Former Newsweek Revolutionary Lynn Povich Says That Workplace Gender Equality Still Has a Long Way to Go

Today, NPR is featuring an interview with Lynn Povich, who worked at Newsweek in the 1960s and recently published The Good Girls Revolt, a book about how the women at Newsweek — then mostly researchers, fact checkers or mail deliverers — sued their bosses in 1969 for greater workplace equality. Povitch told inquisitor (and friend) Linda Wertheimer that it "dawned" on the women toiling in entry-level job purgatory at Newsweek that the Civil Rights Act had made it illegal for the male management at the magazine to shut them out of more advanced positions.

The women at the magazine sued their employers twice, calling for a third of the reporters and writers to be women, as well as a third of the researchers to be men so that the position wouldn't be seens strictly as a woman's job, but rather as the entry-level job it was. Povich says that she and her colleagues insisted that Newsweek hire a female senior editor so that women would be represented in managerial meetings. "I was told," she says, "they approached Gloria Steinem, who by that time was editing her own magazine, Ms. And I don't think she would have wanted to be a senior editor at Newsweek at the time. And she said to me, 'They probably came to me because I was like Jose Greco, the only Spanish dancer they knew.'"

Povich includes some fight-the-power anecdotes about clandestine recruitment schemes in the women's bathroom, — "we'd approach someone at the sink" — and weighs in on the state of gender equality in the workplace (specifically at Newsweek) today, which she depressingly reports is, in some ways, little more than a glossy illusion:

It surprised me when I met these young women at Newsweek today, because, you know, they were all supercompetent, been told since they were kids that they could do anything, and yet, when they got into the work world, after a year or two, they were suddenly feeling marginalized - that guys seemed to be getting better assignments, and young guys with equal qualifications or even less were somehow being promoted faster than they were. And they couldn't understand why, because this was post-feminism, the sex wars were over, we were all equal now. So it couldn't be that thing called discrimination; it must be them. They just must not be talented enough to move ahead.

Povich added that the workplace might be even "more difficult for women now, because it has the air of equality, but when you look under the surface, of course, there [are] still hostile work environments; there's still not equal pay for women." What women in the workplace really need, she said, was "vigilance," which looks a lot like "vigilante," which is close enough to saying that "every workplace needs a secret Wonder Woman waiting to put the brakes on gender inequality" that we can all just assume that Povitch has recruited a league of secret female superheroes to protect women's workplace rights.

‘Good Girls Revolt': Story Of A Newsroom Uprising [NPR]