Women’s roles changed since the 60s

I met a man at our dinner table last night who not only was from Chicago, he also worked at TRW where my husband and I worked for many years in California. That reminded me of the speech I gave at a luncheon about the changing roles of women over the last few decades – changes I’ve personally experienced.

Here it is:

I hired into this company –now called Northrop Grumman and then called Space Technology Laboratories – for the first time in 1963,
the dark ages, as one of my young colleagues likes to say.
It was a few months before Oswald killed President Kennedy.

Just to set the stage:
Only four buildings were on the Space Park campus – the first three research R buildings and an one executive E building.
The next year Building S the service building was opened
and, we called the room next to the cafeteria the Waitress Dining Room. Now it’s a gift shop.

There was:
no such thing as a women’s history month
and Women of Achievement award,
no such thing as a bring your daughter and son to work day
no such thing as a day care center – in fact after a questionnaire went around in the 70s it was determined there wasn’t enough need for one.
Well, I certainly did.

In those days Administrative assistants were called secretaries and answered their boss’s phones.
Documents were produced only in hard paper copies – on typewriters
with an all woman-typing pool, managed by a man, typing our reports and proposals.
And, there was no such thing as a color copy.

Every desk had an ashtray.
Women were required to wear skirts or dresses.
And most of us wore girdles, nylon hose, and 3-inch heels.
In the late 60s, when pants finally were allowed
they had to be a part of a suit.
No jeans, t-shirts, or flip flops showed up in our workspace.

I, a college graduate, was hired in non-exempt
working side by side a group of lazy men.
The women did all the work.
The men got the money and the recognition.
Three years later I was a part of a class action suit,
winning exempt status, but not equal pay.
Instead we got a $10 a week token bump
to make up for no more overtime pay.
All overtime hours were called casual which meant unpaid,
in those days before we got token extended work week pay.

Early on I decided my family came before my career.
I worked part time after my first son was born
and, said no without batting an eye to a management position offer
when I was pregnant with my second.
Finally, I decided I had to leave permanently
because of the inflexible hours of my part time job
and, my discomfort in having a Nanny raise my children.
During my 10 years away from the company
I sold real estate, wrote grant proposals, raised money for nonprofits.
Things I could do in between the demands of my family.
I got off the corporate ladder by choice and never looked back.
However, I returned to the company and in fact rehired in a total of five times.
Must have been something I liked about the place.

In the 60s and 70s there were very few women engineers and scientists,
an occasional section and department manager,
and no women VPs – though no statistics are available
Most women were secretaries, typists, factory workers, key punchers,
and in lower level jobs like mine, technical editing and writing and producing reports and proposals.
Later on, programming became a popular job choice for women.
I even learned COBOL and FORTRAN and worked as a programmer for a time.

Our recent statistics now show:
Women are 29% of the Northrop workforce
They are 18% of the technical staff population
18% of the VPs
24% of the managers
24% of the professionals
And 51% of our U.S. population.

I’m impressed that the many young women professionals these days
don’t have to compete with their male counterparts for equality.
Still those with families have to juggle their careers
with carpooling, staying home with a sick child, attending a game or school meeting,
and preparing family dinners.
I can’t tell you how many times
I’ve heard my women colleagues say they need a wife.

And, though we’ve come a long way since 1963,
on a recent proposal I worked
the management team organization chart showed only two women out of 42,
The rest were white males.
So, in the last 40 years we’ve raised the glass ceiling a bit.
We still have a way to go.

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