Caroline Fredrickson’s thought-provoking book, Under the Bus-How Working Women Are Being Run Over, couldn’t have come at a better time for me…or should I say…a worse time. Recently, I was dealt a major professional blow that made me go through all stages of grief (right now I’m a weird hybrid of anger and acceptance). Trying to take in Sheryl Sandberg’s advice to “lean-in,” I requested further training and a willingness to tackle new assignments, only to be treated in a less than respectful manner. This incident was particularly bruising because I had worked on various special projects in a multitude capacities for years and had proved myself to be a polished, professional, reliable and skilled employee who could handle any project assigned before me. And the fact I was thrown under the bus while a couple of my co-workers proved to be less than professional (one actually takes naps in her cubicle) just added to the figurative slap in my face.
But enough about me, let’s go onto Fredrickson’s book.
If you pay any attention to the mainstream media, there seems to be only two paths for working women, opt out (leave the workplace to be a stay-at-home-mom) or lean in (speak up for yourself and riches and raises will be yours). Let’s be real. Totally opting out is usually only an option for women with spouses who make good incomes. And lean-in can often backfire, especially for women who aren’t a part of the well-heeled, yuppie and privileged class (that would be most of us, even those of us with college degrees and serious credentials).
In Under the Bus Fredrickson explains how, during the Great Depression, women were discouraged from working and often fired from jobs because employers viewed them as interlopers. After World War II, when countless women joined the workplace as “Rosie the Riveters” they were convinced they were stealing jobs from men. Furthermore, women, even those with families and other responsibilities, were seen merely working for “pin money.” This ignorant and totally misleading idea completely ignored countless women, especially minorities, immigrants, working class women and women who were single who truly need their paychecks. (speaking of single women, I once read a blog post saying companies don’t have to pay single women that much money because single women can have their parents and extended family support them-clearly this pippy-poo never met my family).
Under the Bus combines hard-core facts with true stories of hard working women for whom opting-out or leaning-in are fairy tales. These are women who aren’t working to buy MAC lipstick from Sephora or stock up on their shoe collection but because they have to keep a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs, food in their bellies and pay the bills. In some cases, they are their families’ primary bread winners. These women include housekeepers, home health care aids, restaurant staff, cashiers, day care workers, nannies, bank tellers and other low wage workers some deem as unskilled and therefore, unimportant. Yeah, right. Try making it throughout life without someone cleaning up after you, taking care of your children and elderly relatives or the friendly barista who makes you latte just right.
Though we have the Lily Ledbetter act, and we often talk of equal pay for equal work, the United States has a long history of creating policy that only benefits men, which Fredrickson explains with solid evidence and clarity throughout Under the Bus. Though at times this aspect of Under the Bus to be a bit wonky, I found this information to quite mind-blowing and anger-making. However, I’m so glad I got an education on these policies that are often implemented today only in ways that are less blatant. I know I could write a book about the stealth sexism I dealt with at various jobs.
Fredrickson’s skill at research is just one component of Under the Bus I appreciated. I also appreciated the personal stories she shares even unlike some of her subjects I have a college degree and no children. These stories on women losing out on promotions and raises, treated with a seriously lack of respect, being seen as difficult just for asking to take some time off to take a child to the hospital or ask for an advanced work schedule made me want to throw things. And though Fredrickson focuses mostly on women working in pink collar, working class professions, I, along with plenty of my colleagues and friends, have experienced these injustices in the so-called privileged world of the professional white collar realm. (I would tell you the detestable treatment I received as a researcher and writer for a consulting company but it might bring up some PTSD.)
Luckily, all is not lost. Fredrickson mentions several public policies that will aid women in the workplace. It won’t be easy to implement them, especially with our politicians being so beholden to both corporations and big money, but it is a start.
Furthermore, she also shares stories of brave women who are banding together to improve their workplace issues. These boots on the ground, grass roots efforts really made me think how the workplace should value the contributions made by everyone, not just those in the C-suites.
If I had any quibbles, they are few. I do wish Fredrickson would have focused on a few women like me, college educated, with professional credentials, who are also being thrown under the bus. And though implementing public policy is wonderful, I also want more focus on the private sector and how they should value people not just profits (and it shouldn’t be due to just public policy, but sound ethics, morals and good business sense).
Still, Under the Bus is a very important book and I hope it is widely read by not just women but anyone who cares about women in the workplace, especially during a Presidential election year.