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VOL. 36 | NO. 38 | Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking into the boys’ club isn’t easy

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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More and more lately, your office feels like an eighth-grade boys’ locker room.

It generally starts on Friday; sometimes earlier. There’s the inherent horseplay, the name-calling, taunts (with and without slurs), bluffing and boasting. You’re pretty sure that if you put towels out, they’d be snapped.

And it’s all in fun, except for one thing: your workplace isn’t a boys’ locker room.

Neither were the Newsweek magazine offices back in 1970, and in the new book The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich, you’ll see what was done to raise awareness there – not once, but thrice.

Jessica Bennett didn’t understand.

She “grew up in the era of Girl Power” and had always been a high achiever. Her list of accomplishments was long, so when she landed an intern position at Newsweek, she couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get ahead.

Male interns were given plum assignments and were quickly offered jobs, but Jessica waited a year for an offer. A dedicated employee, she was a frequent contributor to the magazine but was repeatedly denied opportunities that male co-workers received.

Jessica thought she was alone, until she learned that two female colleagues were experiencing similar frustrations. The three women were astounded, then, when a researcher at Newsweek’s library told them about something that happened before they were even born…

The Good Girls Revolt

by Lynn Povich

c.2012, PublicAffairs


251 pages, includes index

In the 1960s (and prior), opportunities for women were few, “Help Wanted” ads were classified by gender and discrimination in employment, pay and benefits was common, even accepted. At Newsweek, which strived to hire the best college-educated “girls” for their research department, things were no different.

But in the mid-to-late ’60s, those “girls” began to notice that the men around them got promoted, assigned and lauded. Male writers were given bylines for columns written by female researchers. The men made more money for doing equal or lesser jobs – and it was wrong.

In early 1970, the women united, contacted a lawyer and negotiated with supervisors. When that didn’t fix the problem, they sued – successfully – which opened the eyes of other women at other media corporations, and the “barricades” were open.

I liked The Good Girls Revolt. And I didn’t.

On one hand, author Lynn Povich gives readers a good sense of the times in which this history-making case happened. That’s both entertaining and astounding, especially for women who are too young to remember that about which Povich writes.

Her account is a peek at the beginnings of feminism and equal pay for equal work; laying blame, naming names, and offering a happy ending that’s not really ended yet.

On the other hand, if there’s such a thing as too much detail, this book has it. Povich digs deep, but I daresay that some of what she relates in this already-skinny book might only be of interest to those who were there.

Still, The Good Girls Revolt is something you’ll want as a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we need to go. Whether you’re a supervisor, CEO, owner, or you’re in the trenches, lock this book down.

Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of business books are read in more than 260 publications in the U.S. and Canada.