Job Discrimination and What Women Can Do About It

"I had the experience last year of seeing a job I had filled for two years upgraded when it was filled by a man, at double the salary I was paid for the same work. College trained women are lumped with the secretarial and clerical staff, while college trained men are seen as potential executives. A few years of this and everybody is behaving according to what is expected of them, not what they are capable of."
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It is extremely difficult to obtain data on the operation and incidence of job discrimination against women. Employers do not put up signs saying "no women need apply" even when this is the unstated policy of their gate-keeping personnel managers. Some women are unaware that their ambitions are being arbitrarily thwarted, and many others are reluctant to discuss the painful and infuriating encounters they have had with job discrimination. Those of us who research and write about the status of women, or who are active in women's rights organizations, frequently hear confidential stories of women's experiences with discrimination in the job world.

My own files of such accounts have expanded enormously in recent years as a result of the grow concern for and assertiveness of women on this issue. Here are only a few illustrations, in the words the women themselves, of certain types of discrimination that they have experienced.An engineering student at MIT reports:

For years I have had to fight to retain my interest in aeronautics. My high school teacher thought I was crazy to even think of going into aeronautical engineering. My mother said I'd never find a man willing to marry a woman who likes to "tinker with motors," as she put it. My professors say I won't get a job in industry and should switch to another engineering specialty.

A graduate student in musicology writes:

All through college my professors tried to push me toward the good old reliable field of teaching music at the grade school level. I have resisted this, but it wasn't easy, and I know many women who just save up and are now teaching at the lower grade level instead of becoming a composer, musician, or musicologist.

An older woman who returned to the university to work toward a doctorate in economics after years in business reported:

My first day in graduate school I was greeted with the comment of an economics professor: "Women have no place in economics." He refused to mark the papers of the women students. We protested to the department but they upheld the prerogative of the faculty. The man in question was a visiting professor and they didn't want to "impose on him"! Never mind the effect on the women students!

These quotes all illustrate attempts on the part of parents and teachers to depress and redirect women away from their chosen professional ambitions. By far the larger emphasis in both my research and correspondence files concerns the experience of women in the job world itself. One woman who worked for a year in an architectural firm wrote:

I never wanted to teach grade school children, which I am doing now. But I found so much prejudice and resentment against me in my first job in an architectural firm, where the men refused to take me seriously, that I couldn't take it. I left and switched to teaching art. At least I feel welcome in a school.

A woman interested in a career in college administration writes:

I had the experience last year of seeing a job I had filled for two years upgraded when it was filled by a man, at double the salary I was paid for the same work. College trained women are lumped with the secretarial and clerical staff, while college trained men are seen as potential executives. A few years of this and everybody is behaving according to what is expected of them, not what they are capable of.

The reaction of these two women to covert discrimination against them was a quiet acceptance: one withdrew to another field, the other fumed but stayed put in her low-status administrative job. The next example shows goal restriction in the process of formation. Looking back on her three years of job experience since she graduated from college, one woman said:

I've learned a lot of hard lessons since I left college. A woman must be competent in her present position, but she must not aspire to a higher one. If it is offered to her, she must show surprise and gratitude. If she shows ambition, the competition and general disdain toward women executives will cost her social acceptance. For a single woman, that social acceptance is important. I used to aim much higher than I do now, but I have learned the game, and try to accept the level at which women seem to be kept, without feeling too bitter about it all.

The net effect of such discouragement is expressed by an academic woman who has adopted the compliant female stance:

Ask a man's opinion about your ideas, show gratitude for his help, make your points as questions, listen with respect and interest to his ideas, and in this way you may be accepted. Even the most insecure type of male will not resent your achievements if you are quiet about them.

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