Women at Work
Labor economist’s memoir—and research—chronicle working women’s progress.
As a young, married mother of two in 1970, labor economist Myra Strober, PhD ’69, was struggling to stay on a career path in
academia while keeping up with the demands of her home life. When she learned from the head of the economics department at Berkeley, where she was teaching, that she would never be considered for tenure, she understood that it was because she was a mother. Her anger at that injustice inspired a lifetime of pioneering teaching and research on women in the workplace. In her new memoir published by the MIT Press, Sharing the Work: What My Family and Career Taught Me about Breaking Through (and Holding the Door Open for Others), Strober blends findings from her academic work with the details of her personal journey as a woman in a field dominated by men.
Strober, a professor emerita at Stanford who was the founding director of the university’s groundbreaking Center for Research on Women (now the Clayman Institute for Gender Research), had often told her classes stories about her own experiences, but she only recently realized they might be good fodder for a book. “I began noticing that as the years passed, students were more and more surprised by these stories,” she says. “They hadn’t faced the kind of discrimination I’d faced, and they hadn’t been in situations where they were the lone woman in a classroom or in a faculty meeting, and so I thought, Well, it’s wonderful the way things have changed, but I hope these students understand that there’s a history behind the victories.”
She’s been intrigued by the responses to her memoir thus far. “The book is like a Rorschach test,” she says. “Many of the women from my generation are interested because my experiences remind them of their own experiences. Younger people have no idea what it was like to grow up in the kind of family I grew up in ... People have different reactions depending on their own lives.”
A significant part of Strober’s life story involves her Jewish faith, and she has found that resonates with readers as well. “They like the fact that I am a feminist but I am also interested in my spiritual life,” she says. Many of her childhood memories revolve around her grandfather, a religious man, and her desire to learn from him. In fact, one of her earliest inklings that she had what she calls a “feminist inclination” came at shul at age 12, when her grandfather for the first time sent her to the balcony to sit with the women in his Orthodox congregation instead of with him. But over the decades, Strober has seen women make progress in her own religion as well as in the workplace: in 2006 she became a bat mitzvah, more than 50 years after her Hebrew teacher told her, “Bar mitzvahs are for boys.”
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Please submit titles of books and papers published in 2016 and 2017 to be considered for this column.
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By Myra Strober, PhD ’69
MIT Press, 2016, $29.95