Women Still Rising in the Workplace, 80 Years Later

Women Still Rising in the Workplace, 80 Years Later
March 14, 2016 North Jersey Marketing

Ask Lourdes

Volume 3 Issue 3

Women Still Rising in the Workplace, 80 Years Later

By Lourdes Cortez

As we celebrate the 80th Aniversary of North Jersey Federal Credit Union, I must reflect on women’s role in the workplace and the tremendous changes our communities have experienced since 1936.

In a mostly male dominated society, women in the workplace today have become the norm and our accomplishments are reflected in the types of careers many of us have chosen.

One can see how far we’ve come.

Eighty years ago, many women were relegated to domestic work, particularly those of color. While the women who had opportunities to become more educated, were expected to become a nurse, a school teacher or have a career in a stereotypical job. In other words, women didn’t have many options and the glass ceiling was quite formidable.

However, according to the Department for Professional Employees (DPE), 73 million women are in the workplace today, as compared to 11 million 80 years ago – a clear indication that women are infiltrating all aspects of industry and business.

Certainly, banking was not always considered women’s work. Although there’s been a presence of trailblazing women in banking, like Mary Roebling, who took over the reins as president of Trenton Trust Bank upon her husband’s death in 1937. Under her leadership the bank’s assets soared from $17 million to $1.3 billion by 1984, when she retired.

Meanwhile, Maggie Lena Walker founded the charter for St. Lukes Penny Savings Bank in 1903, in Richmond, Virginia, making her the first female African American bank president.

Subsequently, women have continued to make their presence known in a variety of fields, some more so than others – nearly equaling men as biological scientists and as artists, in numbers (DPE).

In management positions, women like Arisa Batista-Cunningham, account for 30 percent of the workforce. Batista-Cunningham is the vice-president of Global Diversity for Johnson & Johnson, whose

mission is to advance minority and underserved populations.

As women became more prevalent in the workplace, in both traditional and non-traditional industries (factories, armed forces, etc.) a new issue arose, and that is the gap between wages earned for the same job done. Men and women working in the same job position were not earning the same salary. And this, unfortunately, was happening systematically.

While the arduous task for equality has been ongoing for women in the workplace, nothing says this more than “equal pay for equal work.”

With the passing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which President Obama signed into law in 2009, women gained the leverage so badly needed, when it comes to wages.

The commendable strength of women, throughout history, has been defined by persistence and determination. Starting with the Women Suffrage Movement’s 52-year-long battle to secure the right to vote in 1920, to the Feminist Movement of the 1970s, when “the spirit of entrepreneurship was invigorated,” women have been relentless. According to Women in Business: a Historical Perspective, by the late 1980s, women owned half of all American businesses while juggling being mothers and caretakers.

Indeed, the valiant spirit found in the DNA of women, was eloquently captured in the poem by the great Maya Angelou – Still I Rise.

You may shoot me with your words

You may cut me with your eyes

You may kill me with your hatefulness

But still, like air, I’ll rise.


Lourdes Cortez began her professional banking career in 1984 as a representative at the North Jersey Federal Credit Union (North Jersey Federal). After progressing through several positions, she became CEO in 2005. In the past 10 years, North Jersey Federal’s assets have steadily grown from $171 million to $233 million.  As the first Latina CEO of a major credit union in NJ, not only has Lourdes’ stewardship increased the assets of North Jersey Federal, but her commitment to giving back to the community has been tremendous. One such example was the creation of New Jersey’s first student run credit union with state approved curriculum.
As CEO, Lourdes crystalized the credit union’s community involvement with the creation of the North Jersey Federal Credit Union Foundation. Organizations that have received support from the foundation include Autism Radio, Boys & Girls Club, Boy and Girl Scouts, Eva’s Village and the Marines Care Organization.
Lourdes has been honored by NJ Biz magazine as one of the Best 50 Women in Business in NJ, the 2015 Brava Awards from SmartCEO and the 2015 CIANJ/Commerce Magazine Best Practices Awards, among other accolades.  Recently, Lourdes was appointed to serve on the Board of Trustees of William Paterson University of New Jersey in Wayne, NJ.