Over the last few nights we have had a mini Queen Dolly fest, we immersed ourselves in films starring Dolly Parton, starting with The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and ending with 9 to 5. Of course there’s the sublime Steel Magnolias which is one of my all time favourites and makes me cry every time I watch it, but the over riding theme in the Queen Dolly films we watched is they are all about strong women dressed up to outwardly look like women with no ambition, who have only got their job on looks alone and definitely have no capacity for forward, individual thinking…..oh how wrong you would be to assume that!
Start to scratch the surface of the film 9 to 5 and look beyond the concept of the working female hired purely on looks and size of her bust and you will see a film based on a real life movement to empower women in the workplace in the 1970’s in Boston USA . The woman who started the 9to5 movement was Karen Nussbaum a typist in an office who was poorly paid and given no opportunity for career progression and witnessed sexual harassment and gender discrimination whilst at her desk. The female workforce in the USA in 1980 was 51%, but women were not breaking through the glass ceiling, in fact they were getting fired on the spot for getting pregnant, not making the boss’s coffee how he liked it, not picking up his dry cleaning and for refusing to have sex with him, in fact 1 in 2 women were sexually harassed in clerical jobs in the 1970’s. Construction workers who were a male dominated industry had a union, clerical staff and secretaries, the female dominant jobs did not. That changed with the 9to5 movement that swept across the States during the 1970’s and 80’s, clerical staff were given a voice, they had a national walk out, they learned to speak out about the sexual harassment and rape that occurred in workplaces they realised their personal stories were shared by thousands of other women.
So what has changed, have we equalised with our male counterparts in the workplace? We are still reading stories about sexual harassment in the workplace, on our podcast Womenkind Collectivehttps://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/womenkind-collective/id1557937820https we were approached by a woman who wanted her story of sexual harassment and abuse to be heard. Sam works in a male dominant industry, she was an engineer, all other female positions in the company were clerical, she was sent sexually harassing texts by her manager, when she turned his advances down, he made her life unbearable and HR did nothing to resolve the situation. In a study by the TUC with 4,000 women, 85% said the menopause affected their working life, some were sacked from their jobs. Carolyn Harris MP this week secured a victory for menopausal women in the UK, she lobbied Parliament for a Menopause Bill to be passed, not only to reduce prescriptions charges for HRT but a new cross party Menopause Taskforce has now been set up that will look at educating medical professionals about menopause and also change workplace policies for women going through the menopause.
Are we winning the right for equality and fairness in the workplace? I believe we are, the old style workplace sexism is being overtaken by employers that acknowledge and appreciate their workers. As women we now readily question situations we feel uneasy about, we share, we talk, we call out even if when we are unsure about what to do, we are giving women space, more and more we make sure we have each others back. Women are breaking free from conventional working practices, in 2020 33% of new businesses were started by female entrepreneurs, women adapted during the pandemic, they realised dreams and made them a reality, they left jobs where they weren’t appreciated, re-trained, or found employers that valued them. Etsy boomed with a rise of over 1 million sellers during 2020 with 81% of those sellers identified as women. Flex Appeal the campaign by Mother Pukka to encourage workers and employers of the benefits of flexible working producing a more productive workforce, an appeal that is hugely beneficial to working parents is gaining momentum and has been heard in Parliament with the second Bill being read on November 19th 2021.
Change is coming, we have moved forward from those dark days 40 years ago, we are now calling out poor employers, we are getting heard and being given space for our stories. Will the old style inadequate employers struggle with the new kindness in employment? If they don’t act positively they’ll be sunk on a ship full of harassment, bullying and lies and be left with a substandard workforce. As Queen Dolly sings in 9 to 5, ‘You got dreams he’ll never take away,’ remember cream always rises.