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Out of Our Minds
Tuesday, January 31, 2006 8:58 PM
So Long, Carol
Kevin Salwen on Passionate Work

The dean of workplace writers, Carol Kleiman, is hanging up keyboard, having written her final column for the Chicago Tribune. Of all the people writing about the world of work, Carol's the one I've been following the longest. Here's her final column...

Working, writing woman looks back, ahead
Columnist encouraged by worker gains, especially women's, hopes for more

Four decades ago, when I was a part-time copy editor and freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune, a suburban wife of an executive and mother of three children, the features editor of the Tribune called me. He had noticed something unusual: Women were going to work!

He said as he rode on his commuter train he actually saw women going into downtown Chicago, not to shop but to work. Would I cover this revolution, would I write the column, Working Woman, that he had dreamed up, the first of its kind in the U.S.? And to convince me, he sagely pointed out that I was living it.

'Absolutely,' I said, though I assured him women, particularly African-American women, had always worked in the paid labor market. And almost all women worked hard at home for free, taking care of their husbands and family.

He looked at me suspiciously. He knew I was an active participant in the civil rights movement, both down South in Alabama and 'up South' in Chicago. 'OK,' he said, 'you have the job. But keep your politics out of it.' I promised I would try but told him that male columnists express their opinions, why shouldn't I? But I never promised to keep my emotions out of my column. And I never have.

As Working Woman, which started in 1967 in the features section (long before the national magazine with that title was launched), morphed into Women at Work, appearing in the Business section, and then, more recently, became WorkLife, I also wrote two other columns, Jobs and Letters (where I became the Career Coach both in the paper and on CLTV) for the Business section, pouring my commitment to feminism and my passion for equal opportunity and dignity for all workers into them.

I covered what was happening and also tried to empower people--women, minorities, the disabled, the elderly--who had very little positive exposure in the media. I made sure my columns and photos included a diverse population.

While I was at it, a lot of changes happened on my beat--and to me. There are now almost three times as many employed women as there were 40 years ago.

And an astonishing 60 percent of all marriages are dual-earner families. As middle-class women flooded the labor market and corporate doors began slowly to open, my life changed, too: I was divorced, the sole supporter of three small children. Not surprisingly, quality child care and single employed mothers also became part of my coverage. And later, how working parents survive teenagers also got a lot of ink from me.\n\nMeanwhile, I happily noticed that when I went to offices to do interviews--and on the streets and at restaurants at lunchtime--that minorities and women were very much present. And by the thousands, women, fed up with Corporate America, started their own businesses and discovered they finally had a boss who understood them.\n\nOn my beat, important federal laws were passed, such as the Age Discrimination Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. One of the most important was the Family and Medical Leave Act, which acknowledges that not just women, but men, too, have family responsibilities and want to fulfill them.\n\nThat is the good news. The bad news worries me as much today as it did four decades ago: Top corporations still are run by men and the glass ceiling is firmly in place. Equal pay is an unfulfilled dream and 25 percent of all women working full-time earn less than $25,000 a year. Occupational segregation, in which women do 'women's' jobs, continues. Quality child care still is not available to everyone who needs it and caregivers are grossly underpaid. Important employee benefits are being reduced; sexual harassment is widespread; and family leave needs to be paid leave.\n\nAnother worry: The anti-labor Bush administration has made serious cutbacks of workers' rights: Overtime has been slashed; federal pressure for corporate compliance with equal opportunity laws is almost nonexistent; and the attack on affirmative action goes on unabated. Outsourcing of jobs is encouraged.\n\nDespite the negatives, I'm encouraged by the advances that workers have made and that I've been privileged to cover. I've been extremely lucky all these years to be able to do what I love most, and I shall miss doing it, miss my colleagues and miss my readers.\n\nI strongly believe that workers will continue to advance. Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.\n\nWe always have.

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