IT’S BEEN A HUNDRED YEARS in the making, going back to when women were granted the right to vote. But now it’s time to acknowledge the obvious. The executive office, formerly the sole province of men in suits, is now thoroughly unisex. For sure, women have been well represented in the workplace since before WWII, and they breached the corner office a few decades ago. But it seems that today, you’re almost as likely to find a woman in charge as a man.
Look around. Off the top of my head I can think of literally dozens of local women running or owning a business. Women have known it all along, but it took their liberation from the yoke of male dominance to show the world… they get things done!
For those too young to have lived through the days when women were relegated to the kitchen, you might be surprised to know that it wasn’t always this way. Women used to have a place, and that place was in the home. Not anymore.
Think of some of our local positions of power. Our mayor is a woman, as is our city manager. A woman is in charge at the Upper Peninsula Health Plan and a woman was just named Chief Medical Officer of UP Health System. A woman runs our Downtown Development Authority as well as our Community Foundation. A number of our area service clubs and fraternal organizations are led by women. Some of our churches have women lead their congregations. And where men are currently in charge, like NMU or the Marquette school system, there have already been women at the helm.
Women who have risen to the top of their professions have no doubt been challenged more than the men who went before them. Beth Casady, Executive Director of the Women’s Center, accepts that the “old boys” network is hard to crack, but not impossible. “We have to realize that and work through that. I do like seeing more women supporting other women in business. I recently went to the Econ Club dinner and loved seeing bright, young women there when twenty years ago it was not so much that way.”
Women supporting women. It could certainly have a snowball effect. Women are still paid less than men, but with more women in decision making positions, that could be changing as well.
There’s no question that women have all the qualifications necessary to succeed in the professional setting. Jenna Zdunek, CEO at the Marquette County Y, cites her own experience. “The female leaders I work with have great inspiration, empathy, work/life balance, mediation, communication, and organizational skills. I believe women are great at balancing their heart and their head when it comes to decision making.”
Roxanne Daust, President and CEO at Range Bank, shares that thinking. “I feel that women definitely bring the needed traits to the business world. Those traits include valuing a good work-life balance, more inclusive and empathetic, as well as the ability to multitask.”
Oh yeah. Multitask. A big impediment to women advancing in the professional work setting was, and still is to some extent, their commitment to family. Yes, dads are assuming more of the roles typically assigned to the woman of the house, but nothing changes the fact that moms who work actually have two jobs. Work is often nine to five, but motherhood is 24-7.
Andrea Ingmire, Library Director at Peter White Public Library, knows the difficulties of having two roles. “The biggest challenge for most working parents is trying to balance work and home life. You never feel that you’re performing either role well enough. With the challenges of childcare expense and availability, I hope that more employers embrace creative ways to help parents balance work and family.”
Knowing the obstacles they still might face in the corporate world, many women have elected to skip the sacrifices required to negotiate the company hierarchy and have just started their own business.
A woman bought and restored the Landmark Inn. A woman built and opened a new distillery in downtown Marquette. A woman opened a new veterinary practice on Lakeshore Boulevard. A woman just opened a collaborative child wellness center with a roster full of professional women. Women were behind the founding of the Y and the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum.
And it’s not just the workplace where women make a difference. The Marquette Beautification Committee, the group responsible for Petunia Pandemonium and other projects around town, is predominantly female. It was started by Barb Kelly way back when and it’s still thriving today. (By the way, don’t tell Barb that it can’t be done. She’ll probably politely ask you to get out of the way.)
To be sure, we’re not quite yet to the point of total acceptance. Marquette Mayor Jenna Smith says, “I do think conditions for women in elected positions have improved, however I have had several folks truly not believe me when I tell them I am the Mayor.”
Unfortunately, there are still remnants of the boorish frowned-upon behaviors. “I think there is still sexual harassment that occurs in the workplace,” says Casady. “It may be a bit more subtle but is still there and that is hard to endure when you need a job. Let’s face it, sexual harassment is often subtle and can be intertwined in a culture of jokes so that it is hard to detect or deflect.”
Luci Contois, President of the Marquette Area Zonta Club, says her organization’s mission is to help advance the opportunities for women worldwide. “Zonta became an International organization for professional and business women because women had little or no networking opportunities. Membership was banned or limited in many clubs such as Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Chamber of Commerce etc. Zonta provided networking opportunities as well as mentorship and leadership opportunities.” Women are now welcomed in many service clubs, likely thanks in part to the advocacy of organizations like Zonta.
Call it a wave, or waves… regardless, it’s still coming. The majority of college students are now, and have been for a while, women. With the necessary education, women have proven themselves in the corporate world and the glass ceiling has effectively been shattered.
This leads us to the question… what about men? Where does all this leave them? It’s been said that competition makes you better. We’ll see. Our local professional women are producing results, and men are no longer compared to just other men. Fortunately, in contrast to women, there are still good-paying jobs available to the guys without college credentials. The trades are calling, and many men are answering.
Finally, the old adage is that behind every successful man is a woman. Don’t look now, but she’s not back there anymore. The chivalrous among us will still open the door for women, but there’s a good chance she opened it herself, and she’s already inside.