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Jobs & Careers > Social Norms and the Glass Ceiling

Social Norms and the Glass Ceiling

Some of you may remember social norms of the past which were inconvenient and repressive.

The recent heat Jeri complained about, brought up old memories. In my 20s, I worked for the Chicago Convention Bureau. The office wasn’t air conditioned. It was the early 50s. Eventually they did get a/c and the work day improved. Till then, however, huge floor fans had to suffice. I remember keeping a terry cloth towel between my legs to absorb the perspiration while sitting at my desk. I wore skirts in those days.

Making life even more difficult, the dress code for a refined lady was no bare arms, no sleeveless tops, no low neckline, no sandals where one could see your toes. No matter how hot it got, you were to stay covered up.

The Katharine Gibbs School—founded in 1911, became one of the most noteworthy names in the training of young women to be secretaries. I didn’t attend that school, but I knew they emphasized a dress code which included hat and white gloves, in addition to the cover-up norms they taught. Also, of course, there were typing and steno courses, and a primer on demeanor which was to be obedient, cheerful, not self-promoting, always putting your supervisor first and striving in every way to be the perfect lady. I wrote about the term “lady” a while back. It included never interrupting a male conversation, keeping your opinions to yourself, actually not having opinions. And, of course, never anticipate nor wish for an appreciation for anything other than your ability to be a handmaiden and server and/or home maker.

The glass ceiling was concrete. Promotion was never an option. Women who made it into upper echelons were rare and phenomenal and also, apparently, extremely able to manipulate male bias. In those days the term “secretary” was a title that covered major skills. Aside from typing and dictation, a trusted secretary might also manage her boss’ stock portfolio and monitor office procedures. Often she contributed ideas that were adopted by the company, for which her boss got credit.

A young woman who didn’t come from a Gibbs style school could start out as a file clerk, and, if talented, work her way up to secretary. It was an achievement and that is how I did it. Today, anyone who can type 30 words on a computer keyboard can be a secretary despite a marginal grasp of English and writing skills. My own typing skills at 130 wpm rated the term ‘bionic woman’ when I was at the NYT.

At the CCB I had a boss who was skating on being a guy. He dictated into the Dictaphone for me to transcribe. Here’s how that went: “Send this guy a letter telling him we’d like him to bring his convention to Chicago.” So I would research the company, match it to some things Chicago offered, and write the letter. And he would sign it. One day, the office manager, having her suspicions, listened to my Dictaphone tape, made a face, and Mr. Lange didn’t last long after that. But that didn't mean I could be considered for his job (convention salesman). No way.

Anyway, all these memories came floating back over the remark Jeri made that it was an awfully hot summer. I am easily inspired.

Incidentally, this background is what makes me maintain that a great deal of unresolved bias against women in leadership positions helped defeat Hillary Clinton. Just as we thought that racism was over when we elected Barack Obama, our country deluded itself into thinking that fear of women in power is a thing of the past. Men and women, too, faithful to the way “it has always been” had a knee-jerk reaction and avoided voting for a woman for president.
xx, Teal

posted on Apr 2, 2017 9:51 AM ()


things have changed some. I remember in high school we girls had a dress code..no slacks, we had to wear hose and the skirts had to be below the knee. Then in my senior year, they did away with the dress code, halleluja. All my friends and I went nuts....jeans with patches on the butt, tie dye shirts, army jackets, and peace sign necklesses. We became the original hippies

yer free at last pal
comment by honeybugg on Apr 7, 2017 6:24 AM ()
I suffered from the glass ceiling as did most of the women my age. I remember the white glove years because I wore them when I dressed up.
I really think jeans for all occasions are a bit too casual now. I have to fasten Ted's shirts at the neck when he gets dressed up and I think ties are pretty ridiculous but he looks great in them.
comment by elderjane on Apr 3, 2017 5:59 AM ()
There are only one or two years between us so I know we dealt with the same pervasive patronizing atmosphere in the workplace. At Times Books, we had a corporate vice president on the floor, my boss' boss. He baked. Really. He brought in some baked goods, invited my boss, who invited me. Arnold, the corporate guy, said I might take a scone or whatever it was, and carefully instructed me how to do it without dropping crumbs on his carpet. I responded, "Thank you. I CAN be taught simple tricks." Another time, a building manager came by with a prospect to show him our space (spectacular wrap-around view of all of Manhattan from a high floor). To be sure I would be accommodating, he held out some candy for me in the palm of his hand. Job interviews were a particular nightmare, as it was assumed I needed to be told that company policy forbade personal phone calls and painting my nails at my desk during break time. And I didn't take any of those jobs. Who needs Big Daddy?
reply by tealstar on Apr 3, 2017 8:16 AM ()
My nearby Rocky Mountain National Park recently got a new superintendent - the first woman for that park. One of the questions in her newspaper interview was about how hard had it been to work her way up through the ranks, and she said she'd never had any obstacles in her career path. She's about 50, I'm guessing with all the problems national parks have these days: hiring freeze, budget cuts, climate change denial, deteriorating infrastructure, record numbers of visitors, I think men didn't want that job, and that's partly why she had no obstacles.
comment by troutbend on Apr 2, 2017 6:29 PM ()
I like the dictaphone discovery. Your mention of Hillary and women in general reminds me of Hillary's hair changes over the years. Shortly before the election season she was growing her hair out, and photos appeared of her wearing it brushed straight back. That no-bangs look resembled my mother's enough to evoke an emotional reaction. Never before had I noticed that I tend to trust and like women who wear their hair like Samantha Stevens in Bewitched.
comment by drmaus on Apr 2, 2017 3:02 PM ()
I'm going to forget that I read the last paragraph and go with the dress code which was my first thought. Men still have it rough even in situations where we're allowed to remove the jacket. Wearing a tie is no fun in any weather
Oh, what the hell.... I voted for Hilbillery out of necessity even tho I am a Bernie supporter. I was too concerned about a trump administration. But I know people who voted for trump because they were too afraid of a Clinton administration. And then there's the Johnson voter, but she doesn't count. We'll never know, but I believe that an honest woman with Bernie's views could have won by a landslide. The Dems first mistake was blocking Bernie from the nomination and the second mistake was running Clinton just because she had been waiting so long.
comment by jjoohhnn on Apr 2, 2017 12:09 PM ()
This is the stuff I am talking about ...

$28K To Ex-FBI Agent Involved In Clinton Smear Job (Bipartisan Report)
By Friday Foster - April 2, 2017
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Sometimes irony and coincidence aren’t ironic or coincidental at all; sometimes things happen because people set the stage for them to take place. One such case of what may have initially appeared to be irony or coincidence, possibly being intentional, is embattled former Secretary of Defense, Michael Flynn once partnering with the the same ex-FBI agent who made brazen Hillary Clinton/Benghazi accusations.
reply by tealstar on Apr 2, 2017 8:07 PM ()
But you still demonize Hillary when none of the dishonesty that hovered around her was valid. it was all right-wing smears. Bernie's agenda was fairy dust. His plans were not workable. You can't save the coal industry. Free tuition, even if Bernie were president now, won't be happening for anyone in that age range. It is years in the future. IF any man had run with Hillary's record, he'd be touted for a space on Mt. Rushmore. A non partisan analysis found Hillary to be the most truthful, including more so than Bernie, than any of the candidates Republican or Democratic. Kevin McCarthy, in line to succeed Boehner, admitted on the Sean Hannity show that the Benghazi investigations were designed to damage Hillary and he crowed that her numbers were dropping. The Republicans were so angry with him, he didn't get Boehner's job. So why do you continue believe the crap they have been putting out? What does it take for you to admit she is exceptional. Her international smarts were out of the ballpark while Bernie was still learning stuff about first base. And she didn't "steal" the nomination. SHE HAD MORE VOTES.
reply by tealstar on Apr 2, 2017 12:27 PM ()

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