The Real Rosies

Close to 200 professional women and students gathered at Ebay in San Jose this month to learn from a strong line up of Bay Area executive women. “Bridging Inspiration & Achievement,” Santa Clara University Women in Business Network’s tenth annual conference, began with an inspiring keynote by MetricStream CEO Shellye Archambeau. In one of the last sessions of the day – a panel on “Consensus Building, Negotiation & Communication” – NxGen CEO Liz Fetter and Oracle Senior Director of Product Management Charu Roy, joined me to discuss how we’ve used those three skills to build our companies and advance our careers.

Just like we hope our experiences and wisdom will help inspire the next generation, Filmmakers Anne de Mare, Kirsten Kelly and Elizabeth Hemmerdinger were inspired by the extraordinary women who in 1941 went to work when their men went to war. “The Real Rosie the Riveter Project” features 48 filmed interviews conducted over the last two years. And none too soon, as these pioneering women are now in their 80s and 90s. Yet they remember their workdays like it was yesterday.

 “They don’t talk just about walking into the factory. We get their whole lives. We get stories of the Depression; of racial, class and gender divides – a story of America. I hope young people will look at these real-life Rosie interviews and gain insight and inspiration for their own lives,” said Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, who began spearheading the research project as a graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Between 8 and 16 million women were employed during World War II building ships and aircraft, manufacturing electrical equipment, and producing 6 million tons of bombs and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. They did jobs that were previously considered too dirty or physical for women. But they did what they had to do for their country and for their husbands, brothers and sons fighting overseas.

When World War II was over, the returning soldiers reclaimed their jobs and the Rosies went back to traditional women’s roles — homemakers, maids, laundry workers and waitresses — making 20 to 30 times less money than they did in the factories. How far we have come in the 70 years since Artist J. Howard Miller published the iconic “We Can Do It!” poster.

I invite you to join us at the Women in Business Conference this Saturday and view clips of the event later this month. In the meantime, I hope you’ll watch the videos of the Real Rosies – our mothers and grandmothers who inspired generations.

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