Well-behaved women rarely make history — or so says many bumper stickers, T-shirts and greeting cards. The saying’s meaning is that women must step outside traditional boundaries and rebel against rules, specifically those imposed on them because of their gender, to make a difference.
Harvard professor and historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, who coined the phrase, now has a book out by the same name and spells out that it is women’s voices that often are heard when many in a patriarchal society would prefer women be silent and submissive. One example of this preference for women to remain in the background was former first lady and 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Many criticized her for being too outspoken, though she only spoke her mind — and an intelligent one it is — on issues that mattered most to her. She didn’t always toe the company or political party line, and she frequently was criticized because of it.
Women live within the same confines of everyone else in society, but culture often imposes another set of unspoken, though well-established, rules and mores. Women are expected to be exceptionally polite, courteous and all-around deferential beings. Though that might be nice in theory, it doesn’t necessarily work in the real world. Perhaps this politeness factor is one reason women remain behind their male counterparts on pay levels for the same work. National statistics show women working full-time earned 82.7 percent of the median pay what men working full-time earned, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.
While some strides are occurring, such as the recent hires of Marissa Mayer as CEO of Yahoo! Inc. despite being six months pregnant, much remains to be done. “Yahoo’s board found Mayer’s pregnancy a nonissue, and that’s a big sign of progress,” Gayle Tzemach Lemmon said. Lemmon is deputy director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations — and is pregnant with twins. “But at many companies, it’s still an issue,” according to a story on Bloomberg.com.
The Silicon Valley is leading the way with women in leadership roles and equal pay to their male counterparts. Some work needs to be done on this issue in this area too.
Locally, one clear example of this being taken for granted status — perhaps because of gender — is Lisa Johnson. Johnson fulfills the dual role of Franklin County administrator and Franklin County counselor. Both roles are demanding and typically warrant a high level of compensation, based on the specialized skills required as an attorney and administrator of a $25 million annual budget. However, in Johnson’s case, her pay of $88,273 seemingly only reflects one of those roles. In Barton County, one of the only other Kansas counties with a dual county administrator and counselor, the individual is paid $108,000 annually for a comparably sized (population-wise) county. That is quite a disparity.
In nearby Miami County, population 31,000 compared to Franklin County’s 26,441, the county administrator earns $89,936 and the county counselor earns $68,207 for a total of $158,143 for the two roles. In the smaller Kansas county of Pottawatomie, the 21,604-population community to which former Wellsville schools Superintendent Denise O’Dea relocated, the county pays $119,600 for its county administrator and another $89,295 to its separate county counselor. While surely other Kansas counties also pay less, it behooves Franklin County to pay its leaders appropriately for the expertise they provide or else face the prospect of losing one of our county government’s most bright leaders.
With a range of $75 per hour to more than $150 per hour for legal counsel around the state, Johnson at minimum should be compensated separately for the county counselor role she provides to the county. Since some women lean toward having their employer pay them what they are worth without asking — rather than being tough negotiator who demands a specific pay level — county commissioners would be wise to review pay levels for similar responsibilities and establish pay levels accordingly. Johnson needs to step outside of her polite persona and be clear with county commissioners that she ought to be paid what she is worth. Of course, commissioners should have recognized Johnson’s skill set and paid her accordingly without her needing to ask.
It is possible to be well-behaved and make history, but the past clearly shows those women who stepped outside the social norms were indeed the ones who left a mark on our world.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher