Friday, November 21, 2008

used to be there wasn't enough fuss about a woman getting a job as a secretary

Whether or not you agree with Obama's pick, you have to admit that Hillary's appointment says something about how times have changed since I was a kid, when girls grew up to be only one kind of secretary and the only cabinet they worked with was in a kitchen.

Being a secretary was a job I did not aspire to. (I thought waitressing better: at least you got tips.) So when I was in college and looking for summer work, I snubbed Katy Gibbs and Kelly Girl and drove over to Manpower Employment Agency instead. As its name suggested, it listed jobs for men. But by the early 70s, there were laws that said they had to list jobs for women, too.

I'd seen an ad they'd run for a landscape worker, thinking how nice and tan I'd get by July. But when I asked about it, I was told I'd come to the wrong place. "This is the men's side. The woman's side is around the corner."

I went back out and through another door and there I found listings for secretaries, cashiers, nannies, candystripers, restaurant help. But no jobs outdoors. And no pay that approached what was offered on the other side.

So, I drove home, took off my interview dress, put on overalls, came back and (deep breath) walked through the men's door. My reappearance caused much consternation. "You can't take a job away from a man supporting his family, honey," I heard not only from the woman (!) behind the desk, but from men in line behind me, hoping for work. I saw their point. I really did. Part of me felt sorry for them. But part of me felt I had a right to work, too.

I held out for a day or so before taking a summer job as a waitress.


Anonymous said...

In the mid-70's, I was the only woman among four Account Sups. on a large, national business at a major NYC agency. After two years on the Account and winning two Cleo's for the best national marketing of a new product introduction for the Agency (and the Client), I had not had a raise.

I worked up the courage--and excellent rationale as to why I had 'earned' a raise--to request one from the Management Sup.

He listened with interest and appeared to be sympathetic to my cause throughout the meeting.

I thought I had successfully pleaded and won my case.

His response was this: the Agency could not 'afford' pay me more as they had an obligation to give raises to the men, my peers, on the Account with families to support.

Several years later in my career, I moved as a VP to another major NYC Agency. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to an Agency-wide VP meeting. When I opened the door to the Executive Dining Room where the meeting was being held, I thought I was in the wrong place as I was the ONLY woman in the group.

Yes, times have changed for the better! And, isn't it heart-warming that Mrs. Clinton does not even have to take a typing test to be THE Secretary!

--Garden Broad

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

Thanks, GB, for sharing this tale. (So well-written: you coulda, shoulda been an underpaid copywriter instead!) Surely the landscape world is better for your having left advertising, but I can think of a few brands that might have benefited if you'd been encouraged to remain.