When February's blizzard brought Washington almost to a standstill, it couldn't keep Gertrude Tai away from her job at the Voice of America. Against her husband's wishes, she stepped out into the snow drifts, flagged down a passing four-wheel drive vehicle and paid the driver $30 to take her downtown to her office.
Not only that, she told an overflow crowd of women in government gathered yesterday to hear five of their colleagues tell how they succeeded in the federal bureaucracy, but "I was on my day off."
"Why did I do this? It's because I want to show that women can do the work." To prove yourself equal to the men in the office, you have to work twice as hard, she said. "I worked very, very hard." Tai, who grew up in Peking during World War II, is in charge of all the Chinese news shows VOA broadcasts to China.
The morning symposium was sponsored by the Federal Women's Program to observe the 12th anniversary of the signing of the Executive Order that prohibited sexual discrimination in the federal government. The FWP works to improve employment and promotional opportunities for women in government.
Despite such successes as Tai's, "the income gap between men and women is still what it was 20 years ago," said Arabella Martinez, assistant secretary for human development services in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. And, she told the 200 women and a scattering of men, "this earnings gap is made even more startling when contrasted with another fact: the average woman worker is as well educated as the average man worker. Both have completed a median of 12.6 years of schooling."
Even with a college education, she said, "a woman as recently as two years ago earned less -- on the average -- than a man who had only completed the 8th grade."
These statistics, however, could not dampen the obvious pleasure the audience got from the success stories.
When Patricia Eakle began her federal career 10 years ago at the age of 45 she was a housewife with three grown children. She said she should be in suburbia "helping an aging husband with his cholesterol count," but she decided, "I'd like to do something for myself." She practiced typing and got a job as a GS-3 clerk-typist. By persevering, she said, she moved up to become a GS 6 secretary. That "entitled me to pour coffee for a particular elite couple of men rather than run out and get coffee for a whole bunch of them."
Finally, she determined to go to graduate school. She had found that "people like to dump their problems on me" and thought she could put this quality to use. She got her degree and is now a GS 11 psychiatric social worker at St. Elizabeth's Hospital. "I like what I'm doing. I'm good at it."
Barbara Tolson, a printer at the Government Printing Office, put in a tough, four-year apprenticeship to learn her trade. The men she worked with were not accustomed to a woman in the job -- they had to install a women's room for her -- and she had to push and lift heavy objects weighing 50 to 100 pounds without help. More recently, she has had to retrain for electronic printing. "It's been a hard, long struggle for nine years," but not she's making $25,000 a year.
Linda Teixeira, a public affairs specialist with the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, has made her way in government despite being blind. "I have confidence," she said.
Panel moderator Renee Poussiant, Channel 7 anchorwoman, summed up these observations for getting ahead in the bureaucracy:
Believe in yourself; promote yourself.
Don't be afraid of your ambition. Believe that you can do it all -- that you can have marriage, children and a gratifying career.
Dream, and take risks.
Make allies of your supervisors. They're the ones who can help you along.
Be excited about your work.