Gender issues in the workplace still linger
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, November 27, 2011
11/27/11 at 4:21 AM
My, my, how times change. Just take a look at this July 1943 article from Mass Transportation magazine, "Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees:"
- "If you can get them, pick young married women. ... they usually have more of a sense of responsibility than do their unmarried sisters; they're less likely to be flirtatious; as a rule, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it. ...
- "When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Most transportation companies have found that older women who have never contacted the public, have a hard time adapting themselves, are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. ...
- "While there are exceptions, of course, to this rule, general experience indicates that 'husky' girls - those who are just a little on the heavy side - are likely to be more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters. ...
- "Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination - one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit but also reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job. ...
- "Give the female employee ... a definite day-long schedule of duties so that she'll keep busy without bothering the management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves. ...
- "Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. Companies that are already using large numbers of women stress the fact that you have to make some allowances for feminine psychology. ...
- "Be tactful in issuing instructions or in making criticisms. Women are often sensitive; they can't shrug off harsh words the way that men do."
Some more equal
Sigh. Well, I have to admit the writer is right on a few of these observations. I know that I am inclined to become cantankerous and fussy at times, but I don't think it's due to being an older woman. It has more to do with the fact that beliefs and attitudes like those expressed above aren't entirely a thing of the past.
I came across this article several years ago while researching an unrelated topic. At first, I thought it was amusing. But not for long.
I recalled the article recently in the wake of the sexual harassment allegations against GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. When I read that his lawyer warned other would-be accusers that they "should think twice" before coming forward with allegations, I had to ask: Have things really changed that much since 1943?
To be fair, working women these days generally have it much better than did those of the 1940s. Attitudes have changed significantly in most sectors. Laws, policies and practices now ensure that, for the most part, women aren't hired based on their marital status or "huskiness," or subjected to a "special physical examination .. covering female conditions."
But one doesn't have to look far to find that women still have not achieved equal footing with men. Not to pick on her, but our own governor, Mary Fallin - the state's first female governor - recently appointed a 45- member committee to study economic development and job creation, and for some reason did not appoint a single woman to the committee. This is in spite of the fact there are about 81,000 privately held, women-owned firms in Oklahoma, according to the Center for Women's Business Research.
Now, Fallin surely is as supportive of women moving ahead in the world as anyone, as evidenced by some of her other appointments and hirings. And her task force choices certainly don't compare with the behavior of someone who uses power to denigrate and control women. Surely the fact no women were appointed to the panel was just an oversight. But the fact nearly four dozen males could be rounded up to take on this important task, but no females, does say something about women's status in the business world.
While Fallin surely didn't intend to leave the impression she feels women are second-class citizens, I'm not so sure about others. When Cain's attorney, L. Lin Wood, warned other possible victims of harassment that they "should think twice" before coming forward, I think he meant to convey a very specific message. Then there are the boors like Rush Limbaugh, who, according to the New York Times, characterized one accuser as exhibiting a "pattern of whining" and referred to the group of all four accusers as "babes." Then there's New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser, who referred to one of Cain's accusers as a "gold digger" who "flirted like a tart" with Cain. Then there's all the intense scrutiny into the financial and employment histories of two of the accusers. Then there's Cain himself, essentially calling his accusers liars.
One of his accusers, Karen Kraushaar, had hoped to appear publicly with all of the others, but when that didn't happen right away, she reportedly told friends she was worried that the backlash would keep the others from appearing in public.
She probably was right. What's more, the way this awful story played out will also reinforce the belief many women already have: that you're better off keeping quiet about such things and accepting your plight in the workplace, whatever it may be. It appears the controversy will die down and Cain, if he is guilty of harassing these women, will get away with it largely unscathed.
Kraushaar told The New York Times, "Anyone should be able to report allegations of sexual harassment without fear that their lives and careers will be put on public display and laid open to public scrutiny." And she told the Washington Post that when women are being sexually harassed, "you are in an extremely vulnerable position. ... You do whatever you can to quickly get yourself a job someplace where you will be safe. That is what I thought I had achieved when I left."
We've come along way since 1943, when women often were considered something of a nuisance in the workplace. But we haven't come far enough.
Original Print Headline: Gender issues linger in the workplace
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328