Women are choosing to delay pregnancy for a gamut of reasons — and a woman’s decision (or preventative circumstances) to not have children should have no bearings on her professional life. And yet it does. Research even suggests that childless women are expected to do more at work and are excused less often—even women like Oprah Winfrey, according to a 2014 interview at Stanford University.
A study conducted by PwC of 25,000 workers found that two thirds of childless women aged 28 to 40 years old feel that they are expected to work longer hours and be more readily available during late night shifts and on the weekends. And Oprah found this to ring true when she was denied a pay raise because she didn't have a family of her own to take care of.
On Wednesday, Illinois ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, making it the the 37th state to do so since it was passed by Congress in 1972. The amendment, which aims to end gender discrimination, reads: "Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex." But one of Illinois' most famous faces, Oprah, shared about a time that she wasn't treated equally.
Before hosting her own program, "The Oprah Winfrey Show," in Chicago from 1986 to 2011, Oprah was a local television host at a Baltimore, Maryland station. She worked there in the late 70s with her co-host, Richard Sher, who she found out was earning more than her.
"Working in Baltimore, I'd gone to my boss and said that the guy who was working with me, my co-host on the 'People Are Talking,' show, was making more money than I," Winfrey said in the interview. "We were co-hosts."
Her boss, however, didn't respond in her favor.
"'Why should you make as much money as he?'" Oprah recalled him saying. "'He has children. Do you have children? He has to pay for college educations. He owns his own home, do you own your home?'"
He pointed out all the expenses that Oprah didn't have to pay becasue she was just in her late 20s, and when Oprah recognized that he wasn't going to respect her equal work in that conversation, she left.
"I said 'Thank you for your time,' and I left," she explained at Stanford. "I knew that in that moment it was time for me to go... I knew he didn't hear nor see me, and that I was not going to get the validation that I needed. I decided not to file a suit against it because I knew at the time that I would lose, that no good would come of it."
And when she walked out, she started strategizing the next moves in her career, ultimately following her instincts to move to Chicago in 1984 to host "A.M. Chicago."
While there hosting her own show in Chicago, Oprah got a chance to take action against pay inequality. She said she was making a lot of money, but her producers weren't getting pay increases. So she went to her boss and said, "Everybody needs a raise," she remembered.
He responded negatively yet again: "They're only girls. They're a bunch of girls. What do they need more money for?" he said, according to Oprah.
But she stood firm and warned him that she wouldn't host another show until the producers' pay increased — and, at last, it worked. But Oprah had power then, and it had nothing to do with having a family of her own.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.
Our employer partners are actively recruiting women! Update your profile today.