We’re following up last week’s interview of Laura Rodriguez by interviewing her mom, Judy Kauer, who has led a 30-year career in the business world. In the picture to the left, you see Judy (right), her mother Helen (center) and Laura – three generations of inspiring women!
4word: Can you tell us a bit about your family background?
Judy: It is often said that an individual’s background sets the foundation for her future. This is definitely true in my situation. I was raised on an Indiana farm in a strong Christian home. My mother stayed at home for much of those early years, and our faith and church formed much of our social life. I had little expectations beyond raising a family of my own some day.
However, in my early teens, a new path began to unfold. My grandfather retired, and both my parents started working at Purdue University. This created an economic opportunity for me to attend the University at a discount while living at home. I graduated from a small town high school and at that time was the only girl to attend college. I knew I wanted to do more in life, and God provided a way.
My mother was particularly inspiring. As a war bride, she had limited opportunity to attend college. While working at Purdue, she loved being among the students and decided to go back to school herself. Taking one class a semester, starting while I was in high school, she completed her social work degree 20 years later at the age of 68. Her passion and perseverance served as a role model while my dad provided a strong support base.
In my mid 20s, I graduated from Purdue with a Master’s degree and joined a major oil and gas company to begin a 30-year career. I became a strong believer in the value of education, but little did I understand the path God was laying out ahead of me.
4word: Laura commented on some of the ways the world has changed for working women. Looking back over your career, what changes have you noticed, positive or negative?
Judy: Some things have remained the same, while the means to address those challenges have changed. And there are still many challenges that have not changed.
As a working mother raising two kids in a two-career family, I found significant challenges in maintaining a balance. At times, they seemed insurmountable. There were many tradeoffs and choices to be made with the future impact on the family unclear. I found putting trust into a Higher Being that can see that future was a stabilizer and one that will never change.
The biggest external change has been in the workplace. As corporations have recognized the changing demographics, they are taking action to attract and retain women with flexible hours and work arrangements and enhanced benefit programs.
But the attitude in the workplace has also changed. I can distinctly remember one instance, within a month of employment after graduate school, when an older employee asked me during lunch (with primarily men), how long I planned to work. Such questions would not be asked of women in our company today.
There has also been a change in workplace dress codes. When I began my career, women dressed like men with three piece suits and ties. I was recently looking at pictures of management training classes taken over several years, and I noticed a trend. The men’s attire changed little, but women started to wear more color, more softness in blouses and even dresses as women became more represented in the photos. It is good to be different; to be a woman as we were meant to be.
Culturally, society now recognizes women with increased education levels and increased value in the workplace. The media reinforce these changing societal norms with more visible women leaders. Underlying stereotypes still exist, but there is more acceptance, making it easier for women in the working world.
All in all it is good to remember that external factors can enable you to make certain life choices more easily, but the choices are still yours.
That’s all for now. Stay tuned for part two of Judy’s interview, which we’ll be posting tomorrow! In the meantime, leave us a comment and tell us: do you think the world has changed for working women?