Friday, January 27, 2017
With the sad announcement of the death of Mary Tyler Moore this week, memories of my own entry into the workforce came flooding back. There were many pleasant memories but I also recalled things that happened that just wouldn't fly today. They might fly you into court but nowhere else. I was 20 years old when I began my first job search. It began with an appointment at a large, reputable employment agency in White Plains, New York. After completing the job application, I was ushered in for my interview. One of the questions on the application form asked for my weight. Pre-employment physicals were common back then so I answered honestly. My female interviewer told me she was making a note on the application that "I didn't look that heavy". I'm almost 6 feet tall so I suppose she had a lot to say about me on that form. When I told my dad how the interview had proceeded, he exclaimed that he didn't want me to use that agency as it seemed there were interviewing for call girls rather than secretaries. My dad was not the most enlightened guy when it came to feminism but that was even too obvious for his sensibilities. When I landed my first secretarial job, I was quickly informed that the job involved getting coffee for my boss. My boss liked me. He was an older, single man and didn't complain that it became clear that I didn't do coffee for anyone but myself. I think he was just happy that I was nice to him. When I later took a promotion to the Human Resource department at the same company, I was a bit shocked when my new boss (The Director of HR) remarked that I wore too many clothes. A navy blazer, tartan wool slacks and a pretty shirt with a vest was too "buttoned up" for his taste. I thought I looked cute and the offices in the old building were drafty. I was no more bundled up than the boss but that's the way it was. I fortunately never got backed into a corner but the guy (think John Hamm in Mad Men but not as cute) came up behind me and pushed his knee into the back of mine making my legs buckle. He was the Director of HR - who was I supposed to complain to? His boss was the president of the company. That kind of behavior was considered playful and funny. How things have changed - some of it thanks to Mary Richards - a real white collar rebel in in her own time.