Peggy Eddens remembers well the first business lunch she ever attended. It was winter of 1978, and she and her fellow auditors from Kopper’s Holdings Inc. were set to gather at an exclusive Pittsburgh haunt called the Butane Club. At just 21 and freshly out of college, Eddens was proud to have finally earned a seat among the company’s unofficial fraternity.
There was just one problem. When she arrived at the club, Eddens was told that she’d have to enter through the kitchen. Women, apparently, were not permitted to come in through the front door.
As shocking as the story seems to Eddens today, at the time she was rather nonplussed by the affair. After all, she was the first female ever hired as an auditor for Kopper’s, and her somewhat embarrassing kitchen entrance was not the first time she had brushed up against the harsh reality of gender inequality.
“I knew I just had to take it in stride,” recalls Eddens, who, since 2007, has been at the helm of WSFS in Wilmington as executive vice president and director of human capital. “You have to find the good in it. If you harbor the bad it just makes you resentful, and I’ve never met anyone who is successful and bitter at the same time.”
Like so many of Delaware’s most financially successful women, Eddens’ life story represents a remarkable placeholder in the history of gender workplace equality: a pioneering narrative that spans the rather imposing divide between the subjugation of her parents’ generation and the Parity 2.0 of young women currently embarking on careers of their own.
“I think women have already worked through a lot of the frustrations and exposed nerves,” says Eddens. “These days I stress to young women that it’s more about their capabilities than it is about whatever a man might be doing.”
Nonetheless, when it comes to salary, inequality remains a stubborn and perplexing fixture on the landscape of today’s female workforce. In Eddens’ line of work the numbers are troubling: Women in the financial sector earn just 70 cents to every male dollar.