Woman in the Office - Breaking the Glass Ceiling
Article brought to you by: Phillip Donaldson
The story of women and the workplace is one that has been historically filled with struggle. From gaining acceptance of their presence within an office or other work environment, to receiving equal rights on the job, the journey has been a long one. As a result of the efforts of women throughout history, professional office women are now able to assume various roles in the workplace that have traditionally been held by men. Today more than ever, women in the office have been able to break the glass ceiling that once limited their professional growth, and hold positions of leadership within companies. Although it is still not perfect, women have made great accomplishments towards equality.
The struggle for acceptance in the workplace can be traced back as far as the 19th century. During that time a woman's proper place, or sphere, was at home living the life of a wife and mother. Women who did work, usually did so in rural settings, in what was considered suitable occupations for women. Examples of occupations that were okay for women, included agricultural labor or performing domestic service work in homes. In some instances women worked in factories, but were paid far lower wages than men. During this time labor reform organizations began to form. Also during the 19th century a small number of women worked white-collar jobs, performing office work by doing jobs such as office clerks.
During the progressive era the third largest occupation for women was in manufacturing, the second largest in domestic work, and the largest in agriculture. Organizations for these working women were typically for better wages and safer working conditions. Labor unions for women also began to surface at this time, adding to their agenda a demand for better hours, educational opportunities and health care. During the early 20th century, new opportunities for white-collar work also began to open up for women. While secretarial work was still predominately male, jobs for office women included working as copyists, telephone operators, typists, and stenographers. These types of jobs paid better than other jobs that women traditionally performed, but they still offered lower pay than their male counterparts. Furthermore, women in these workplaces often worked for long hours, and without breaks.
During the Great Depression, women performing office clerical and other traditional jobs and faced many criticisms for taking jobs away from men. The sentiment occurred despite the fact that the jobs that they held where jobs that were traditionally held by women and not men. Men saw working women at that time as a threat to their ability to gain employment. Women were even attacked by the media at the time for abandoning their families although women were typically working to feed their families and to prevent the loss of their homes. During the Great Depression, the National Recovery Administration (NRA) raised the wages of women in the workplace, but specifically stipulated that they should remain lower than the wages received by men. During World War II more women than ever entered the workforce. Many of the jobs during that time were in the industrial sector. Following the war however many women were forced to quit or were laid-off as jobs returned to men.
The 1960s marked a time of many significant changes for women in the office and in the workplace in general. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 mandated equality of pay in the workplace by abolishing wage discrimination on the basis of gender. The 1964 Civil Rights Act is known primarily in terms of equal rights for African-Americans, but it also beneficial in terms of equal rights for women of all nationalities. It forbids the discrimination due to a person's race, national origin, religion, and their sex. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 also forbade sexual harassment in the workplace, however it took a number of court cases to clarify the issue. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) took action to clearly define sexual harassment in 1980.
Women still face discrimination in the workplace, however it is often more subtle than in years past. While women hold management jobs, a majority of these positions are middle management as opposed to upper management. Pregnancy also continues to be the cause of discrimination against women who may not be hired or who may fail to receive a promotion as a result of their condition. In addition, women continue to receive less pay in comparison to their male counterparts. Discrimination in the workplace is now most often fought with personal lawsuits against companies or individuals who discriminate against women.
For more information about the history of women in the workplace and women in the office, see the following links.