Women in the Workforce, A History Of
Women make up more than 50% of the United States population and nearly half of the total US labour force. However, the road to employment was not any easy path. What’s more, they continue to be underrepresented, underpaid, and discriminated against in the workforce. In today’s blog, we look into the history of female employment. Plus, highlight what barriers exist to make this harder than it is for men.
Women in the Workforce
Let’s take snapshots of the workforce throughout the centuries.
Since ancient times, women have worked in agricultural tasks. And, they used to work in mining before the introduction of workplace regulation stopped the employment of children and women. It wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th/ early 19th century that the nature of the workforce changed considerably. From this change, came the idea of working for a wage.
During the 19th century, they took jobs:
- In factories such as textile mills, or on assembly lines for machinery or other goods.
- As “hawkers” of produce, flowers, and other market goods.
- Performing “piecework”, which involved needlework that paid by the piece completed. Thus, often requiring 14 hours of work in order to earn enough to survive.
Working-class female employees relied on paid employed as it provide some insurance against the possibility that their husband might become too il or injured to support the family. However, the aforementioned jobs were some of the only employment they could secure. But, even then, their pay was significantly less than a man’s average weekly wage.
The 1870 US Census found that female employees were 15% of the total work force. It also revealed them to be working in jobs ranging from iron and steel works to hunters and trappers.
At the beginning of this century, society regarded women as their guardians of morality; they were seen as possessing a finer nature than men and were expected to act as such. Thus, enforcing that there role was not defined as workers or money makers. Yet, this attitude was changing. Especially, as more and more colleges accept female students and a whole coed concept become more and more accepted.
For most Western countries, it is the World Wars which mark the significant shift of jobs that women could work. With men away fighting, the gap in the workforce needed to be filled. Additionally to that, in World War II, thousands of female troops, marines, nurses and coast guards joined the military.
The Quiet Revolution
First, it began with women entering the workplace when they were typically young and unmarried. Next, more and more female employees stayed in the workforce. Additionally, a demand for increase for clerical positions rose with the amount of female high school graduates. In the third phase, these expectations of future employment changed as the attendance of college and working during marriage became the norm. Thus, they created “pink collar jobs” which often saw an onslaught on harassment. Nevertheless, employment continued to rise.
The fourth phase, known as the “Quiet Revolution”, began in the 1970s and continues today. Now highly educated, female employment existed in professions like medicine, law, dental and business. Modern conveniences and medical advancements allowed for them to be in better control of their future paths and decisions.
It is called the “Quiet Revolution” because it did not happen with a bang. Instead, it happened, and is continuing to happen, gradually.
Barriers To Equal Participation
To this day, there is still a gender pay gap when it comes to equal pay. What’s more, it should be noted that Women of Colour are considerably more likely to be underpaid, underrepresented and discriminated against, than their white colleagues. Here are some more barriers that exist for female employees in the workforce.
- There is an exception that mothers, rather than fathers, should be the primary childcare providers.
- Sexism and other discrimination within a field including wage, management, and hierarchies.
- Access to education and training. Did you know, women were completely forbidden access to Cambridge University until 1868? In low- and middle-income countries, this access continues to be an issue.
- No access to capital that would allow then to be entrepreneurs, small business owners, farmer owners, and investors.
- Other types of discrimination including racism, homophobia, and transphobia.
The fight for equality is not over, but the journey has gradually been shifting the paradigm so far. And, will continue to do so, as the decades pass by.