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Businesswoman: Looking back, looking ahead

By SUSAN WILSON SOLOVIC, UPI Columnist   |   Aug. 26, 2002 at 2:19 PM   |   Comments

ST LOUIS, Aug. 26 (UPI) -- Monday is Women's Equality Day -- a celebration of a significant date in women's history. It recognizes the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which, after decades of struggle and heroism, gave more than half the population in this country the right to vote.

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," it reads. Yet, it was sex that chained women to second-class citizenry for centuries.

The first Women's Equality Day was in 1970, when three leaders of the women's movement -- Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan -- got together and conspired to promote a women's strike for equality to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. Demonstrations were held in 90 major cities and 42 states.

In New York, more than 50,000 women congregated in Central Park and marched down Fifth Avenue. They carried signs with such slogans as "Don't iron while the strike is hot." Others donned aprons and bore placards saying: "For this I went to college?"

The following year, Abzug -- who had been recently elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York -- got Congress to pass a resolution proclaiming Aug. 26 as Women's Equality Day. The resolution is affirmed by the president every year.

Today, Women's Equality Day calls attention to the continuing efforts women are making toward full equality in our society. Alarmingly, however, many women -- particularly younger ones -- have no idea of its meaning.

"I've never heard of it, but I'm guessing it celebrates women's equality," says 22-year-old Karen Haberberger.

"I don't know for sure, but logically I am deducing that it is a day to celebrate the equality of women in the workplace," notes Elsa Brown, age 22.

The concern is not so much that women do not realize the day's historical significance: it is whether they understand that the battle for equality isn't over.

Women who have been working for many years remember the days when employers could post job openings for men only. While such blatant discrimination is illegal today, inequities persist.

What keeps women from achieving equality in the business world? Is it the "glass ceiling," identified decades ago? Most likely, it is not.

There is a "glass ceiling," but it is no longer impenetrable. The good news is there are a handful of women who are breaking through in corporate America or are running their own multimillion dollar enterprises. But we haven't reached critical mass.

The near-absence of high-level women as role models perpetuates deeply engrained perceptions about women in the workplace.

"Women are getting mixed messages about having everything ... family, career, etc. In today's society, the majority of the weight still falls on women's shoulders to be the nurturing one and take care of the family, where men are not expected to give up jobs to take care of kids and keep the household running," said 55-year-old administrative assistant Bonnie Tebbe.

"There is some subtle notion in employers' minds that if we hire a young woman she will quit for the mommy track," she added.

Bob Kikati, a 20-something management information systems major, said: "Women have to often work harder than their male counterparts to vie for the same job. They are forced to sacrifice more and exert more effort than most men do."

Most women agree: 77 percent of the female respondents to a Fortune magazine survey say women need more experience or a higher degree than men when applying for the same job.

A Gallup Organization poll found that 62 percent of women say they sometimes feel discriminated against because of gender.

Among Fortune 500 companies, women represent approximately 12 percent of corporate officers but only about 6 percent have line officer jobs.

Line positions carry profit-and-loss responsibilities and are those most likely to lead to top-level positions.

"Typically in society, we have seen most of these top-ranking positions go to men, so I think that when it comes to breaking through the glass ceiling and obtaining managing positions, most women face great challenges," notes Haberberger.

Pay equality remains a key issue for working women. Statistics show women earn about 75 percent of what their male counterparts earn, with the figure falling to 68 percent for executives.

In the sales and marketing field, the average salary for a female executive is nearly $40,000 less than that of an average male executive, according to Sales and Marketing Management magazine.

Women lawyers feel the impact, too. The National Association for Law Placement says on average, women attorneys earn $20,000 less than men.

"I think men and women don't earn the same amount of money is because of a stereotype developed by society. In our society, it is often thought that men are the primary 'breadwinner'," said Brown. This idea, she said, "makes a higher salary for men permissible. Although I do not agree with this stereotype in the slightest."

Clearly, it is imperative that women and men work together to close the wage gap so women can be full economic partners.

As we celebrate Women's Equality Day, we should remember and be thankful for the opportunities our foremothers have given us as women. But let us not forget the lessons of history, lest we run the risk of allowing our progress to erode.


Send comments to susan@susan-says.com


(Susan Solovic is the author of "The Girls' Guide to Power and Success" and is president of Susan-Says, a consulting firm specializing in women in business issues. Solovic, a former newscaster and marketing executive, is a popular speaker, business coach and media guest. Her UPI "Businesswoman" column appears regularly.)

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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