What Would Mr. Grant Say

September 1, 1996
Every fan of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" knows that Mary Richards was the model employee —reliable, smart, cheerful, hard working, always professional. Mary was so good she couldn’t even make herself lie and call in sick when she really wasn’t.

But Mary was no pushover. During her job interview with Mr. Grant she objected to questions about her marital status and religion. Later, she fought for more responsibility. And she demanded a raise when she discovered that the man who had previously held her job earned more.

I can’t help but wonder, therefore, if Mary wouldn’t be fighting on behalf of single employees everywhere if the series were still running. Certainly, Mary faced her share of the issues that are raised in this month’s cover story. She stayed at the station all night to cover an election while her co-workers with families went home. She gave up dates at the last minute because, after all, someone had to get the work done. Yes, she was a real team player. And ever-polite Mary never would have wanted to seem churlish about Murray’s daughters or unappreciative of the benefits that she herself was receiving.

Still, there are limits. Even if, like Mary, we are reasonable and agree that the challenges faced by working parents were more urgent than those faced by singles, it doesn’t follow that the issues facing the rest of the population are unimportant. How could they be when, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66% of employees are not rearing children under 18? Anything that affects two of every three employees can’t be ignored.

You told us so yourself in a recent survey. Although we thought we had observed the beginnings of a backlash by single employees, even we were astounded by your responses. An amazing 80% of you agreed that single employees do not receive as much attention as married-with-children employees. And more than two-thirds of you expect a backlash from single employees.

The survey also revealed that the issue is much more than simple kvetching about benefit plans. More than 80% of you agree that single employees end up carrying more of the burden than married employees. So there’s the dichotomy:Single employees rightfully believe they’re working harder and getting, ultimately, less than others.

As easy as it is to see how we got here, it’s equally easy to see that things must change. You can’t afford to alienate two-thirds of the workforce (and the hardest-working two-thirds at that) forever. Fortunately, Gillian Flynn’s story includes several examples of relatively simple and inexpensive ways of bringing parity to the workplace while still meeting business goals.

Gillian’s story explores many facets of this issue, but none of the people she talked with mentioned what I think is a prime reason we’re seeing the beginnings of a backlash now. To illustrate my point, think back to the now-classic finale of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Mary and her co-workers have worked together for the last day. They share a group hug and Mary, in tears, thanks them for being her family. That sense—that work offered singles a surrogate family—has been stripped away by downsizing, reengineering and relentless (if accurate) rhetoric that there are no guaranteed jobs anymore. We told employees to create their own lives, and they have. We told them to become independent, and they did. Having started that process, we must complete it by giving them the opportunities to do so. Mary wouldn’t have settled for anything less.

Personnel Journal, September 1996, Vol. 75, No. 9, p. 4.