Women in Wartime

Rosie the Riveter. Everybody knew the face of the World War II recruitment campaign. The real-life Rosies played an important role in filling the gap in the labor force left by men who were serving overseas.

At Graybar, Rosie might well have been known as “Sally the Salesperson.” When nearly 600 Graybar employees enlisted, women stepped in to fill their roles and keep the company humming. In the Atlanta office alone, five of the six office salesmen left to serve in the military. Women ably filled their shoes.

After the war, many veterans returned to their old desks, but the booming economy created a need for more workers than before. At Graybar, returning men were often promoted and women were kept on.

Nothing changed overnight, of course. Men still held all supervisory positions. Women largely held office jobs (clerks, stenographers, secretaries and bookkeepers), were not allowed to wear slacks, and weren’t allowed to smoke at their desks, even though the men could.

During the 1950s and ’60s, most women with young families were homemakers. The number of women in the workplace increased in the 1970s as the rising cost of living made it difficult to maintain a middle-class lifestyle on a single income. At the time, these women largely held traditional office jobs and faced limited potential for career advancement.

By 1980, a 19-year-old woman was confident enough of the opportunities for advancement at Graybar that she joined the company as a customer service representative. Chairman, President and CEO Kathy Mazzarella said from day one she aspired to lead the company. During her career, she has worked in sales, marketing, human resources and strategic planning. In 1998, she became Graybar’s first female vice president. In 2013, she became the first woman in Graybar’s history to serve as chairman, president and CEO.

Traditionally, more men than women have chosen to work in the wholesale distribution industry. But Mazzarella believes the company and industry as a whole will be stronger with different perspectives and diversity of thought. That’s one of the reasons she supports efforts to bring more women into the industry and help set them on the path to success.

Rosie the Riveter would be proud.