comments?
Post your answer in the
Moodle Discussion Group.

Just in case you are tempted to say, oh well that was years ago, read the 2009 column about equal pay by Leah McLaren, Globe and Mail columnist (I have her permission to post this in its entirety).

Below is a continuing list of rules that have come out of classroom discussions of my story, now in the 2010s and beyond:

Current Rules of the Game from the 2000s     

 1. Realize youíll get paid less
  2. Fight it but donít fight alone
  3. Pay your dues
  4. Do something in your value system
  5. Be flexible
  6. Believe in yourself
  7. Practice networking
  8. Strive for & celebrate small victories
  9. Keep a sense of humour
10. Know your career objectives
11. Support others in change
12. Call yourself a Feminist

  Ongoing Rules on How to Survive in Today's World of Work
from classes 2010s and on

Donít separate worklife and homelife so much
Keep things in perspective
earn to deal with anger
Donít take things personally
Remember it never hurts to ask
Share suggestions and ideas
Stay focused
Watch yourself, not others
Practice what you preach
Keep goals in mind/sight
Find a mentor/role model
Stay positive
Remember: What doesnít kill you makes you stronger
Keep family issues personal
Make strategic alliances
Choose right; Change wrong
Remember you donít have to attend every argument to which you are invited
You donít have to have people agree with you to know you are right
Donít compare yourself to others; we all have our own talents and time schedules
Focus on what you can control, not on what you cannot
Be proud of what you have accomplished
Be wary of ďlizard brainĒ and the fear that drives it

Can you add some?

Post your answer in the Moodle Discussion Group. For some reason there is no topic for this one, so post your responses to the indented topic, "Discrimination".

Sheryl Sandberg's Book Lean In

waving hand Exercise
Sandberg Pay Equity
How does Sheryl Sandbert's book Lean In help you further understand the topic of this unit?
Post your answer in the Moodle  Discussion Group.


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AP/ADMS/WMST3120 3.0 Gender Issues in Management
York University, Toronto
© M Louise Ripley, M.B.A., Ph.D.