Going Back to Work: Overcoming Sexism

In a conversation I had with Betsy Post in the late 1990s, Betsy said the women’s liberation movement "sold a load of crap” to young women in the 1980s and 1990s. She said that, as a young mother, she knew that she could not “have it all” by having a career and children, with or without a husband. The notion that a single woman could be a successful mother and have a successful career was “a fantasy” because the sum of the demands of both jobs was greater than the emotional and physical capacities of most women. She went on to say that few men could do it either.

Betsy went back to work in the late 1970s as her second marriage started to fall apart. As a woman in her early forties, it was difficult to prove what she had done in the past because almost all of her work from the 1960s was still classified, so she started building her career from scratch. However, things had changed, and she found that the age issue she'd encountered in the 60s was now a bigger deal than the sexism of that time. She realized that she'd had an edge in the '60s—a sharp mind and a father with a little pull that could open doors for her.

By the late '70s things had changed. More women worked in offices, and companies used more computers. Betsy could talk a little about her past work and her abilities, enough to get herself in front of hiring managers. The men who hired her recognized that they were hiring a smart mind, and they could take advantage—that is, they could pay her a little less because she was a woman. However, the first employers who tried to take advantage of her in this way learned that Betsy could move on quickly, because it did not take long for her to establish how smart she was … and how much value she could be to a new employer.

It did not take long for Betsy to move up, as she was smart enough to negotiate better pay packages and compensation with each move. By the early 1980s she was a “hired gun,” working for a consulting/contracting company that recognized her for what she was—a goose that produced golden eggs and therefore was worth paying well. They even paid her while she sat on the bench between assignments.

Now a single woman with grown kids, Betsy started to work longer contract assignments, mainly in the Midwest, but also in other locations like Naples, Florida. The scope of her projects grew, and eventually Betsy was designing entire business systems and developing the architecture of those systems for then-small companies that are huge, well-known brand names today. If you eat at a Panera Bread, think of Betsy, who designed the backbone database systems for what was then the St. Louis Bread Company … code that lives on today.

Productive, happy, working, Betsy was fully engaged with life, and able to express her abilities for managers and leaders who appreciated having a sharp mind in their midst.

Soon, that was to change.

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