The women who came before me had to literally convince men they belonged at work; they had to fight for it. It’s never crossed my mind that I won’t be hired just because I’m a woman.
The work environment for women has changed drastically in the last 50 years. A little history lesson may help the Millennials understand why Baby Boomers and Gen Xers find it frustrating when we complain we aren’t being appreciated or advancing fast enough.
Baby Boomers enter the workforce (mid 1960s – early 1980s):
When Baby Boomers entered the workforce, working outside the home was new territory for women. Their mothers may have had jobs, but they’d also been expected to give them up after their husbands returned from WWII.
Until 1964, it was still legal to not hire a woman just because she was a woman. Enter the EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission formed to punish employers discriminating based on sex. Even with the EEOC, it was difficult to enforce equal employment opportunities for women.
Gen Xers enter the workforce (early 1980s – turn of the century):
As the Gen Xers are entering the workforce in the early 1980s, for the first time more women than men were earning bachelor’s degrees.
Being educated hadn’t changed much in the eyes of many employers. They still didn’t want to hire women, and they didn’t. The EEOC continued to fight systematic discrimination, and they were busy.
When women were able to get jobs, they didn’t have much hope for advancing in them. In 1997 women accounted for 46% of all managers in the US, however, a 1996 survey of Fortune 500 companies showed that under 3% of the highest paid management jobs belonged to women.
Although many had jobs, women were not paid nearly what men were paid. In 1996 women were making 68 cents for every dollar a man made.
Things were certainly improved from 1964, but discrimination in the workplace was still commonplace and required vigilance and legal action to correct in many cases.
Gen Y enters the workforce (turn of the century – present):
Millennial women inherit the fruits previous generations of women struggled for. We don’t have to fight; we are expected to get jobs.
Gen Y women are fortunate to have something the Baby Boomers never had, many strong female leaders in the workforce to look up to and learn from.
I’m not declaring victory. Women have a long way to go, but we are getting there with many thanks to our predecessors.
It’s no wonder Baby Boomers and Gen Xers think Millennials are lazy. All we have to do is show up and work; it’s expected. It’s no wonder I still hear “You should be happy you even HAVE a job.”
I think it’s fair for Gen X and Baby Boomer women to expect Gen Y to work as hard or harder than they did to continue advancing toward equal rights in the workplace. Maybe Gen Y’s “entitled” attitude will actually keep women pushing up and forward toward gender equality. I think it will.