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THE GENDER GAP

February 8, 2011

Forty years ago, a friend thought I had more to contribute to the world than continuing my traditional female role of “Tina Travel Agent” and instilled a belief in me that I could do more.  He pointed out a few women role models to follow and sent me on my way to make of my life what I could, telling me that “You’ll be judged on what you do, not on what you say.”

And off I went into the corporate world. As most of you know, I was blessed with many an additional mentor along the way as I became a divisional director at the age of 28; a divisional vice president at 39, and left that corporate environment after 20 years – well-armed to start my own business and succeed.  Overall, that journey has been a good one for me, as I took from that world the skills and philosophies I needed to run my own business and continue to indulge successfully in my personal passion for meetings and events and how to use them as tools to help people learn.

There are many reasons for that success, but today, the STRIB recap of Arvonne Fraser’s address at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs which focused on The Gender Gap caught my attention – and made me mad!

It also opened a floodgate of memorable incidents that demonstrate how difficult that pathway has been-because of the times in which I found myself, and the general thinking of men in business at the time.

Early in the 70s as I successfully absorbed new responsibilities, they often came with the caveat that “we need you to do this, but once we are bigger, we will be able to afford to hire a man to take it on and you can move to something like managing the Pretrip department.”

In 1971, I fought to become travel staff at a time when there were only 4 women nationally holding that role.  The excuse, of course, was that clients and vendors were men and to maintain good relations with both, a female would have to react positively to personal advances – and of course, my manager “valued me too much to allow me to be put in that position”.

When a large incentive program I planned demanded I be on site, the President of Travel set out to prove his point.  I arrived at the hotel to be told that rooms were tight and I would have to share mine with the male ground operator (DMC contact in today’s world).  When I did not make a scene, that ploy was abandoned for another; but fortunately I also survived a drink with him and the ground operator and sales director of the hotel – where both half-heartedly staged attempts to “pick me up”.  Little did he know he not only lost the case that evening, but it was a beginning of a deep friendship with both those wonderful Hawaiians that continued for more than 15 years.   

And as important, I became a pioneer along with those original women at E.F. McDonald and Maritz that raised the bar on the performance of travel staff and proved at least to our satisfaction, that women did it better – as still shown today when you look at the ratio of male to female in the world of professional trip directors!

The list of incidents goes on through-out my career, and for the most part, I managed to rise victorious above the thinking of the day.  I tried to live by the mantra, “I did not fail – I just have not succeeded yet”.  But over and over again, I was defeated in the realm of financial equality. I became a product area director with no increase; I became a company director with no increase; and finally, 15 years into my career, when I took a stand and fought to a draw – I became a divisional vice president with a bonus plan but still no salary increase commensurate with new responsibilities. 

Although I co-managed a new division based on a business plan I singularly authored, presented, and fought for through all the levels of approval, I made 39% less than my male partner did.   And sadly, that was less important to me, than the fact that when, together, we made our numbers that first year, the letter congratulating us on becoming “Goalmakers” was sent to him, with a footnote, asking him to pass on the congratulations to Cheryl.

As I look back I am not so much sorry for myself, although I certainly never had my eye on my own financial best interest, but I am sorry that because I did not fight at a time when maybe there was a chance I would have won, I perhaps have done a disservice to those who have come after me.

I am appalled but not surprised that our GOP-led legislators think it is not a problem that women still make 22% less than men – not much of a change in the 26 years since the 1984 Local Government Pay Equity Act was passed and that same year, over in the corporate world, I became a vice president.  To improve that disparity only that small amount so clearly demonstrates the fight is not yet over. 

What’s to be done about it?  I am not sure.  As the world moves forward, that male “quest for power and superiority” through any means is still less important to me than “doing good work”, so perhaps I am not being realistic when I think that the 21st century move away from building empires to building consensus and collaboration  will prove victorious.  I need to think on that further.    Nevertheless, I take my hat off to Arvonne Fraser  for once again bringing this issue to the fore.

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