The Changing Role of Women at Work

Steve Strauss, founder of www.theselfemployed.com, reminisces of an era when women were forced to choose between family and business and praises mompreneurs who now juggle both.

Q: My wife is both a terrific mom and a terrific businesswoman. So on this Mother’s Day, I would just like to say thank you to her, and to all of the great moms out there who juggle life and business.

Zachary

 

A: Like many people, I have been fascinated with this great season of AMC’s Mad Men. It is interesting on so many levels, not the least of which is the struggle and challenges of women in the workplace. And in that regard, the indomitable Peggy Olson is our favorite character. Her spunk, great attitude, smarts, and dedication have, and will, take her far.

Similarly, Don Draper’s new wife Megan is a fascinating character. Rather than the ditzy airhead we (I) anticipated, it turned out that she too is an incredibly capable young woman, bursting with creativity and mad skills.

But what neither of these women will ever be is a mompreneur. I grew up in the 60s and, as the show so ably depicts, it was a different era. Women tended to be either stay-at-home moms or women who worked. Rarely did the two mix. Witness Joanie leaving her son with her mom so she could go back to and run Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.

There have been so many advancements in the workplace in the recent past that it is hard to pick one that is the most important – technology, mobility, laws, attitudes – work today is radically different than even a generation ago. But even with these seismic shifts, it would be hard to say that the change in attitude by and towards women at work is not the most important change; number one.

I once had a boss who had to straddle the old and new world. Coming of age in the 70s as she did, she seemed to think that the only way she could be effective at work was to be tougher than the guys. And boy, was she tough.

These days though, it seems that no such compromises need to be made.

When the Secretary of State is a woman, when The Masters has a problem on its hands because the CEO of one of its biggest sponsors, IBM, is a woman, we are clearly in a new world where equality does not mean out-manning the men. Rather, it seems to mean that a person can bring their own strengths to the table and succeed or fail on her own merits, period.

That is the world I want to see my daughters grow up in:

  • A world where a woman can realistically think she can become president (Go Mara!)
  • A world where a woman does not have to choose between being a mom and being an entrepreneur. (According to the AP, roughly 67% of all home-based businesses are owned by women with children.)
  • A world where women get equal pay for equal work (Background: Lily Ledbetter worked at a Goodyear Tire Rubber Co. plant in Gadsen, Alabama. After she learned that she was being paid less than her male counterparts, she eventually sued the company. But because she waited until near retirement to sue, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against her because, they said, she had in fact waited too long. In his first act as president, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act which mandates equal pay for equal work.)

So on this day after Mother’s Day, I would just like to thank all of the great moms out there (including my own sweet wife) who have changed the world and who continue to make our business life so vibrant.

 

Today’ Tip: Sign of the times: My daughter, who is a freshman in college, really dislikes “feminism.” “Why?” I ask her. “Because women are already equal to men dad. Duh. There is nothing to fight about.” Little does she realize how much she owes women like my old boss, and before that, the Peggy Olsons of the world. These brave women made it so that a young woman today takes equality for granted.

 

Steven D. Strauss is a lawyer and writer and is one of the country's leading experts on small business as well as an international business speaker. The best-selling author of 17 books, his latest is the all-new 3rd ed. of The Small Business Bible. You can listen to his weekly podcast, Small Business Success Powered by Greatland, visit his new website for the self-employed, TheSelfEmployed, follow him on Twitter, and "like" TheSelfEmployed on Facebook. You can e-mail Steve at: sstrauss@mrallbiz.com. © Steven D. Strauss