Clueless College Grad Learns a Lesson: Women Earn Less Than Men

It was the 70s. Things were different then.  

I was a college graduate, and I was learning a lot about the job market as I was trying to get my start in the world of business. For example, on my very first interview, I learned my college degree didn’t matter. My GPA didn’t matter. All those semesters I’d worked so hard to be on the Dean’s List didn’t matter. All that mattered was my typing skills. I learned that there were some jobs that didn’t require typing – but they were only for men. 

The lady at the staffing firm said she would call if there was a job for me. I waited. She didn’t call. I called on ads for management trainee jobs, but all they wanted to know was, “How fast do you type?”  

Finally, the phone rang. It was the lady from the staffing firm and she was chirpy. “I have a job for you! Mr. Adams, the manager of an upscale gift and stationary store is looking for a manager trainee. I told him about you and he wants to meet you today.” 

“And I don’t have to type?” 

She laughed sweetly. “No typing. I told him how pretty and stylish you are.”  

“Did you tell him that I have a liberal arts degree and also studied art?” 

“Yes. His customers are professional business people, and he needs a person who’s polished, one they can relate to.” 

“It’s retail? A cashier job?” I asked, remembering the two days I’d worked in a grocery store during high school, and had lines backed up to the meat department because I couldn’t catch on to the cash register. “But I really don’t want a job in retail.” 

“Yes, but, Sweetie, there’s just not much else for you unless you learn to type.”  

(I had already borrowed a typewriter and tried to learn. I lacked both eye-hand coordination and patience, so I’d type five words and make an error. In case you’ve never seen one, I can tell you typewriters are mean, unforgiving machines. One mistake and you had to start all over – just like the cash register.) 

“Anyway, this is more than ringing up purchases. You’ll get to use your creativity and arrange the gift displays.” 

“Aren’t there any manager trainee jobs in offices?” 

“Yes, but they are all looking to hire men.” 

“The fee? Will the company pay it?” 

“No, you’ll have to pay the fee.” 

I sighed and said okay. She told me an address. It was on the 4000 block of Massachusetts Avenue. 

First I had to find the place (there was no SIRI then). I’d only been in the area for two weeks, living in Maryland, but luckily, I knew where Massachusetts Avenue was. It was in downtown Washington. I took 16th Street to K Street, Connecticut Avenue to DuPont Circle, went around it, and got off on Massachusetts, which I took all the way back to Maryland. I made a twenty-minute drive just over an hour. Not bad. 

I went in, doubtful, but it was nicer than a grocery store, and Mr. Adams was nice to me. He even asked about my degree. I started feeling a little better. I would be responsible for arranging the displays, and helping customers choose the right stationary and gifts. After about thirty minutes, he surprised me by offering me the job. But I still didn’t want retail – until he told me my salary. I’d earn one hundred and thirty-five dollars a week (that equates to over forty-six thousand dollars a year today). Wow! I accepted. 

Mr. Adams gave me my application and told me to take it to the company’s human resources manager to finish my paperwork. I would start Monday. 

The human resources department was in the back of a basement in their main store. I walked through dark and dusty rows of racks filled with boxes. It was creepy, but I was up because I had a job and a great salary.  

There was no door on the office, so I could see a woman standing at a file cabinet. She was tall with a square build and the biggest shoulders I’d ever seen on a woman. Her heavy brown suit looked almost military, but without any medals or ribbons. She was scary. 

I thought she must have heard me coming, but she didn’t look up, so I knocked on the wall. She turned and glared at me as if she wanted to eat me alive, but I didn’t run away. I handed her my application, which she tossed onto her cluttered desk without looking at it. She spoke in a clipped voice that completed the military image. 

“Mr. Adams said he thinks I should hire you. Have you ever worked in an office supply store before?” 

“No.” I almost said, “No, Ma’am.”  

“Have you even worked in retail?”  

“No.” (I decided she didn’t mean the two days in the grocery store.) “Well,” she said, “why should I hire you?” 

“Mr. Adams already hired me. He told me to start Monday.” 

“Then I suppose there’s nothing for me to do, is there?” she snarled. “Fine. You start Monday at one hundred dollars a week.” 

“I thought I’d make a hundred thirty-five.” 

“No you won’t. You’ll make one hundred! If you were a man, you would get one thirty-five.” 

“Is this the same job? The manager trainee?” 

“That’s the job.” 

“May I ask you a question? Why won’t I make one thirty-five?” 

She enunciated her words as though explaining a problem to a child, a dumb child. “Because you are a woman!” 

“Why does a woman make less?” 

She rolled her eyes. “Because men should make more. Men support families. Besides that, a woman has other issues to consider. Look at it this way. What if you are in the storeroom and a box falls off and hits you in the chest?” 

I left without a job, but I had learned another lesson. Men were paid more money than women, because they were men.  

Sadly, women are still learning that lesson today. 

June 26, 2019