Most of talk around women in the workplace of late has been of the Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In variety. Women, argues Sandberg’s book, can break through the so-called glass ceiling by simply being more tenacious, proactive and self-empowered. The dialogue is often framed around getting women into positions of power, pushing for more female CEOs, and urging more women to brave the climb up the corporate ladder.
How wonderful for feminism to rally around the cause of elevating women to shake their fists against the vaunted glass ceiling, we think, abstractly.
But that’s not how most women live.
In truth, most of us hover a lot closer to what some call the “sticky fast food floor” than the glass ceiling. In a piece on The Daily Beast, writer Sally Kohn talks about the large numbers of women who live on minimum wage — the majority of them being poor women of color. In fact, people of color make up around 42 percent of all minimum wage workers. And women of color are at the bottom of the bottom, making on average 60 percent less than their male counterparts. As women in the corporate sector parry over how to get ahead in the boardroom, women on the bottom tier of the employment chain are struggling to survive. And “leaning in” won’t do much to change that.
Which is why fast food workers in more than 60 cities went on strike today, hoping to raise awareness about the economic injustices huge swathes of service sector employees face. Today’s strike is the second major national strike in the last two weeks; its goal is to raise the fast food minimum wage from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 to $15. For these workers — and specifically for the female employees who are often single mothers like Bronx McDonald’s employee Nathalia Sepulveda — these strikes are the culmination of a long-brewing frustration with the few rights afforded fast food workers. Employees at chains like Burger King, McDonald’s and Wendy’s are now working to form unions to protect their rights.
Where are the glass ceiling warriors when it comes to these women? How much solidarity really exists between feminists fighting for more representation in Fortune 500 leadership positions and the women who serve their children Happy Meals after school? I’m asking, because as women, we need to work toward an inclusive intersectional agenda — one that understands that class and race are equal parts oppressive tools. An agenda that realizes that a “leaning in” strategy is only applicable to some women, and that it often requires the hard labor and work of women on the lower end of the economic spectrum to be successful.
As Kohn notes, “3.5 million fast-food workers in America … feed us every day but can’t afford to feed their own families. In our modern economy, everyone has to work to keep up—whether it’s two parents or single parents or everyone else. Yet a labor market that increasingly includes women at the same time that wages are being deliberately driven into the ground creates a disastrous economic and moral trap for millions of women charged with shoring up our economy, our families, and our communities.”