AMA Playbook presents a week-long series celebrating workplace equality, exploring the challenges, obstacles and frustrations faced — and overcome — by businesswomen. The series will run through Women’s Equality Day on August 26.
Today Joan Walsh, National Affairs Correspondent for The Nation and MSNBC analyst, discusses with Laurie Russo of AMA how the environment has changed for women since she entered the workforce.
Laurie Russo: What was the workplace climate/atmosphere like in your first job? How wide was the gender gap in terms of the power structure?
Joan Walsh: My first job was with my father’s company (!) and he was supported as president by two female EVPs—and this was in the 1970s! I think fathers are crucial in supporting ambitious, feminist young daughters.
LR: Who or what was the most instrumental in your career journey—was there a personal turning point? Did you have an inspiring mentor figure?
JW: In addition to my father I was blessed with many mentor figures, most of them women. But it was an African-American foundation executive who first told me I wasn’t charging enough.
LR: How have things changed for women in the career space compared to when you entered the workforce?
JW: There’s somewhat more awareness of sexual harassment now. When I think about the jokes that were considered fine back then… But there is still a huge wage gap. At my last job, a male writer was hired to do 1/5 the work I did for roughly 50% more.
LR: What are the most common obstacles and misconceptions you still face as a woman, and how do you confront or overcome them?
JW: I think women are still taken less seriously, judged as more emotional, harassed and abused WAY more on social media. I mainly overcome it by ignoring it—and calling it out to other feminists when it’s especially awful.
LR: What advice do you have for today’s young women in the workplace, who are either just starting out or trying to advance?
JW: Always ask for more money! If you start with your first job, it will add up hugely in middle age. Know that even older women have their judgment questioned more than men. Seek out mentors among the women and men you admire.
Women face unique challenges in the workplace, and we're here to help. The AMA Women's Leadership Center offers seminars and career resources especially for women.