Women in the workplace have come a long way since the 1970s, or have they? Gender discrimination continues to exist for women while on the job. Passed over for promotions, undervalued, underpaid, sexual harassment and racial discrimination are just some of the challenges working women faced five decades ago as well as today.
A new documentary looks back at the birth of a women’s work movement, the challenges women faced and the progress they made. “9to5: The Story of a Movement” highlights how their actions laid the groundwork for the women’s labor movement, which continues to survive while facing the same challenges as their cohorts from the 1970s.
Fighting back and organizing a union
The documentary notes that an increasing number of women joined the workforce in the 1970s. By the end of that decade, an estimated 12 million more women were working than at the beginning of the decade. However, a great number were low-paid clerical workers. Their male supervisors held fast to a misogynistic view, essentially treating them as “office wives.”
Among their duties included ordering lunch, making coffee and even sewing their boss’s pants while he wore them. Remember, this marked the time when the term “sexual harassment” had yet to surface.
Despite the struggles, women workers fought back. They demanded better conditions, better pay and allowed to advance on the corporate ladder. This led to the 9to5 women’s labor movement, which also served as the inspiration for the 1980 movie “9 to 5” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.
After the movie came out, the movement formed its own female-led union for clerical workers. They even sought inclusivity in matters of class and race. However, timing was not in their favor. By the next year, President Reagan let the public know what he really thought of unions by breaking up PATCO, the union for air traffic controllers. Reagan fired all the air traffic controllers for going on strike.
Women still face the same challenges
Despite such historical beginnings meeting with some success, the women’s labor movement continues to face challenges.
Roughly 42% of U.S. women in the workplace faced job-related discrimination, according to a 2017 survey by Pew Research Center. The women cited experiences such as lower pay than male counterparts for doing the same job, being treated as incompetent, overlooked for critical assignments and denied promotions.
The surveyed women also reported they were three times more likely to be sexually harassed than men while on the job. (Other similar surveys at the time showed fluctuating numbers.)
There is more to do when it comes to unfairness in the workplace. Continue to advocate for yourself. Stand up against people who discriminate and harass you. And remember, this is a path begun decades ago by women who walked on a similar path and in similar shoes.