As women poured into the labor force in the 1960s armed with new workplace rights protections, Sears guarded these inequalities through sexist policies that are now widespread: novel justifications for unequal pay, denial of benefits, forced part-time work, inflexible scheduling, and aggressive union-busting.
In merchandising, Sears set up gendered categories for the same work, with men titled “assistant buyers” and women “buyer’s assistants.” Assistant buyers got a decent salary, a flexible schedule, and benefits such as paid sick days; buyer’s assistants earned an hourly wage, clocked in and out with timecards, and received no benefits. In sales, men hawked high-commission items such as tires and appliances, while women staffed the candy and button counters.
Sears men worked to keep women out of “their” jobs. Despite her business degree, Judy Krusinger was a buyer’s assistant in the furniture department in Sears’ downtown Chicago headquarters. In 1974, she testified to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which was holding hearings on women and poverty, that she and the other women realized that “this is as high as we are going to go, and everyone is very frustrated.” Toby Atherton told the commission that the men in her downtown Chicago sportswear department joked that “the women are the ones that are really doing the work”; indeed, she got used to training men who leapfrogged her into better jobs.