Working Girl, Then and Now

80's pic

This post was written by Associate Director of Northeastern Career Development, Susan Loffredo.

The year is 1984.  With a humanities and social science background, aided by some serendipitous networking, I am starting a new job in employee communications at a semiconductor company. My cubicle is in the corporate headquarters building where I regularly see and sometimes work with the executive officers, who are all men.  Almost all of the other women in the building are secretaries. I wear a suit to work every day so I can be recognized as equal to my male colleagues, but my shorter stature and my higher-pitched voice put me at a disadvantage in meetings where people are vying to be heard. The men apologize directly to me when they happen to let slip a mild swear word.

In the buildings where the engineers work, women are even rarer. I never thought that deliberate discrimination was going on, but it was clear that these men felt most comfortable working with other men, and many of the relatively few women who braved engineering degrees were scared away by the boys’ club atmosphere.  It took me years at this company, where I worked for eight years, for these guys to feel comfortable being themselves around me and to stop  %#^*ing apologizing to me for their bad language.  In this male culture, there were many unspoken rules I didn’t understand.  For example, two male managers might have an extremely bitter turf battle, but be tennis buddies later that day. It didn’t make sense to me.

The year is 2014. Now I work in a primarily female environment and I pretty much understand all the rules. My work life is a lot better; in fact, opportunities for all women are a lot better than they were then, but far from perfect. The glass ceiling still exists and the gender pay gap has not improved in ten years.  There is still progress to be made.

Career Development is starting a conversation with the sheLEADS series that we hope will continue beyond this semester and contribute positively to your work and life success. Please join us this coming Wednesday, January 15th from 5PM-6:30PM at the Stearns Center for our first program, negoSHEate, Get What You Want Without Conflict.

Author Susan Loffredo began counseling NU students well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2013. Email her at s.loffredo@neu.edu.