THE GLASS CEILING: Queens Women Look To Break Barriers

4 Glass Ceiling graph

BY STEVEN J. FERRARI

For decades, women have struggled to break through the “Glass Ceiling,” which the U.S. Dept. of Labor defines as “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder.”

According to the 2010 Census, on average, women in the United States make about $8,000 less per year than their male counterparts, earning about 81 cents to the dollar in comparison.

While the wage gap has shrunk since the 1980s, when women earned about 60 cents to the dollar, the disparity is still notable. In fact, the disparity is even greater in New York City. According to City Comptroller Scott Stringer, women between the ages of 35-65 make only 78 cents on the dollar.

“It’s disappointing to think a half-century after the Equal Pay Act, women still face significant financial inequities in the workplace,” Stringer said in a statement earlier this month. “This kind of discrimination belongs in the history books. It’s time women enjoy their fair share of this economy – they’ve earned it.”

On April 8, fair wage advocates observed Equal Pay Day, which identifies how long women in 2013 would have had to work in order to match the salaries given to men in the same fields.

“Equal Pay Day is a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done before we can put an end to the pervasive pay gap between men and women in our country,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said in recognition of the occasion. “Unequal pay doesn’t just hurt women, it hurts families, children and all those who depend on women as household earners. For too long, wage inequality has kept women, particularly those of color, in poverty.”

The State Assembly also took note of the day, passing a resolution “recognizing the value of women’s skills and significant contributions to the workforce.”

Assemblywoman Michelle Titus (D-South Ozone Park), the chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus and one of seven female Assembly members from Queens, acknowledged that there was still a great deal of work to be done in regards to equal pay.

“Although we have made great strides to close the gender wage gap, we still have a long way to go until women are paid what they deserve,” Titus said. “It is our responsibility to ensure that all citizens in New York are treated equally.”

Breaking Through

Within the pages of this issue, the achievements of nine women who have worked hard to succeed in a tough economic climate are highlighted. These achievements are all the more impressive when you consider the struggles that many of these women have faced when it comes to breaking through the Glass Ceiling.

Mary Ann Mattone, a prominent community leader in Bayside, put it simply when asked about her struggles to rise up.

“I was never paid equally with my male counterparts,” she said. “Never.”

Mattone praised the female workers who have worked with her as “dependable, reliable and smart,” and noted that equality is important, not just in pay, but in responsibilities as well.

“When I was director of nursing, I had 600 people underneath me. I tried to have everyone equal beneath me,” she said. “The leaders should work just as hard as the elevator operator. It should be a team effort. Everything is a team effort in life.”

Dr. Maxine Lubner, who came to America from South Africa during the era of Apartheid, said that she felt that she was taken less seriously than her male counterparts during her career. As the chair of the Aviation department at Vaughn College in Flushing, despite having her pilot’s license, she noted that she has frequently been asked who the pilot was when chartering a plane.

“It’s definitely something on the devious side of human beings that we have to fight against,” she said.

Veronica Rose, who heads up Aurora Electric in Jamaica, said that she felt that it was “impossible” to gain career advancement as a woman.

“The discrimination in the construction industry is just astronomical,” she said. “I knew the only way I could change it is if I get involved in a leadership position.”

Rose said that people involved with the construction industry have a preconceived notion of who should be putting buildings together.

“First impressions are always the biggest challenges,” she said.

Another woman involved in the construction industry in Queens, Herlema Owens, echoed Rose’s struggles. After discovering a passion for the industry, Owens started the Association of Women Construction Workers of America in 2006, which helps women get involved in the field.

“It is difficult for women to have positions of authority in that industry,” she said. “There are women today who have left the industry primarily because of the harassment or the lack of respect. But this is an ideal type of industry for a woman – it works with our strengths.”

Both Rose and Owens noted that things have improved in the years since they have joined the construction industry, but accept that the situation could still be improved.

“I would like to say to women, come back into the industry and make the industry strong, because we’re strong in it,” Owens said. “We should be able to do what we want in our own lives and not allow sexism to hold us back.”
Rose suggested that women attempting to make it within the construction industry should find a mentor, to take advantage of the sisterhood that exists.

“I always say, when you’re coming into this industry, you’re standing on the shoulders of all the women who went before you,” she said. “And if you’re standing on her shoulders, you might as well get her to help lift you up.”

Taking advantage of the benefits of a sisterhood is not something exclusive to the construction industry. It has also proven beneficial to female members of the New York Police Department.

Assistant Chief Diana Pizzuti, the commanding officer of Patrol Borough Queens North, spoke of her membership within the New York Women in Law Enforcement, an organization that seeks to develop stronger female leaders within law enforcement.

Pizzuti said that the women coming up through the ranks of the NYPD today are the second generation of high-ranking women within the department, thanks to the efforts of women who came before, including Chief Gertrude Schimmel.

“It made it easier for us,” she said. “We now are the leaders trying to make it better for the next generation.”

Pizzuti said that working together, women have the power to improve not only their own careers, but the careers of others who may be struggling with the problems of the past and, unfortunately, the present.

“That is part of the spirit of the New York Women in Law Enforcement. We’ve brought the younger generation into the organization,” she said. “There’s still challenges, but I think together, we can work and help each other so everyone can reach their potential.”

Editor’s Note: Staff writers Luis Gronda, Natalia Kozikowska and Joe Marvilli assisted with the research for this article.