Advertisement
business

Equality on the Job

The long ascent of women workers has been hard-fought, and vestiges of male privilege remain.

Back in 1949, this magazine published a trailblazing cover story titled “Do Working Women Get a Fair Break?”

It was anonymously bylined "By a Working Woman," and it answered the question in the title with an emphatic and caustic no. It laid out the case for workplace equality with cogent arguments that would gradually gain legal traction over the following 25 years.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Accompanying that story was "A Man's Rebuttal," written by an unnamed employer in defense of male preference in the workplace. But the aggrieved woman was given the last word, including this: "Much of what you say, Mr. Employer, is merely the entrenched legend and folklore that prevails among men."

Our files don't indicate who wrote those two stories, but I suspect that the woman's point of view was a collaboration among the three professional women -- one writer, one copy editor and the research chief -- among 12 male writers and senior editors. And I suspect that the anonymous employer was the editor in chief, my grandfather, W.M. Kiplinger.

In many ways, W.M. Kiplinger was a very progressive employer for his era -- in his hiring practices (including women and minorities) and in providing rich benefits, profit sharing and gifts of company stock to staff. But in this story, the employer's point of view -- perhaps my grandfather's -- reflected assumptions about women that have long since been discredited.

Advertisement
Advertisement - Article continues below
Advertisement - Article continues below

The employer's position did acknowledge, however, that the winds of change were beginning to blow: "We all know that more and more women are becoming [primary] breadwinners, not only for themselves, but for dependents. ... This fact alone will make great changes in the employment attitudes toward women, but it will take time." He concluded magnanimously: "Note that I have NOT said women's place is the home."

Fair share. In the year that story was written -- four years after men returned from World War II and reclaimed from women their former jobs in factories and offices -- just 28% of the paid labor force in the U.S. was female. Women's share of professional occupations such as law, medicine, accounting, engineering and science was less than 5%. In business management, it was only 3.5%.

Today, women constitute their proportionate 50% of the paid labor force, and they briefly became a majority during the Great Recession, when men lost millions of jobs in construction, manufacturing and finance.

Advertisement - Article continues below

Furthermore, in professional and managerial employment, women hold 52% of the jobs, twice the level they held in 1980. This rate will probably keep rising because young women are earning about 60% of all bachelor's and master's degrees today, and nearly half of the law and medical degrees.

The staffing of this magazine, once aptly titled Changing Times, illustrates this trend. Back in the early '80s, when our staff was still largely male, we were probably the first financial magazine to be headed by a woman, editor Marjorie White. Today, more than half of my colleagues who create the magazine each month are women, led by editor Janet Bodnar. Our women journalists cover investing, taxes, college costs, retirement issues -- and cars.

What about men? The long ascent of women workers has been hard-fought, and vestiges of male privilege remain. But now there is concern that young men -- falling further behind in education -- will become underrepresented in the most promising occupations of a postindustrial economy.

Why this is happening is a complex sociological question I will save for another day. In the meantime, let's all take heart that working women are, at last, getting that "fair break" that seemed so elusive in 1949.

Columnist Knight Kiplinger is editor in chief of this magazine and of The Kiplinger Letter and Kiplinger.com.

Advertisement

Most Popular

2020 Stock Market Holidays and Bond Market Holidays
Markets

2020 Stock Market Holidays and Bond Market Holidays

Is the market open today? Take a look at which holidays the stock markets and bond markets take off in 2020.
July 1, 2020
What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?
tax brackets

What Are the Income Tax Brackets for 2020 vs. 2019?

The IRS unveiled the 2020 tax brackets, and it's never too early to start planning to minimize your future tax bill.
June 20, 2020
Searching for the Perfect Place to Retire
Empty Nesters

Searching for the Perfect Place to Retire

We home in on two places with less traffic and lower costs. 
July 2, 2020

Recommended

Nursing in the Time of COVID-19
Financial Planning

Nursing in the Time of COVID-19

This health care professional warns that the pandemic will worsen the nursing shortage.
July 2, 2020
Chiropractor Trying to Get Business the Wrong Way – Illegally
careers

Chiropractor Trying to Get Business the Wrong Way – Illegally

A new chiropractor’s fledgling business plan to attract patients may sound reasonable at first look, but it’s actually against the law, and the same p…
June 30, 2020
Post-COVID-19, Seniors Must Chart a New Path in the Workplace
retirement

Post-COVID-19, Seniors Must Chart a New Path in the Workplace

Those most vulnerable to the pandemic will face challenges in the return to work, even as the recession means they may need their paychecks more than …
June 11, 2020
Dealing with an Early, Unexpected Retirement
retirement

Dealing with an Early, Unexpected Retirement

Current economic and health crises may be pushing many toward an unexpected retirement. Now is a good time to make a plan for yourself, just in case.
June 9, 2020