If you can believe what you read, the Millennials may not be left with a world that is better than the world Baby Boomers inherited. But that conclusion is not a given. It will take a few more decades sort things out.
What we do know for sure right now is that life is different for Millennial women than it was for Baby Boomers when they were the same age. What a better place to start than what it was like to go to work in the 1950s compared to the present day.
Millennials females, especially in the U.S., have a world of opportunity that just didn’t exist in 1950. Few female Millennials could imagine being turned down when they tried to open a bank account because they are single or required to get a husband to cosign a loan in order to start a new business. (And boyfriends and partners don’t count because it was illegal in most states for unmarried couples to cohabitate!) And let’s not ignore the ability for an employer to fire you on the grounds you were pregnant…and the woman had no recourse.
For an aging Boomer like me it’s particularly disturbing and even embarrassing to admit these situations even existed in my lifetime. But they did and it’s an important reminder that despite the challenges that exist today, the world may still be a better place even though it is far from perfect.
To get this party started, let’s compare a day-in-the-office in 1955 and 2015.
Joe and Sue Arrive at Work
1955 – Joe arrives at the office in his suit and tie, carrying his leather monogrammed brief case. He heads right for his private office where his secretary Sue is waiting patiently. Sue arrived a few minutes earlier dressed in her conservative colored dress or suit wearing high heels. As soon as Sue arrived at her desk outside Joe’s office, she rushed off to get him his first cup of coffee before he arrived. When Joe arrives, she greets Joe with a “Good morning, Mr.Boss” then exits his office to empty his ashtray filled with cigarette butts. She returns in a minute with a clean ashtray to start his day and hangs his dry cleaning that she picked up for him. She then pulls out her stenographer’s pad, pulls up a chair, and begins taking notes.
2015 – Joe arrives in his tee shirt and jeans carrying a back pack and bike helmet. Sue arrives in skin-tight jeans and a top showing some cleavage, revealing the small tattoo on her right breast. Both are carrying cups of Starbucks coffee…and a bottle of water. Sue and Joe grab seats in the “bullpen” with all the other associates. After giving each other a morning hug and fist-pump, both Sue and Joe head off to the lunch area and pop in a K-cup to refill their coffee cups. (Did I forget to mention that Sue is now the CEO and Joe works in sales?)
While life for Sue and Joe is representative of many workplaces it is definitely not universal. So allow me to highlight a few more scenarios that are distant but real memories for Baby Boomers and things Millennials may take for granted.
- Up until the 1960s, a bank could refuse to issue a credit card to an unmarried woman; even if she was married, her husband was required to cosign. Women were not able to apply for credit until theEqual Credit Opportunity Act in 1974.
- Many women who did enter college pursued a “Mrs” more than the BS or BA. An educated woman was considered to be a threat to a husband’s self-esteem. Many females bypassed college or deliberately produced “C” work in order to avoid embarrassing a male suiter.
- Top schools were off-limits. With the exception of Penn and Cornell, Ivy League schools were closed to women until 1969. Harvard didn’t admit women until 1977. Columbia delayed admitting women until 1981.
- Women were kept out of jury pools until 1973 because their primary responsibility was considered to be caregivers. They were also thought to be too fragile to hear the grisly details of crimes and too sympathetic by nature to be able to remain objective.
Before anyone dislocates his shoulder patting himself on the back for all this “progress,” take a deep breath. New laws and regulations have done a lot to improve equality, but we still have a long way to go. Women in the C-level are still the exception and gender wage gaps prevail. The good old boy network still exists and many still believe the ideal role of a woman is to be barefoot and pregnant. It is however helpful to reinforce with Millennials how much gender equality has improved and to remind Baby Boomers how much more work needs to be done.