Are We Stuck in the ‘70s?

October 17, 2012

AAUW women of the 1970s — a decade remembered for activism and trailblazing — held their own. As the AAUW Fellowships and Grants program expanded and more people and projects were funded, more women from across the globe were able to make lasting contributions to their fields. New AAUW programs were established to fund community public service projects, to help women re-enter the workforce, and to encourage promising young women to succeed and these opportunities helped many women advance their careers.

Who were these women, and what was it like to forge these new paths?

In 1980, AAUW sent a questionnaire to women who received AAUW fellowships and grants from 1967 to 1978. It was originally intended to get up-to-date information about former fellows, but it also painted a revealing picture of working women’s experiences in the 1970s. Their responses sounded sadly similar to stories of workplace discrimination and work culture today.

Most of the women who responded to the survey considered themselves to be role models for young women entering fields formerly considered to be in the male domain. The AAUW alumnae stressed that they led by example and by doing good work, which they believed would prove the merit of future women employees. Only some of the women reported being in decision- or policy-making positions in which they could use their influence to ensure equity in the workplace.

Most respondents reported that they experienced sexual discrimination at work. Sound familiar? What is also interesting is that only 11 percent reported being actively involved in the women’s movement or feminist organizations. The question remains, how far has society really come?

According to a 2011 study, on average, a woman needs a doctoral degree to earn as much as a man with a bachelor’s degree. One woman who responded to our survey in 1980 said that she had been taught that to succeed, a woman needed to get one degree more than a man. Sounds like we haven’t made as much progress since the 1970s as we may have thought.

On October 24, AAUW will release its latest report, Graduating to a Pay Gap, which looks at the wage gap between women and men who are working full time one year out of college. A 2007 AAUW report found that one year after college graduation, women on average already earned just 80 percent of what their male colleagues earned. While the gender pay gap certainly diminished since the 1970s, progress has stagnated in the last decade.    

Women of the 70s began breaking through barriers in their professional lives, but despite that, they are still graduating to a pay gap and facing sexism in the workplace. If you received a fellowship or grant from AAUW in the 1970s, we want to hear your story! E-mail us at

This post was written by AAUW Fellowships and Grants Intern Emily McGranachan.

By:   |   October 17, 2012

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.