Girl Power: The Victories and Challenges of the Working Woman

By John A. Gallagher

It was 1963, and John F. Kennedy approved the Equal Pay Act, very first legislation to create equal rights for women in the workplace. The EPA required women to be treated equally to men in terms of compensation and promotion opportunities.

In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed.  It promoted equality in the workplace for women and minorities, and prohibited sexual harassment.  Frustrated at the glacial pace of the implementation and enforcement of these statutes, Betty Friedan and others formed the National Organization for Women (“NOW”) in 1968.

In 1972, NOW and others convinced Congress to pass the Equal Rights Act, which would have amended the Constitution to guarantee equal rights to all American citizens. Yet even now in 2011, the ERA has not been ratified by all states, and thus the proposed constitutional amendment remains merely an ideal to this day, 39 years later.

Still, other strides have been made. The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, providing women (and men) with job security when a child is born or adopted, and when leave is needed to care for a loved one who is ill. Pregnancy discrimination is now illegal. Women are Prime Ministers, Speakers of the House, U.S. Senators, and members of the clergy. Can the U.S. Presidency be far behind?

Now, nearly 50 years after JFK opened the doors and raised the ceilings for American women, the labor pains of so many, from Presidents, to Congresswomen, to mothers and daughters, to executives, CEOS, surgeons and HR professionals, are coming to bear fruit.

A working woman with a good job is a sexy woman

Fifty years ago, many men considered a woman to be sexy only if she was at home, or capitulating to the base desires of her boss. Today, men think women with good jobs are sexy.

Forty years ago, the best paying jobs for women were typically found behind a telephone, in front of a classroom, behind a perfume counter or with a thermometer in hand and white shoes afoot.

Today, women outnumber men in traditionally male –dominated professions such as human resources, accounting, financial management and budget analysis, veterinarian medicine and psychology. There are virtually just as many women as men graduating from law and medical schools, and the ladies earned nearly 45 percent of the MBAs awarded in 2010.

Equal Pay? Not quite yet

Perhaps even more encouraging is the statistics relating to the best paying jobs for women. Many of the jobs on this list did not even exist for women 30 years ago! Chief Executive Officer! Lawyers, pharmacists, surgeons, computer programmers!

Allow me to add another: Entrepreneur. So many women, empowered by their mothers (and encouraged by their fathers), enriched by their education and confident in their abilities, are starting businesses, in many instances running them from their homes – and they are succeeding. These women have grabbed the reins; they have found a way to be vocationally happy and productive, while at the same time have been able to nurture their children. Would you believe: now we have househusbands!

True, women still lag behind men when it comes to equal pay. Yet, does anyone believe that trend is not coming to an end?

And, despite this disparity, studies suggest that women may very well lead our economic recovery. The reason, it is hypothesized is as old, some (men) would say, as time itself: The logical outcome of more educated, productive women in the workplace is more quality jobs for women, with concomitant higher income.

We all know, don’t we, what a happy lady with a little extra cash does, right?  She shops!  Hence, since consumer spending constitutes 70 percent of our nation’s economic activity, can our economic recovery be far behind?!

The Scarlett FMLA and Workonality Conflicts

Still, problems remain. Allow me to share the most common claims my clients report to me – and the ones I rarely hear about.

Family and Medical Leave Act claims are clearly on the rise. Where women are concerned, FMLA is most beneficial when time off of work is needed to give birth, to care for a newborn child, to deal with one’s own illness, or to care for a child with a serious health condition.

We have found that with management’s focus on “FMLA abuse” a claim for Family and Medical leave can be tantamount to placing a “Scarlet FMLA” on your blouse. Companies relish productive employees they can count on to come in each day. When babies and illness get in the way of that utopian concept, terminations sometimes follow.

For similar reasons, pregnancy discrimination claims are on the rise. I recently read an article discussing HR secrets that revealed one company’s strategy for weeding out female candidates with young families. In order to “legally” achieve this goal, the hiring HR professional allegedly placed a picture of two young children (not her own!) on her desk, hoping it would be a conversation starter during the interview. Presumably, she had a back story for her “children!”

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Claims for job-related stress are very, very common. Unfortunately, most of these situations arise from what I refer to as “Workonality Conflicts,” and not from illegal discrimination or retaliation, so there is no claim for a “hostile work environment.” However, the story does not end there.

In my view, too many employers (or the bosses about whom complaints are registered) take a dim view of employees with legitimate complaints of workplace bullying – often targeting such employees for termination. Then the complaining employee does not feel “heard,” their stress increases, they feel like an outcast, they take FMLA leave and file for short term disability, then they are fired/demoted/written up/not promoted when they return from leave and then… Well, you get the point.

Should bullying in the workplace be illegal? There has been a loud outcry to curb bullying in the school yard – we know that dire consequences can occur when young adults are subjected to stress, exclusion, etc.

In the workplace, the stakes may not be quite as dire — after all, most adults know that violence is a bad idea, but the cost of losing employees to medical leaves and quits, not to mention of potential lawsuits, should be enough to cause conscientious and business-savvy companies to really consider how effectively they deal with complaints arising out of workplace bullying.

While women are not alone the victims of such conduct, it is in my experience a far more common experience for women than men in today’s working world. Why? Some reasons, such as competition and jealousy, are obvious. Maybe, too, it is that many women are taught to be more passive (either by their parents or society), and are subject to unfair stereotypes they seek to avoid. Men, it seems, are a little more willing to “fight for their rights,” and a little less concerned about being perceived as a B***H.

The unlitigated

The claims I don’t see too much of? Sexual harassment and Equal Pay Act claims. Why? I have my suspicions.

Although the laws protect women from retaliation if they complain about these types of behaviors, the laws do not put food on the table (at least not immediately). Successful women, or women on the rise, don’t want to jeopardize their futures by making a claim, one that often become public, over indignities they believe they can withstand.

Whether my hypothesis is correct I do not know. What I do know is that I receive hundreds of calls each year from women with job-related problems. Few of them relate to sexual harassment or equal pay.

I certainly would be curious to hear TLNT’s readers’ views on whether I am imagining things in this connection.

The future is bright

The march to equality for female American workers is inexorably moving forward. Fifty years ago, the journey of a thousand miles began, and many have been traversed since.

Equal pay, family rights and workplace bullying should be addressed and stemmed, and may be the biggest hurdles that remain. It stands to reason that, with more women ascending the corporate ladder, it will not be long until the journey will be at end.

John A. Gallagher, Esquire, is the president of the Gallagher Law Group, P.C., a Philadelphia-area law firm concentrating its practice almost exclusively on representing individuals with workplace issues. After 15 years of representing major corporations in employment litigation, John Gallagher opened his firm in 2006, and since that time has represented only employees. Contact him at jag@johnagallagher.com.

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2 Comments on “Girl Power: The Victories and Challenges of the Working Woman

  1. It is encouraging to look at all the progress we’ve made toward gender equality in the last 50 years. Like you say, the journey is still ongoing and there are still hurdles to overcome before the workplace is free from gender discrimination, but we should celebrate the victories as we keep going. The workplace bullying debate is an interesting one — the Evil HR Lady’s post brings up some good points for why making it illegal wouldn’t solve the problem.

  2. Help I am Conflicted

    I think John is wrong in thinking that the journey for equality in the work place is coming to an end. He fails to realize that in order for that which is behind(women) to catch up with that which was a head(men) something called momentum has to be achieved.Now momentum once established will always carry those that have it above and beyond those that don’t have it.

    Now we know women are closing the gap between the two genders which means women have momentum. Therefor its just a matter of time before women will not just catch up but will go ahead. This is what makes total parity or equality unobtainable. Here’s the problem. The gender gap will never be completely closed the gender gap will be reversed so we will still have a gender gap.

    But the danger is it is best for society that it is better that the gender gap in certain things favor men. For example when women make more money than males they loose respect for men because historically woman have always been attracted to strong men able to provide. When women make more money they regard males making less money as weak inefficient providers. women making more money will have become the mighty hunters and thus they begin to ask why do we need men anymore?This is why malineal women having out performed malineal males in education are beginning to out compete males for high paying jobs enabling such women to make more money than malineal men and thus already we see marriage is in steep decline because malineal males are loosing their attractiveness.

    Whereas men have traditionally been willing to marry down because their attraction for females is a physical attraction whereas women’s attraction for men is not based upon male appearance but upon his ability to provide.Thus the future for males is bleak compared for women who have over takened males in education and from there into the work place to include the business world.

    Marriage has always been seen as a civilizing influence on men. Males being rejected by the mighty female hunters and unable to get married will become angry frustrated unwed men who without the taming influence of women will revert back to savages.Hundreds of thousands of these savages will be turned loose to ravage society.

    We also know despite what women say they don’t want parity with males because they think they are superior to the male. so why would superiority want parity with inferiority?The evidence that women don’t want parity with males is look what happened in education. Back in the late seventies. there was a gender gap in education.At that time they claimed they wanted parity with males in education.

    Attention was paid to girls and eventually momentum was created with women and today they have reversed the gender gap in education. But where is there concern for the current gender gap? why haven’t they galvanized the nation to treat the gender gap as a crisis the way they did when girls were behind.

    To the contrary they are silent about the gender gap in education and now they are focusing on the gender pay gap and the gender leadership gap both of which favor boys.Their stragedy is obvious. Talk about parity whenever and wherever girls are behind and when they go ahead they focus on some other area where they are behind.

    Unfortunately for men we have a paternal instinct which causes us to actually

    help in our own demise.The paternal instinct in men is a desire to protect women and children.Women know about this paternal instinct in males and while denying that there is such a thing as a paternal instinct in men cleverly manipulate men into aiding and abetting their causes by portraying females as the victims of male suppression. thus they ignite the paternal instinct in males to come rescue their daughters. They know the paternal instinct only applies to females and fathers can be counted on to not care when their sons are struggling. As the fathers are just as silent as the nation’s mothers now that its the boys that are behind.

    Now that we know women think they are superior to men should men help women close the existing gender gap in education. The delima is that if we the male gender aid women in closing the leadership gender gap momentum will be created with females.this momentum will in time just like it did in education enable females to surpass males in leadership which would give females the power to enact laws rules and regulations that would subjugate males.

    All ,of history screams at us that when ever a people who think they are superior gain the rains of power they always,not some times, not just likely or highly probably but will absolutely 100% of the times either annihilate or subjugate those they think are inferior.

    Just look what happened when white supremacists gained power in the Americas.Red people were annihilated and black people were enslaved.

    Thus I am conflicted. I truly believe that the world would be immensely better off if men and women ruled the wold together and I want to help women catch up so we can create a parity of leadership yet I am afraid the female of our species thinks they are superior to the male the evidence being that they only talk about parity when they are behind and become silent when they are ahead.

    So my question to you John and anybody else who reads my warning explained herein how as males can we help our women gain leadership parity with us males and at the same time safeguard ourselves from being suppressed by the women we helped put in power.

    I await your counsel.

    Deep Think

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