I remember as a child thinking my grandma, or Meme we called her, was invincible. I would watch in awe as she seemed to seamlessly switch into different roles at the snap of a finger, morphing from grandma into businesswoman, into head of the household, or into a Sunday School teacher. The woman wore a lot of hats and she excelled at it.
My Meme was born in ¬¬1929 with a deformed right hand. As she grew up, she was continually told all the things she couldn’t do. She was told she would never be able to use a typewriter. She later won the Oklahoma State Typing Competition. She was told she would never play the piano. She tickled the ivories for the church gospel group for years.
And although I never had the chance to ask her, I imagine she was told at some point in her career that she was destined for lower-level positions simply because she was a woman. But as you can see, Meme was good at achieving that which others deemed improbable. Eventually, she worked her way to become the manager of the local Oak Farms Dairy in small-town Texas. She did this while simultaneously being a widowed mother to a teenage daughter.
I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for her to simultaneously mourn her husband, take care of her family, and work full-time in a managerial position. And I fail to appreciate today how many women are forced into similar positions. Although in some aspects it is easier today for a woman to have a family and a prosperous career, there are still countless hurdles businesswomen are forced to face.
The workplace environment for women varies from field to field, but there are some near universal problems plaguing women in the workplace.
Firstly, women are still fighting for equal pay for equal work—and although progress has been made, it is nowhere near where it needs to be. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW), “women working full-time in the United States typically were paid just 80 percent of what men were paid, a gap of 20 percent.”1 The gender pay gap has narrowed significantly over the last several decades in the U.S. More recently, however, the progress has been slow and minute.
Secondly, many working women looking to have children are faced with the incredible challenge of no guaranteed paid maternity leave. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the U.S. is “the only highly competitive country where mothers are not guaranteed paid leave” and “it sits in stark contrast to countries such as Cuba and Mongolia that offer expectant mothers one year or more of paid leave.”2 It is stunning that so many working mothers in the U.S. are forced to choose between working or staying home with their infant.
There are countless other issues facing women in the workplace. Frequently, women are unable to commit to extra hours and overtime like their male coworkers because of their familial or household commitments. This leads to women being overlooked for promotions and leadership positions. Beyond these outside commitments, it is also challenging for single women to be promoted to senior-level positions due to a lack of female representation in leadership positions at a company—as well as the marginalization of women in the workplace.
These challenges businesswomen face will not be fixed in one generation’s time, but it is crucial to continue the fight for women’s rights in the workplace.
My Meme passed away in 2008. And I pray I inherited some of the seemingly supernatural force that drove her to beat all odds and surpass any obstacle. I never heard her utter the words, “You will never be able to do that.” She supported me as I exclaimed my evolving dreams of one day being a doctor, or an astronaut, or a fireman, or a mother. Not only did she support me, she encouraged me in my endeavors.
She fought against the marginalization of women in the workforce from where she stood, as have millions of other women throughout our country’s history. I look forward to joining them one day. And I hope you do too. These are challenges that will survive long past our time on this earth, but it is crucial that women and men do everything in their power now to push the boundaries, demand equality, and fight for women to have a fair chance in the workforce.
 Miller, Kevin. “The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap (Spring 2017). AAUW. (2017). http://www.aauw.org/research/the-simple-truth-about-the-gender-pay-gap/
 Etehad, Melissa and Lin, Jeremy C.F. “The World is Getting Better at Paid Maternity Leave. The U.S. is not.” The Washington Post, August 13, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/08/13/the-world-is- getting-better-at-paid-maternity-leave-the-u-s-is-not/?utm_term=.7a9e4f57ebbe