Heather Bussing, HRExaminer Editor and Founding Contributor Editorial Advisory Board

Heather Bussing, HRExaminer Editor and Contributor

Women’s roles in our culture and work have changed significantly over the last 100 years. We have progressed from being essentially the property of men toward equal partnership. Here’s some context on the evolution of women’s rights in the US.

  • 120 years ago, women often were not entitled to keep their own wages. (especially if they were married) or own property (By 1900, all states had enacted laws allowing women to keep at least some of their earnings and to own property in their own names).
  • It’s been less than 100 years that women had the right to vote (1920, Enactment of the 19th Amendment to US Constitution).
  • It’s only been a little over 50 years since it became illegal to discriminate against women in employment and pay (1963 Equal Pay Act, 1964 Title VII).
  • It’s been about 50 years since the courts recognized women’s rights to use contraception regardless of their marital status. (1965, Griswold v. Connecticut recognized that married couples had a privacy right to use contraception; 1972, Eisenstadt v. Baird recognized that single women also had a right to use contraception).
  • It’s been less than 50 years since pregnancy discrimination was barred (1978, Pregnancy Discrimination Act).
  • It’s been less than 40 years since the Supreme Court recognized a wife’s right to make decisions about property jointly owned with her husband overturning state laws designating the husband as “head and master.” (1981, Kirchberg v. Feenstra).
  • It’s been just over 30 years since the Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a form of illegal sex discrimination (1986, Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson).

Men have been running things for a very long time. And in just a few generations, the change has been extraordinary.

Yet, just because laws and rights change, that doesn’t necessarily mean that perspective, culture, and people change. We humans like what we’re used to and often don’t enjoy being forced to change the way we do and think about things.

At the same time, technology has been changing even faster. When I started working as a lawyer 30 years ago, most work was still done on a typewriter. I was unusual because I had a Tandy 8088 with 5 inch floppy discs to transfer files. I still kind of miss Wang and really miss Word Perfect (it was the best legal word processing system ever; Word sucks). And I will never forget getting my first laptop, a Toshiba 286 monochrome that weighed 10 lbs. People used to stop me in the airport to see how it worked.

The way we work and do just about everything is different because of progress in technology. Even farming, which is almost as old as humans, is dependent on data modeling (to understand weather and soil conditions) and complex computers that run planting and harvesting equipment.

Today, digital technology is overtaking the way we work, create, and communicate. We talk on our computers using video calls, collaborate on projects in the cloud, take photos with our phones, tell jokes to our friends on social media, and order groceries from our computers.

Here’s some more context on the pace of technology, phones, and social media in our lives.

1958 Silicon chip invented
1963 Computer mouse invented
1969 Moon landing
1971 Email, floppy disc, liquid crystal display, pocket calculator invented
1973 Personal computers and Ethernet invented
1979 Sony Walkman
1983 Camcorder, First mobile phone
1985 The Well started (a precursor to the internet)
1990 World Wide Web
1993 First phone + mobile PDA device
1994 Chatrooms
1998 Emojis
2001 First ipod, Digital satellite radio, and Wikipedia
2002 First phone + camera device
2003 Flickr, Skype, First Blackberry and first color screen on a phone
2004 Facebook started in universities, originating at Harvard
2006 Facebook and Twitter launched for everyone
2007 iphone, Fitbit
2010 ipad
2012 Google docs allowing multiple people to collaborate on one draft
2013 Commercial drones
2015 Apple Watch (because iwatch just sounds creepy)

While both women rights and technology have evolved significantly since the 1960’s, it’s been easier for everyone to get used to email, twitter, and video calls than it has having women in new roles both at work and at home.

This makes sense. It’s not anyone’s fault even if some wish it would happen more quickly and others wonder what’s the rush. Cultural changes for humans just take longer.

But, this is not just about women. It’s about everyone.

The men who will actually talk about it, express pride at seeing their female friends, colleagues, children, and partners enter new fields, get promotions, and succeed. But some also feel threatened because they are being asked to share territory that they viewed as theirs for a long time.

If you consider how men in their 50’s and 60’s grew up, what it was like for their fathers, you can begin to see why reality is not conforming to their expectations and they feel like they are not getting the deal they thought they would.

But it’s also a turning point that offers flexibility and freedom for everyone. Because so many women are working, men are becoming more involved with their kids’ lives, feel more comfortable taking advantage of flexible schedules, and have opportunities to explore new ways of doing things. There is less insistence that everyone conform to the same norms and hierarchies.

Our organizations, families, and lives are changing at a very fast pace, especially for humans. It’s hard on everyone. And taking sides and arguing about entitlement is a distraction and waste of time and energy.

Instead, we need to focus on how we can make our organizations, work, families, and lives better for everyone involved. Focus on the freedom and creativity to do things new ways.

We should be getting good at it. We’ve had a lot of practice adapting to change.

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