Schools Training

Women, Family and Work

18 MAR 2013
Career Path : paralegal

Women make up the majority of the ranks of administrative and office support workers. From paralegals to administrative assistants, there has been a history of women being assigned these assisting roles that dates back to the earliest integration of women into the work force and informs and influences how we interact with the subject of female employment. Beyond this, post-secondary education, from paralegal training to university degrees, is more common in women and this is reflected in the demands of these sorts of positions.


When we talk about women working, we are generally ignoring the household attached and cottage industry jobs that predate our modern economies. Women, of course, have always had tasks and occupations, paid and unpaid. However, this was generally built around a household, where the woman would either work in the home on various crafts, or temporally join another household to sell her labour, often as a servant.  When women first began to be integrated into the general work force, it coincided with inventions like the typewriter but also the industrial revolution, which was also causing a separation of male labour from the farm and craftsmanship apprentice, and also, by extension, from the home.


However, the morals of the time period, in this case the Victorian era, were not supportive of female long term separation from home and family. While a male might set up a new family, women continued to be adjuncts, rather than heads of the household in their own right. There were always a few notable exceptions, but by and large, the understanding behind female labour was that a career was a short lived bridge between when she went from one home to another. Education initially reflected this, with working women taking on short secretarial skills classes. Many of these schools have now evolved into places that teach administration or payroll courses. At first, these meant women would complete a short education and work until they married. Then childcare was supposed to be a woman’s primary occupation.


Over time, work stopped ending when women married, at least in the west. Nonetheless, typically female work continued to be structured around expectations of child bearing, and involved reduced commitments to career. For example paralegal courses take two years compared with law school, at four as well as undergrad. Ability to climb is reduced, but hours are extremely abbreviated compared to what is expected of a lawyer. Of course, university became a more common part of female education, actually more so than men, but seems to be accompanied by delayed reproduction until the early thirties. Thus women might go all the way through an accounting degree instead of payroll courses, and obtain a higher ranking roll, but some of the expectations linger.


The challenge then, is breaking out of a box that has trouble separating women from family, in a way that is realistic.



Visit Algonquin Careers Academy for more courses and information on gender and career.