Present Since The Creation

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The postwar babies who had caused an expansion in school systems and a plethora of jobs for educators were grown now and seeking jobs of their own, just when delayed marriages and increased family planning meant there were fewer children to be educated. There was a glut of teachers, social workers, and librarians. Typically, jobs in the professions called for a graduate degree; beginners who wanted to get started at once had to drive taxis and wait on tables.

One of our tasks was helping people change fields. A client who was telling employers that she had worked for a theatrical agency—and was getting the phone slammed in her ear—changed her opening line to “I interviewed men and women of all ages for an office that placed actors in every sort of role.” She immediately got a job in personnel.

More and more women began returning to work after their children had grown. It was not a matter of boredom; it was a necessity. Rising expenses brought the two-income family into being. And suddenly employers wanted women more than ever. They asked for those who had been around long enough to know what they wanted and who would stay. Uncomfortable questions about marital and family plans didn’t come up; they were against the law.

Then came the rush to the bandwagon. Everybody wanted to do what we had been doing for twenty years—helping women develop careers. Colleges introduced job-related studies to address the new fervor for careers and to answer freshmen’s questions about the relevance of certain majors. Economics majors would study accounting; psychology majors would study marketing; some took double majors. Fathers cross-examined admissions officers about the chances of their daughters getting jobs after graduation.

New organizations sprang up to help with jobs, career planning, executive placement; others provided support programs such as assertiveness training and time planning. Our own work was affected in an unexpected way. Clients wanted us to interpret the advice that these new agencies had given them. And well they might. One woman, told that she was qualified to be a CEO, asked me sardonically, “Do you know of any openings for CEOs?”

The 1980s found college seniors planning their careers to make money rather than pursue their interests, a trend that produced a surplus of doctors and lawyers. Women started entering college at any age, and there were fewer returners because so many women were already at work.

Employers, realizing that providing services for women would be to their advantage, allowed time off for pregnancies, gave family leave, and set up daycare centers. They created part-time jobs—and interesting ones—some of which could be done at home on computers.

A bank asked us to find a replacement for someone in its mergers-and-acquisitions department. The job entailed interviewing the financial officers of companies considering a merger. I talked to the woman who was leaving and asked her, as diplomatically as possible, if it wasn’t hard for a woman to worm out the information she needed from male executives.

“No,” she said. “Actually, it was easy. I could see them say to themselves, ‘She won’t understand what I have to say,’ and then relax and divulge more than they would to men.”

I retired before the nineties dawned, but of course I was curious about what lay ahead. Then one day I was invited to give a talk at a Bryn Mawr alumnae club. I wondered what I could say that would interest them. Suddenly I realized the historical significance of the panorama I had been witnessing over the years as the raw recruits of the women’s movement filed past my desk.

I had my speech.

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