Laura Salerno-Owens: #WeToo Movement - Solving the Gender Equality Problem Together

Posted on: Wednesday, 12 June 2019

By some accounts, the modern movement to improve the economic position of American women dates back to 1963 when Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique attracted great attention. But a prominent employment attorney told Pearl Rotarians on June 11 that we still have a long way to go.
Laura Salerno-Owens, shareholder and trial lawyer, Markowitz-Herbold, presented significant empirical evidence to demonstrate that women still experience significant personal and professional problems in the workplace.

She emphasized the need for men and women to form a joint movement to right the inequality she sees as wrong, both morally and practically. “We also need men to join the gender equality movement,” Laura told an audience that was about two-thirds male.

“Gender discrimination is bad for everyone,” she emphasized. “A lot of men understand the cause but some do not get it. We need to change culture, attitudes, opinions.”

Laura told Rotarians that “I want to empower each man here, to work for gender equality.” She clearly means much more than equal pay for equal work. She emphasized to the Pearl Club that her professional career and happiness had both been enhanced by specific male lawyer colleagues who provided opportunity, mentoring, and friendship.”

The facts about opportunities for women in professional-managerial roles seem grim, according to Laura’s slides. As an example, she reported that only 23 of the chief executives at the 500 major corporations (according to Fortune magazine) are women. This compares with 21 executives of the top 500 who have the first name of “John”.

Laura demonstrated how non-discrimination is potentially good for all. She reported that the number of female musicians in orchestras has increased dramatically since employment audition were made “blind” where the gender of applicants was unknown to judge. Presumably, we are hearing better music. She also reported to Rotarians that companies with the best records on employment for women were larger and more profitable than other companies.

Laura had some specific suggestions to improve the workplace situation of both men and women. Some of them:

  1. Minimize the leave differences for men and women. Anyone who has a child should have leave, she says.
  2. Provide help with backup child care for all employees. Consider having care on site.
  3. Set regular start and end times for meetings, between 9:30 and 4:30. This would allow all individuals to plan their day activities and minimize the need to “runaway” to care for children.
  4. Avoid office housework such as making the coffee and answering the phone, activities disproportionately done by women. Laura refers to this office work as “thankless tasks.”
  5. Encourage the development of workplace mentors for all employees. In addition, Laura says you should not just match up women with women.

Laura’s conclusion to Rotarians was strong. “I’m not delusional,” she said. “We need a different mindset. Men and women must own the problem and must own it together. I rest my case” (text courtesy of Pete Guest)

Portland Pearl Rotary Club - One of Portland, Oregon's Fastest Growing Clubs