Sunday, June 19, 2016

We need to keep encouraging girls

I read an obituary today in the Baltimore Sun that reminded me just how far women have come in our society, in a relatively short period of time.

Just like technology has exploded in recent years, despite the intelligence being there for decades upon decades. so too have women begun to explode into their potential.

The obituary was for one Richard Wyman, who was a “philanthropist and executive at Hochschild Kohn,” according to the headline of the Sun’s tribute.

So just how did this son of a shoe store owner and a mere “homemaker” ascend to the lofty position as an executive at an iconic Baltimore department store?

The “homemaker” who gave birth to him was one Carrie Kohn Wyman, described as the sister of Martin Kohn, president of what eventually became a Baltimore store chain.

As we sit firmly ensconced in the heart of 2016, I am faced with the contradiction of knowing the Democratic party will put forth a woman candidate for the presidency of the United States while I read an obituary of a man who ascended in his career because a female couldn’t be trusted to take such a position in a family-owned business.

I realize many might believe this is a far reach, and I have no desire to take away from Mr. Wyman’s abilities. His paternal family owned a shoe store and he went to work for his father's family business, probably believing he would eventually take over that entity.

But he had that vision, that dream, simply because he had the good fortune to be born a boy in an era when girls just weren’t as valued. I’m not that old, but even when I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, women realized there wasn’t a whole lot of expectations of them. Marriage and children (and in that order) was still the expectation for most, and those who insisted upon entering the work force became nurses, teachers or secretaries. It was a true renegade girl who harbored goals of becoming a doctor, scientist, lawyer or pretty much anything else that required having a brain.

When I was a kid, public school dress codes mandating dresses or skirts for girls existed until I was in eighth grade. Sports and recreation opportunities that existed for girls were rare and paled in comparison to the quality of those offered for boys.

Service academies didn’t start accepting women until the year after I graduated from high school, and when I applied for my first part-time job with the county’s recreation and parks department, I was passed over —openly — for a man who was thought to possess better skills to handle a “problem” population.

When that much better equipped man quit after just a couple of weeks, I was asked to take the job. I ran after-school programs in that “troubled” community for eight years and built relationships with kids that exist to this day.

The bottom line is that many of us have experienced this kind of discrimination and still do to this day. The equal pay for equal work thing is still a big struggle; men make much more money for doing less work than some women, let alone the same work. Women have to prove themselves over and over and over again, while men drink with the boss, get undeserved promotions and undeserved pay raises while the women quietly plug along, making the paychecks work and the office click.

While the Sun’s obituary mentions the death of Mr. Wyman’s father, no mention is made of how Mrs. Wyman left this earth. She, quite understandably, is not mentioned among the survivors of an 87-year-old man.

This blog post is affectionately dedicated to the memory of Carrie Kohn Wyman who perhaps in a different time would have become the CEO of the family business. 

Women of her era weren't aware of the glass ceiling because they weren't allowed out of the basement.

In her memory, and countless others like her, we need to keep telling girls they can do anything they want. And be there to mentor them along the way.

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