Fourteen years after filing a complaint against a major bank on behalf of their female and minority employees for discriminatory hiring, pay, placement, and promotion practices, Women Employed won a $14 million settlement for those workers – the largest ever reached between the Department of Labor and a private employer.
This year, we're celebrating our 40th anniversary. But in 1988, Women Employed was celebrating our 15th anniversary at our then-annual walkathon. The walkathon was an annual event during the 1980s and 1990s. Each year, hundreds of women (and men) participated, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the organization.
In 1987, WE hosted our first luncheon with Eleanor Holmes Norton and Harold Washington—one of his very last public appearances shortly before he passed away. Since that time, The Working Lunch has become a beloved annual tradition, bringing together Chicagoland activists, community leaders, and friends to make positive change for working women.
In 1986, WE held the first of many career conferences, and over 550 women attended. At the conferences, women could attend workshops on salary negotiation, job searches, and other vital skills. They could build their networks and learn about opportunities by connecting with women in their field, or fields they aspired to get into. Over the years, these events helped thousands to build their professional skills.
By 1985, Women Employed had won a lot of victories for working women and we’d come a long way towards equality in the workplace. However, millions of women were still stuck in low-paid jobs, with little opportunity for advancement. To address this problem, Women Employed initiated a campaign to increase the access of lower-income women to education and training leading to good jobs.
As WE founder Day Piercy’s tenure as Executive Director came to a close, she was featured in a Chicago Tribune article, stating that, “the 1970s were the decade of access for working women. Women got jobs previously closed to them completely or confined to a couple of token women… Our strategy for the 80s is to strengthen and enforce existing laws. We… want to encourage employers to take some voluntary action to deal with job segregation, wage discrimination and office automation.”
WE held a meeting with EEOC Chair Clarence Thomas (now a Supreme Court Justice), calling him to task for the agency’s bleak performance under President Reagan. Thomas—Reagan’s appointee—spent his EEOC tenure ensuring weaker enforcement, blocking the ability of women facing discrimination to file class action suits, and reducing the number of EEOC offices. Given his hostility at the meeting, it was no surprise when, years later, allegations of harassment became a major issue in his bid for a seat on the Supreme Court.
In 1982, WE issued a ‘Damage Report’ documenting the decline of equal opportunity enforcement under the Reagan administration, saying that, “the Reagan administration is conducting an assault on enforcement programs and on working women’s right to equal pay that is without precedent.” The report receives national coverage in the press.
In 1981, WE published "Working Women Speak Out," the results of a survey of 1,872 working women. The survey found that “almost two-thirds of the respondents have personally experienced discrimination in hiring, training, promotion, and pay, or have been the victims of sexual harassment.” This dismal situation invigorated WE to fight even harder for working women’s rights, leading to massive changes in sexual harassment policies, better enforcement of equal opportunity, and more positive changes over the next three decades.
By 1980, women had made huge strides, but balancing work and family life was still a major challenge for moms in workplaces still designed for male workers with stay-at-home wives. So Women Employed published a first-ever set of guidelines for employers on how to implement policies that recognized the changing workforce and respected work-life balance.