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Women at Work and Labor of Love: Encouraging the Next Generation

by Rickey Gard Diamond - Photos by Mary Claire Carroll and Rhye Brittenham

labor of love



When I was a girl, the woman I most admired on earth was a top-shelf presence on my grandfather's roll top desk, proof of her status. My Aunt Caroline's graduation portrait, in a prim white nurse's cap, crowned my awareness of the handful of work choices I had: to be a mom, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a secretary. None of these appealed to me, but I did admire the way my family respected my aunt.

In 1900, two generations earlier, fewer than 20 percent of women worked in the labor market. By 2000, the number had grown to an unprecedented 61 percent. This increase largely comes from the rising participation rates of women with young children. In 1980, less than half of women with children under six were in the labor force, compared with two-thirds of women with young children today. About half of these working mothers are employed full-time, year-round.

Because of this new norm, younger women may find it difficult to appreciate the barriers women of the 1950s and 60s faced. While nursing and teaching welcomed young women, the glass ceiling in those days was about three feet off the ground. Women didn't run hospitals or schools, and in many businesses, getting married was enough to end a "girl's" job.

Eventually women's consciousness was raised and a movement was born, though media called "women­ libbers" radical. They ignored how my conservative Catholic mother, like so many others, made very sure her daughter got the pill.

I fulfilled my working class family's dream for me: I became a full-time mom. But when the economy intervened in the early 70s, more women like me found they needed to work. Middle and working class bread-winners' wages were falling, and if Dad stuck around, he needed help to support a family.

Nursing and teaching continued to be important to women, at least partly because they had flexible hours; a nurse or teacher could schedule her work life around children's needs. Secretaries and store clerks had a harder time finding babysitters. Childcare centers, small in number, carried the stigma of social services for the poor; some feared they would raise up baby communists.

Rocks and Hard Places

As a working mother, I also managed to complete two degrees, aided by colleges that were redesigning pro­ grams to accommodate the growing numbers of women who sought careers.

Women's evolution during this pivotal period can be seen in the contrast between two similar, yet very different, hit songs a decade apart. Peggy Lee, in 1961, sang a sexy, "I am Woman, W-O-M-A-N." Addressed to her man, who apparently needed to be reminded of his good luck, her lyrics celebrated her ability to party until 4:00 in the morning and then get up at 5:00 to wash out everyone's socks. Sultry, Lee's woman brought home the bacon and fried it up in a pan.

Ten years later, Helen Reddy (1971) co-authored with her partner, and then belted out to the world, what became an anthem of the women's movement, by then gone global. Her lyrics, "I am Woman, hear me roar,"dropped the allure of Lee's home front politics, and stuck out woman's chin, headed for a bigger vision. You can still hear a determined Reddy sing it on You Tube. You can even make it your ringtone:


I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an' pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes, I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained Ifl have to
I can do anything
I am strong (strong)
I am invincible (invincible) I am woman.


By the 1980s and 90s, my daughters were becoming women, and work fields had opened up. Both pursued more technical fields than my own interest in liberal arts and writing; both will make more money over their lifetimes. Most exciting, though, is the world of opportunity my granddaughters face - or maybe they won't. Pink prevails for most girls, I've noticed; princess toys promote prettiness, and despite girls' current expectation of a fair shot at their dreams, they and their friends, and their movies and books, rarely talk openly about strate­gizing a smart course of action steps toward less typical work fields- or discussing how likely pay and promotions will be on various career paths.

United We Stand

A clue about why that may be is found in a recent LinkedIn poll, where 20 percent of professional women said they had never had a mentor. Helen Reddy's song is nothing if not a ringing claim to individualism. She never sang, "We are Strong, We are Invincible!" Women have worked hard to achieve their separate self-identity, and I think it likely the LinkedIn poll is just the first time anyone asked a certain group of busy professional women to think about mentors.

None of us achieves goals all by ourselves, but it is worth examining more closely how exactly women do succeed.


There are now 65,579,000 women working part time or full time in the United States. But here's an interesting fact, related to that lack of women mentors: Two-thirds of work­ ing women are clustered into just 54 of the 534 occupations tracked by the Department of Labor.

Most of us who have accomplished a goal can look to someone who has helped us along the way, though often this relationship wasn't planned or formal. My first was Joan Baxter, who hired me after my divorce. She'd been a single mom, too, and assured me I'd survive and even thrive.

Much rarer is a woman's being sponsored, or groomed, by the higher-ups for future elevation. This track remains a male realm, says a recent Washington Post article. Unlike mentorship, sponsorship is initiated by those in power, who remain - surprise - largely males, who most identify with young male proteges.

But where women have power, there's a growing awareness that pass­ing it on to the next generation will not happen automatically. One example is a website called The Glass Hammer, an online community of women executives in finance, law and business. Kimberly Wood, a senior partner and business leader at Mercer Investments, encourages seasoned women to reach out to the next generation. "I don't think senior women can do enough," she told writer Melissa Anderson. "I think we need to do a lot more in terms of mentoring, coaching, and being a support system."

That would take active sponsorship of young women. More often mentoring relationships are initiated from the bottom up, and not many girls get to widely explore work options with those who know some­ thing. "Take Your Daughter to Work" began in 1993, because Gloria Steinem at Ms. Magazine saw this lack. In 2003, it became "Take Your Child to Work." Female mentoring relationships with powerful women remain elusive.

Even when girls form large ambi­ tions, seldom are they taught how to strategize for work positions where mentors of either sex may help them to master a field. The language of "mastering" a field is not theirs, and at some subtle level this must register.

Passing the Torch

Vermont Works for Women (VWW), located in Winooski, is an organization founded 25 years ago to promote women's economic well­ being, most often in non-traditional occupations. It has recently undertak­ en an ambitious project to address this mentoring lack-or rather to begin a conversation about the economic power of women's work, and how to pass the torch on to our next generation of girls. They call their project Labor of Love.


Not everyone who has a job loves it. And even those who love their work won't find every part of it fun. But the people who make a difference often discover they have talents that can be put to good use. The path to get to that useful place, the way to discovering one's talents, harnessing an inner joy while earning a livelihood, is seldom straightforward-and neither is VWW's Labor of Love. It's complicated, as people like to say on Facebook.

Last winter, VWW invited people to tell them about women who had a passion for their work, women who had made a difference, and women who inspired them. The answering outpour of more than 150 nominations both surprised and pleased.

To sift through the nominees, VWW formed a committee: two staff people, one former board member, one donor, a former VISTA member and one community business person, Sabina Haskell. Haskell is public rela­ tions director at Fairpoint Communications, which helped fund the project. "I had never met any of my colleague judges before," she said, "and it was one of the best experiences I've had in the last several years."

All six women committee members reviewed nominations independently. They then gave them their own personal ranking. "We'd go around the table and say who stuck out for us, and then we came together as a group several times," said Haskell. "We talked about each woman who had been nominated. It was fascinat­ ing to hear what everyone thought. Often we were all in sync, but some­ times we had different ideas, and each person on the committee would say, 'This is what struck me about this nomination.' And then the rest of us would say, 'Oh, I see what you mean.'

Haskell called the nominations an expression of faith, and their process a pleasure. "I looked forward to our meetings. You can see what I'm saying is true from the breadth and depth of whom we chose: there's a tattoo artist, a teacher, advocates, a CEO, an electrician in charge of training other electricians."

Torch Bearers

Recognizing outstanding women workers was only the first step. VWW next brought the 28 women together for a day - powerful in itself - but then matched the women up with high school girls, also selected from around the state. They all met at Spaulding High School, and each girl was invited to interview a woman, one-on-one.

Gregory Sharrow and Andy Kolovos, co-directors of Vermont Folklife Center were on hand with oth­ ers from the center, recording the interviews; they intend to make them available in future. "The young women's questions were as various as the young women were various," said Sharrow. "For some kids, it was still an exercise. For others, it was more, 'Ooh, I get to talk to this person."

"I loved the day," said VWW Executive Director Tiffany Bluernle. "It's really important that older women reach out to young women, and encourage them to ask hard ques­ tions of themselves and others. And make deliberate choices in their lives. We're an organization that tries to fos­ ter curiosity about the world. It's big. There's a lot you can do."

But this day was not the end either. "This is a start!" Bluernle said. ''And where we go with it will depend at least in part on what the public decides to do with it." VWW next intends to create a Labor of Love exhibit to tour the state. It hopes to provoke local conversations about how best to utilize young talent in their midst.

"Ideally, young people who see the exhibit will recognize the passion with which our honorees approach their work," said Bluemle, "and resolve to pursue work that engages their own. I hope that the exhibit inspires conversations - among women, or between parents and children - about the choices that have defined women's professional journeys, so that young people are equipped to make deliber­ ate decisions as they mature."

She told me how one parent had driven two of the girls back from Barre to Vergennes. "They talked nonstop the whole way about the day, and how differently they were thinking now. They needed to keep their eyes open and see opportunities. They noticed that nobody's path had been a straight -line trajectory."

Interestingly, Bluernle also admitted the process lay bare that same sort of hole in women's knowledge that the LinkedIn survey had revealed. Did our 28 Vermont women have mentors? How had they created their success? Bluemle answered, "Many of the women honorees said that they really hadn't reflected very much on how their careers had developed, or what kind of decisions they had made along the way, or how they would define their happiness, their joy. They said, 'No one ever asked me those questions before!"

Busy people may not take the time to reflect on life questions - unless we ask. And it is vital we know more about the paths women take. Mentoring, or even just making one­self available to the younger generation for a day, as VWW asked these notable women to be, helps to make those stories visible. Insights gained were valuable to 28 young girls, but were also enriching for the women singled out as their role models.

"We want to inspire a broader public conversation about the role of women's work as an economic driver," Bluernle said. And economic driving is exactly what Vermont women and girls need full license for achieving.

The Unfinished Marathon

Young women flock to college in greater numbers than men today, and most expect to work for a living. But they must not suffer any illusion about having arrived. The national disparity between men's and women's pay still stands at 77.5 percent. Women eamed the majority of degrees in 2008-09, says the National Center for Education Statistics, but here's the surprise: The more education a woman has, the greater her pay gap.

Women in professional occupations were found to earn just 72.7 per­ cent of what men in the same position earned, while women in upper level executive, administrative and managerial occupations earned even less, only 72.3 percent. (Dept. of Labor; U.S. Census statistics; The Institute for Women's Policy Research.)


What does this pay gap mean to women and their families? In virtually every field, a woman can expect to earn less over her lifetime than her male counterpart. Over a 47 -year work life, this gap amounts to an estimated loss in wages of:

$700,000 for high school graduates. — $1.2 million for college grads. — $2 million for a grad school professional.


A woman might be able to retire on that kind of money. Education remains the best route out of poverty for women, because women still dominate the low-wage job market. Women's economic reality is so staring us in the face that Forbes Magazine, which more typically cele­ brates the one percent, recently rec­ ommended that businesses raise the minimum wage to improve women's situation.

Okay, it was really a female blogger on ForbesWoman, but nevertheless, Bryce Covert wrote about working women from the citadel of profit: "They're 95 percent of home health aide workers, who make just $9.70 per hour at the median. They make up over half of the retail work­ force, and in particular are the majority of food service and clothing store workers. In fact, they are 72 percent of cashiers, 85 percent of maids and housecleaners, and 83 percent of personal care aides - all minimum wage occupations that pay little and usually offer few benefits."

We can feel proud that Vermont's minimum wage law sets the rate higher than is federally mandated. Businesses screamed it would kill them. It hasn't. Vermont women mini­ mum wage-earners, earning $8.46 an hour, have done better by Vermont businesses than the large financial institutions of the country, still awash in scandals of money laundering and rate frauds.

Paying women fairly would create a huge boost to a stagnant economy. Imagine the demand for services and products that a 30 percent pay raise could produce. Instead, profits go to CEOs, increasing the numbers of billionaires, while record-setting numbers of families are falling below the poverty line - despite working.

Last year, the Vermont Housing Finance Agency said a modest two­ bedroom apartment rental in Vermont averaged $990/a month, or $11,880 a year. It reported, "47 percent of Vermont renters and 38 percent of Vermont owners with mortgages pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing costs"-that percentage being the marker for what's considered "affordable."

I am willing to bet that a great number of those households are handicapped by women working for less than they are worth. It's a safe bet, since women at all levels are paid less than male peers.

Owning It

Wider Opportunities for Women reports that "Women continue to make inroads in nontraditional career paths. Many jobs that were nontraditional for women in 1988 were no longer nontraditional in 2010."

So how can women ensure that the gains we have made will not be lost, but will be built on for even greater accomplishments?

How can we realize Helen Reddy's appealing vision:

I am woman,
watch me grow
See me standing, toe-to-toe
As I spread my lovin' arms
across the land.
But I'm still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand.


The National Association of Women Business Owners and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce report that women-owned businesses are the fastest growing segment of today's economy, employing more than 13 million people, and generating $1.9 trillion in sales. Yes, they said "trillion."

A 2012 White House report concurs, noting that between 1997 and 2007, the number of women-owned businesses grew by 44 percent, twice as fast as men-owned firms. They added roughly 500,000 jobs, while other privately-held firms lost jobs. In part, this is because women-owned firms were more likely to be located in sectors that experienced growth: health care and education, women's most familiar fields.

The annual earnings ratio between self-employed women and men is even worse than for women in high-level professional positions. They earn 55 percent of what men earn. But they own the results, and their numbers are growing. So is their power. Women-owned businesses survived the recession at a better rate than did men's.

We busy women must take time to be inspired by those 28 pairs of women and girls brought together by VWW. Let their day be multiplied all over the state. Compare notes with your peers, ask the hard questions, widely consider the paths we women have taken - and make way for the grrrrrls becoming women next.

Labor of Love Honorees

Cristina Alicea of Burlington, Vermont Stage
Company CEO and producing artistic director
Diana V. Perez of Montpelier, co-coordinator
of Women Helping Battered Women's legal
program and Chinese medicine practitioner
Lucie Delabruere of Colchester, teacher
trainer and technologist
Mary Powell of South Hero, president
and CEO of Green Mountain Power Corporation
Carina Driscoll of Fairfax, founder of the
Vermont Woodworking School
Annie Ramniceanu of Waterbury, associate
executive director and clinical director of Spectrum
Kim Furlong and Carolynn Diciccio,
former owners of the Barnard General Store
Jan Ruta of Montpelier, electrical contractor
and teacher
Anne Galloway of Hardwick, founder/
editor of VTDigger.org
Amanda Sheppard of Middlebury,
therapeutic riding instructor
Nancy Heydinger of Vernon, executive
director of Girls on the Run VT
Tracy Simon of Chelsea, Orange County
Sheriff's Dept. lieutenant and detective
Tara Kelly, executive director of the
Rutland Area Farm and Food Link
Karen Sokol of Burlington, founder and
physician of a home visit practice
Sandy Lincoln of Rochester, owner
of Sandy's Books and Bakery
Michelle Tarryk of Newport, executive
director of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services
Deborah Lisi-Baker of Burlington, manager of
UVM Center on Disability & Community Inclusion
Candace Taylor of Winooski, coordinator
of educational events at UVM Women's Center
Meredith Martin of Hardwick, owner/
artist of The Shady Lady Tattoo Parlor
Marie Tiemann of Essex Junction, UVM
endowment accountant
Ita Meno of Shelburne, enforcement
officer at Burlington's Code Enforcement Office
Brenda Torpy of Grand Isle,
Champlain Housing Trust executive director
Barbara Murphy of Johnson,
president of Johnson State College
Rosina Wallace of Waterbury,
dairy farmer and educator
Bess O'Brien of Barnet, filmmaker and
Executive Director of Kingdom County Productions
Hannah Deene Wood of Jericho,
owner of Talent Skate Park & Skate Shop
Nari Penson of Winooski, teacher at
The Schoolhouse in South Burlington

Rickey Gard Diamond is editor of Vermont Woman and lives and writes in Montpelier.
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