SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2009       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Margaret Sam Rogers

Women in the Workplace – A Personal Re-memory

The dust is thick from heavy road working equipment being moved about the yard when I pull up in my 1966 VW Bug up to the maintenance shop for another day of work. The shop is 200 feet away, across the fence and worlds away from the main office of The Company which houses “the suits” and has separate toilet facilities for men and women.

As I enter the office, I can see John’s office door open on my left, him with his feet up on the desk talking on the phone. With a wave, I look down the hall and see the tire man and foreman are out in the field and the infamous “unisex” bathroom is occupied. The guys get a kick out of having to share their once-male-only bathroom with a woman. I move to the right, down the other hall to Pete’s office to check in. He is not in, and I grin at that huge desk which looks small when he occupies that big chair behind it.

I sit down and begin to organize my day, turning on the Selectric typewriter. I love that typewriter! For its time it was top of the line. The character ball spins around the faster you type, and that click-click, click keeps time with my speed. I rummage through invoices, and requests for rental equipment. I look though the half-wall that separates the reception area from the hallway and notice the grease stains on a once white wall. All of the walls bear the fingerprints of the 20 or so mechanics that wander in and out of this shop office daily. I love the greasy walls and the once-all-male bathroom, the base station radio, and especially the sight of the heavy equipment passing by my window.

In 1973, three years and two receptionist jobs later, I was secretary for the head of the Maintenance Shop at a large highway construction firm in Tucson. I was the first woman to ever work in “the shop”, which seemed to me quite a move on behalf of all women at the time. I not only was assigned the regular tasks of a secretary, I was also given other assignments that had been tasks of the office manager, including licensing of over 200 fleet vehicles, obtaining quotations for small equipment (generators, compressors),and delivering out of town bids. These tasks previously had been assigned to men.

I worked for the company for over two years, and was steadily given more responsibility. I was beginning to learn the business and earned great praise from my supervisor regarding my job performance and the additional responsibility I had accepted (without additional pay).

At the time my hourly pay was less than $3.00 per hour, and I knew the office manager’s salary exceeded $30,000. I decided to approach my supervisor to request a raise and a different position title that would reflect my work assignments. In our brief meeting, he informed me that he was unable to promote me or give me a raise because I am a woman. He stated that the field of construction was a man’s world, and although he would like to consider me, he knew that he would not be able to get approval from his superiors.

I was devastated! I really enjoyed this job, and I put a lot of energy into learning new tasks, and I was so hurt and angry that the mere fact that I was a woman would be a block to any promotions or significant raises.

I don’t know why Sam continues to pressure me to promote her and to give her a raise, thought Pete. I already took a chance by actually hiring a woman for the clerical position in this office. She’s definitely good at her job, but I just don’t see how she thinks she should be paid more for her job classification.

In my confusion and anger, I consulted Barbara, a friend who at the time was in law school. Her solution to the problem was to file a discrimination suit against the company. I wrestled with this idea for several months, and decided that I did not want to create a negative environment for myself, and potentially ruin any future chances of employment.

And so began my journey and my involvement with the Women’s Movement. Through Barbara I became heavily involved in the Arizona Women’s Political Caucus with the goal to elect women to the Arizona State Legislature. Meanwhile, the National Women’s Political Caucus was rallying nationwide to get women elected to the U.S. House and Senate.

Although the civil right Act passed in 1964 prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race, religion and national origin, you would not have known it in my place of employment, nor would you have recognized it in Tucson or even in the state of Arizona. Being involved as I was with Women’s Political Caucus in Arizona, I was keenly aware that the pay I was receiving was not equal pay for equal work.

Pete continued to ponder the situation thinking, I’m young and I’m young thinking, so I did tell her that I would like to see her succeed in her career. And yes, I believe that everyone should have equal opportunity in employment. But she has just gone too far. This is a maintenance shop! She was lucky to be hired in the first place. And she doesn’t understand that the reason I wanted a secretary was to keep costs down. I have turned this department around! Before I came on board this department was losing money. Now for the first time, we have the money to hire a secretary, partly due to the position classification and the lower wages we are able to pay that position. Besides, she will soon marry a man that will be making enough money to support her, so she won’t have to work.

When Pete eventually suggested that I find another field in which to work because in the construction industry he was certain there was no place for advancement for me, and as a consequence, no hope for an increased wage, I’m not sure how he felt in retrospect. Perhaps he was giving me the best advice he could at the time, and perhaps he knew the people above him might protest should he propose that a woman be promoted equally with the men in the shop.

So, instead of fighting the issue, I applied for and accepted another position out of state. I wonder how many other women found themselves in the same situation in these days and made a decision not to fight the issue.

In retrospect, I am not regretful regarding the decision I made. I do have strong emotions when I recall this incident and part of me has feelings of guilt for not putting up a fight for the cause of discrimination against women as a whole. I did take on a mission outside of work for about four years, fighting for women’s rights by joining the Women’s Political Caucus and working to elect women to a variety of offices. It’s sad to me that although the Equal Rights Amendment was passed in 1972, it has yet to be ratified after 38 years.

Before now, I had not taken the time to analyze my decision not to file a law suit based on discrimination. Life was pushing me forward and I had a life ahead of me that I did not want to cloud with negativity that a discrimination suit would surely bring. In “re-memory” of this experience, I have lived with strong emotions of being wronged which I carry with me to some extent today.


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