Women in the Office: An Evolution
Career Path : Accounting
Women have always worked at something, even before they were a normal part of the workplace. However, wholesale integration of women into the white collar labour force has been a journey that took over a century. It was a long and steady process that was helped by labour shortages caused by two world wars and the invention of new labour saving devices, as well as the successes of feminism. At the same time, there was also an overall increase in access of education for women from private business schools to graduate programs, with ever increasing opportunities today.
Before the standards we accept today for employment, female work concerned itself with the back breaking labour it took to upkeep a home, or worked in concert with male family members on family business or farming enterprises. Industrialization created a new demand for white collar male workers, part of the establishment of a solid middle class. At this time there was little specialized education for anyone, so rather than going to accounting school, the average bookkeeper would have some general education in sums and figures and enter an apprenticeship, the same as any other person entering a trade. In a time when female mobility outside their families was severely curtailed, this had a serious impact on what women might be trained to do.
Plus, one major barrier to female employment was the longstanding tradition of ceasing paid work for unpaid family work after marriage. However, it was not unusual for a supposedly unemployed woman to work from home to help her office working husband, for example taking up typing so she could support his career. They typewriter also marked one of the turning points that started to let women trickle into the work force. At the forefront of this was the business school graduate, with women training as secretaries, stenographers and other support roles to work for a few years as support staff. Still, though it wasnât abnormal to have a female typing pool, women in the public business sphere were still an anomaly.
The First World War brought two things, more or less universal suffrage, and a brief period where labour shortages let women prove themselves by taking on typically male jobs to meet home front demands. This progress remained grindingly slow, though, despite a second repeat with another world war. On the other side of that, the female secretary was normalized. By the sixties and seventies, it was an established career that many women went to aÂ business schoolÂ for, but it was a dead end position. It took increased access for education for women, social changes that kept women working after marriage before it became possible to advance into more managerial roles with any degree of ease.
Today, the female office worker can be anything from a traditional secretary to the top earning, multi-language programming graduate of anÂ IT school, but there is still ongoing work to do to equalize wages.
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