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Women in a Changing Workplace

Women in a Changing Workplace

Written by Nancy Yang

Back in the 1970s, “You’ve come a long way, baby” was the tagline of a popular ad for Virginia Slims. The slogan tapped into the influx of women entering the workplace, a slow, steady climb that continues today. Although women still haven’t achieved parity or equal pay in all areas, it’s good to take stock every now and then and celebrate how far they’ve come. Here are some Columbia women who have indeed come a long, long way.

Rekindling a dream

Two years ago, circumstances led Jolene Schulz to a future that was very much part of her past. After retiring from 34 years with Columbia Public Schools, she began working for a local bank, where an opportunity at work rekindled an old dream.

“I received a call from a CEO in the banking field in Jeff City asking if I would take bank execs on a tour,” says Schulz, Horizons Club assistant at First State Community Bank. “Not knowing what I was getting into, I of course said sure.”

The truth is that Schulz had always wanted to run tours and had a pretty good idea of how to go about it. One of the first steps was to borrow some books and magazines from her friend Cindy Mustard.

“I walked out of Cindy’s house with a big stack of books,” Schulz says. “Then I thought to myself: ‘How silly. Cindy’s a Columbia native. I’ve only lived here for 46 years. Maybe I’ll call her and see if she wants to join forces with me.’ We sat down, mapped out what we were going to do, did the tour for the bankers, and they absolutely gave us accolades and applauded us.”

Two years later, Tiger Trolley Tours was born. The timing was right. Mustard had retired after 20 years as executive director of the Voluntary Action Center, and Schulz was working part time. The women put together a business plan, and the company took off.

Tiger Trolley Tours features four sightseeing tours for groups of 18 to 30 aboard a motorized trolley. Schulz and Mustard also arrange custom tours.

“One of the unique things is that we design tours according to what the party wants,” Mustard says. They embellish each with personal stories, facts and legends, keeping their narratives fresh.

Both Mustard and Schulz graduated from the University of Missouri in the 1960s, at a time when the majority of college graduates were male. It would be several years before Title IX banned sex discrimination in schools and a decade before it was illegal to turn a woman down for a job because she was pregnant. For many women, career choices were limited.

“Choices were teacher, nurse or secretary,” Schulz says. “Nobody spoke to you about the world and what you could do.”

“I probably would have gone to law school if it had been the right timing,” Mustard says. “My dad was an attorney, and I tried to take one night course at UMKC, but I had more to do than just work all day and go to school at night.” Mustard says that in those days, women grew up with a different set of expectations.

Not that they didn’t dream.

“It was a dream of mine for a long, long time to do tours,” Schulz says. “I wanted to do this in the little town of Bevier, Mo., where I grew up. It’s a coal-mining town. There were many opportunities for tours. … It just wasn’t something a young woman could do at the time.”

But taking it on later in life has had its advantages. For Schulz and Mustard, Columbia’s expansion has helped them grow their company, and between the two of them, they know an awful lot of people.

“It’s a whole new world after working in nonprofits,” Mustard says. “But I’m doing better. I’m learning to charge for things.”

Finding a calling

When Kat Cunningham celebrates her company’s 20th year in business next spring, she might also relish in the twists and turns that got her there. After all, Cunningham believes strongly that events that change your life are there for a reason.

Her career began in the early 1980s, the first time in the United States that more women than men were graduating from college. Fresh out of school with a degree in recreation and leisure, she learned early on that things might not turn out the way she had planned.

“It didn’t work out to be Julie on Love Boat,” she says. Today Cunningham is president of Moresource Inc., a company she founded in 1994 at the ripe age of 34. Moresource, her third business venture, offers outsourcing of human resources, payroll and benefits administration, along with bookkeeping and a full-service insurance agency to almost 1,000 clients in 28 states.

Cunningham’s first job was as a receptionist for J.H. Ware Trucking in Fulton. It wasn’t her dream job by a long shot, and she couldn’t have imagined then that she was actually laying the foundation for her career. But a few years later, her true calling began to reveal itself.

“I went on maternity leave with my first child and heard that everybody in the company was taking a personality test,” she says. “I thought I was going to dodge the bullet and not have to take the test. But when I got back from my maternity leave, sure enough the test was on my desk.”

The president called her into his office and told her that based on her test results, she would make a better president of the company than he would. She was 27 years old.

“When somebody tells you that, you know what you need to do,” she says. “He asked me what I’d do to step up, and I said I want Ron’s title, I want his desk, and I want his paycheck.” Ron was the personnel director for the 300-truck center.

The president turned red in the face, she says. “He looked at me, and he was just angry and said: ‘Fine, but I’m going to watch you every step of the way.’”

Cunningham had risked being fire, but instead she earned her boss’s respect. She had proven herself and began moving through the ranks of the company. The president put her in operations to learn all facets of the business.

“That’s where I got my leadership experience,” Cunningham says. “I was actually supposed to take over a trucking terminal. But the company started experiencing some financial concerns, and I saw the writing on the wall. So I left and started my first company.”

It was 1990, and Cunningham was all of 30 years old. Making use of what she had learned, she set up a recruiting firm for trucking companies and drivers. Later, she joined forces with two men and formed Advantage Financial Group.

“They were the brains, and I had the brawn — except they forgot that the brawn had all the relationships,” she says. “So when they pushed me out, I went over to the Small Business and Technology Center at the university and took my business plan.” She got an SBA loan and started Moresource.

Today Moresource has 15 employees, including her son Brian, who joined the company three years ago. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that Cunningham has taught her son some of the things she learned in a man’s world a generation ago.

“The first year I thought we might kill each other,” she says. “But all of a sudden, he’s become this sharp young man. I see an amazing leader coming out in him.”

Living in two worlds

From the time she was 11, Mary Muscato knew she wanted to be a doctor. What she couldn’t have known were the challenges she would face as one of the few female physicians of her generation.

Muscato graduated from college in the early s’70s, when most why are there two bath tubs in the cialis commercial medical programs had quotas. University of Pennsylvania, Muscato’s alma mater, admitted about 10 percent women to its medical school. At nearby Jefferson Medical College, about 5 percent of the students were women. By contrast, women make up more than 48 percent of U.S. medical school graduates today.

“My ENT doc would not let up about how I’d be wasting a space that a man could have,” she says. “Not that he didn’t think I was smart. He just thought women didn’t devote as much time to their work as men. That was the universal way of thinking back then.”

Fortunately, Muscato attended The Medical College of Pennsylvania, the first medical school in the world established to train women physicians. About 80 percent of the students and 75 percent of the professors were women, which gave Muscato a wealth of role models and a penchant for justice.

Perhaps that’s why she can recall a conversation that happened nearly four decades ago like it happened yesterday. It was 1975, three years before the Pregnancy Discrimination Act banned employment discrimination against pregnant women, and Muscato was interviewing for a residency in internal medicine.

“The chief resident, a male, started talking about women who took time off from their residencies to have babies,” she says. “So I said: ‘I’ll still be taking the pill next year. Is that what you want to hear?’ He turned bright red and started talking about something else.” She got the residency — one of two women in a group of 16 to 18.

After her internal medicine training, Muscato earned a hematology-oncology fellowship at Duke University. There were two women fellows and four men. One was her husband, Joe, whom she had married after her first year of medical school.

Three years later, she and her husband moved to Columbia as attending physicians at the University of Missouri-Columbia Hospital and Clinics. She was responsible for 35 patients as well as three interns (first-year internal medicine residents) and a resident. Most of the patients were very sick with cancer or other hematology-oncology problems, and the job required making complex and difficult decisions.

During that time Muscato had a 6-month-old son, and in two years she was pregnant with twins. Eventually she realized that with the demands of her job and family, she couldn’t have the life she wanted.

Muscato recalls missing her son’s first haircut and wanting to take her kids to swim lessons. She also remembers feeling strangely out of place at social gatherings. At parties, it felt natural for her to talk with the men about medicine. The women, on the other hand, were part of a different life, which she felt she was watching from the outside.

“Not that I didn’t always have girlfriends,” she says. “But which camp could I put my foot in? I was sort of in both a little bit. ‘when it hit me that there was another whole world that I never let myself be part of.”

In 1985, Muscato joined Missouri Cancer Associates, which her husband, Joe Muscato, had founded, and began working a more manageable workweek. Since then more women have become physicians and have made their mark. Fewer doctors put in the excruciatingly long hours, in part because they don’t always have backup at home. The medical workplace was changing.

“Nobody wants to work like men used to work — not even men,” Muscato says. “Now they say they have to take their kids to swimming lessons. Men wouldn’t have said that before.”

Blazing a trail

Associate Circuit Judge Deborah Daniels grew up in Fayette in the 1950s and ’60s with an unlikely role model. Although her father was a lawyer and served as state chairman of the Democratic party, it was her grandmother who influenced her decision to study law.

“My grandmother on my father’s side owned her own business, and she was a very independent thinker,” Daniels says. “She was interested in figuring out for herself what was the correct answer. I think that was an influence for me. Certainly the expectation was that people should be judged on their abilities and not on their gender.”

In 1974, Daniels began her studies at the MU School of Law as one of about 25 or 30 women in a class of 150. She and her classmates considered it a great influx of women. The class before them had five.

“Ann Covington was in my class,” she says. Covington, who attended law school a decade after receiving an undergraduate degree from Duke University, went on to become the first woman chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. “It was a very different world then.”

The early ’70s was a time when women’s libbers lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment. Publications such as Ms. Magazine gave them a voice, but it would take time before things began to change for women in the workplace.

“My father was a lawyer but was very opposed to my going to law school,” she says. “He did not believe women should become lawyers. He didn’t want me to go. I really wanted to go — and went.”

Her mother wasn’t particularly enthusiastic either. During Daniels’ first semester of law school, her mother called and asked whether she felt bad about taking a man’s place.

“I really didn’t,” Daniels says.

After her second year in law school, Daniels was offered an opportunity to clerk for the Missouri Supreme Court. It was an honor but also an opportunity. It meant she’d have a job when she graduated.

“My father came to me and said that he’d been thinking about this,” she says. “He thought it would be all right if I wanted to go back to Fayette and do research for him. He could deal with the people and go into court, and I could do the research. It was very nice that he had come that far, but I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to go back and clerk.”

Daniels took the job. Afterward, she became a member of the research staff for the Missouri Supreme Court and eventually the director. From 1983 until 2010, she returned to the MU School of Law, this time as adjunct faculty. The position, along with her work as an independent contractor for the Missouri Supreme Court, allowed her some flexibility while raising her three children.

Later she worked in the Missouri Attorney General’s office, including as chief counsel in the criminal division. Then in 2006, she decided to run for judge. She says being a candidate in Columbia was eye-opening.

“I never really thought about the logistics of communicating what a judge does and what makes a good judge,” she says. Having grown up in a small town where everyone knows each other, she found it difficult to make connections while meeting people door to door. She says that some of the challenges weren’t necessarily Columbia’s size as much as its rapid growth and mobility. Daniels was elected in 2006, and again in 2010, to her current position as associate circuit judge.

“My mother used to say to me that she did not understand what the concern was with women being able to explore as many opportunities as they had the skills, the talents and interest to do,” Daniels says. “I said that it’s not that women couldn’t; it’s just that it was so hard for them to do. I think the question is not whether you could have an exception to the rule. The question is whether the rule should exist.”

The message seems to have come through to her two daughters, now 29 and 31. Daniels says she doesn’t think their gender would ever keep them from exploring their professional interests.

“I don’t think it even pops into their consciousness,” she says. “That may be a tribute to the collective wisdom of judging people on their ability rather than their gender.”



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