Breaking the glass ceiling
It wasn’t until Decima Sheldon was two years old that she was declared a person.
Dressed smartly in a suit, this gal isn’t the type to burn her bra, but growing up in an era when women had only recently received the right to vote shaped her life.
Spread across a bar-style table in Decima’s West Vancouver apartment are clippings, photos and letters pertaining to her long career.
Decima’s adult life started out in the same manner as many women in her generation — the school teacher married an army boy at the age of 19.
When her husband’s job moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, like a good wife she followed. It was in Moose Jaw that her path diverted from the norm.
Television was entering everybody’s household. One evening, while watching the tube, an ad for a host position on a beauty consultant show — Feminine Fare — flashed across the screen. That night Decima’s husband drove her to the station and a few days later she had the job.
“My heart was absolutely bursting,” she says, as a smile spreads across her face. “Nothing strokes your ego like a television job.”
She knew she was employed based on her looks and that she was hired to talk about a subject some called trivial, but it was an “in” to the man’s world of business.
For a year, Feminine Fare had strong ratings on CTV. Women recognized “Dez” on the streets and the show’s sponsors were pleased with its following.
The show catapulted Decima to her next job promoting the Nina Ricci fragrance line on T.V. and radio, splitting her time between her home in West Vancouver and the head office in New York.
During her climb up the industry’s ladder, Decima work alongside famous Canadians, such as journalist Jack Webster. In 1967, Decima’s reputation landed her a consultant position at the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67 in Montreal.
“I was to talk to the female Expo guides on grooming and etiquette,” she says.
It was during a time of change. Blue jeans were on the rise and about to not only rattle the fashion world but reshape women’s lives, Decima recalls.
A new wave of thinking pushed women like Decima to break further through historical boundaries. For years Decima had worked at a senior executive level without the title in multiple big-name companies. Junior employees were promoted, while Decima was bypassed because she was female, she says handing over an old newspaper ad. The clipping is for a marketing job in which the print clearly states, if hired, a man will be paid $20,000. A woman’s salary, meanwhile, is set at $14,000.
Before the end of the 1970s, Decima opened her own trade and consumer promotions company. It was a major step.
“I kept on hitting the glass ceiling and finally I had broken through,” she says.
She was her own boss, yet it wasn’t smooth sailing. Many people still railed against such a move, she says, flipping to another clipping. This one profiles her company; the spin is that she’s a woman. The headline reads “Long-time job-hopper jumps into her own promotion firm.”
“Job-hopper was not a flattering word,” Decima says.
Women have come a long way, but this 83-year-old is convinced there is further to go. Decima’s not giving up the fight.
Decima’s currently writing a book chronicling her life. She hopes it will inspire women to continue to rally for fair business practices.
“Each facet of a woman’s life I have found fantastic. Attitude is everything,” she says, adding a wink.