My teleclass, “Playing Your Part on the World Stage”, which is based on my book “Making History: how to remember, record, interpret and share the events of your life,” explores how each of us contributes to “big” history. (By the way, I’ll be teaching this 6-week teleclass series again this spring, starting March 18th, through www.namw.org.) I love teaching this class because I hear such great stories, and they spark memories of my own. Here is a story that I shared with the class, about the changes in women’s roles in the 1970s:
In 1974, armed with my college degree, I entered the full time workforce. I had worked part time through college as a secretary, and I looked forward to working in a different role. However, the only jobs I was considered for were secretarial jobs. Most, in fact nearly all, of the jobs available for women in business were secretarial jobs.
It was legal to advertise jobs in the want ads as “Men Wanted” and “Women Wanted.” I answered the “Women” ads for office help, naively hoping that I could use a secretarial job as a springboard to something better. I was offered quite a few secretarial jobs, but when I asked about paths to advancement, the only thing on offer was as an Office Manager or Head Typist. Although young men with the same education as I were considered for management trainees and entry level sales positions, I was told – in these exact words — that women couldn’t manage because their employees wouldn’t take them seriously, and that women couldn’t be sales people because their customers wouldn’t take them seriously.
Eventually I landed a job as a Secretary/Purchasing Agent. That slash was why I agreed to take the job. The company was a furniture manufacturer and it was my job to purchase nails and screws and other small production items. My supervisor bought “bigger” things such as lumber, bedsprings, and mattress ticking. I thought that this was temporary, just until I learned. Then I would be the Buyer for the “bigger” purchases. But when I asked when I would be given that responsibility, I was told — never. I couldn’t buy these products because the purchase of lumber and such was really a man’s job and the suppliers wouldn’t take me seriously.
This was actually true. I learned this the first time my hardware vendor, selling nails and screws, came to see me. He knew my name but had not talked to me. Since Kim is a man’s name as well as a woman’s, he expected a man. He saw me and his mouth fell open in shock. “You’re a girl!” he huffed. “I’m not selling nails to a girl!” Out he stomped. I never saw him again. I had to find another nail and screw vendor, which should have been easy but wasn’t, because I wanted one who wasn’t patronizing.
I was in that job five years, and although by the second year I devoted myself to purchasing and performed no secretarial duties, it wasn’t until the last year of my employment that my company at last yielded to my pleas to drop the “secretary” from my title and promote me to Purchasing Agent without the slash.
If you’d care to share a story about this topic, please leave a comment here. At the end of each month I’ll gather up the Sharing History comments and pick one at random from a drawing, and send the winner of the drawing my e-book: your choice of a Making History Workbook.
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