For many Americans today, Labor Day signifies a day off work and a long weekend. The true meaning of Labor Day, celebrated the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well being of our country. And there have been many icons that have contributed to the labor movement in this country- but none quite so recognizable as “Rosie” the Riveter.
During the peak of the war effort, the U.S. was struggling to manufacture necessary replacement parts and other staple items to send overseas. The remaining male workforce was so heavily taxed that production had slowed to a crawl. At that point, the U.S. Government began what is now considered the most successful recruiting campaign of its history. To encourage women to leave the home and enter the workforce they channeled Rosie’s song onto the airwaves and major manufacturer Westinghouse commissioned a series of posters to support the war effort. The image of a woman with her hair wrapped up in a polka-dot scarf, her sleeve rolled up, flexing her bicep, and exclaiming, “We can do it!” quickly became the icon of the women’s labor movement.
Women of all races came out of their homes, set aside their pantyhose and cooking aprons, and entered the workforce into jobs that had only previously been held by men. They produced replacement parts for ships and tanks, common household goods, and just about everything else you can imagine. They answered the call of their country to do something they had never imagined.
When the war was over, men returned home to find their sisters, mothers, girlfriends, and wives forever changed. It took a period of adjustment before the new “working woman” was accepted in society- and that was over sixty years ago.
Monday Morning Perspective
“Not only is women’s work never done, the definition keeps changing.” – Bill Copeland
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” – Harold Wilson
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” – Anatole France
So with sixty years of women in the workforce you’d hope that women were equally represented in leadership roles, but they are not. With 190 Heads of State globally, only 9 are women. Of all the people in Parliament in the world, only 13% are women. In the U.S. military, where women are now flying combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is only one female four-star general officer, GEN Ann Dunwoody. In the corporate world, as C-level executives and Board Members, women cap out between 15 and 16% worldwide. Even in the world of non-profits, where women are envisioned as being empowered, the figures still don’t exceed 20%. These numbers haven’t changed since 2002.
And while women are now free to wield a wrench and work on a manufacturing line, or choose to work in corporations or non-profits around the world in a variety of roles, they are still paid .80 cents for every dollar a man in the same position makes. In addition to their day jobs, these women bear the majority of child rearing and domestic responsibilities. It’s no cakewalk being a working mom.
But the real tragedy comes with recent studies that show how success and likeability are directly correlated for men and women. For men, the more successful you become, the more likeable you are perceived to be. For women, it’s exactly the opposite. A study conducted by Columbia University in 2002 demonstrated that those surveyed felt that a successful woman was “too political” and “out for herself”, whereas the same information provided about a man made him likeable and a great fishing buddy.
So with sixty years in the workforce, American women have two choices. The first is to choose what makes them the most happy- to be a working mom or a homemaker. And in that way, our women are more liberated than our men. A man certainly doesn’t get the same choice in our society, something that I hope will change.
The second choice is whether or not we will allow the opinions of others to influence what we are capable of accomplishing. We have to ask whether or not being liked is more important than changing the world we live in.
And I agree with Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, when I say that it is my hope that someday, just like images of Rosie the Riveter inspired women to enter the workforce, that the life stories of successful women leaders like GEN Ann Dunwoody and Indra Nooyi (CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo) will encourage women to stay in the game, strive to take chances for upward mobility, and eventually lead from the front beside our male counterparts- and that they will be able to be “liked” at the same time.
I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend, and Happy Labor Day!
Have a wonderful week!
© Crystal Dyer 2011. All rights reserved.