In 1916, the role of women at work was clearly defined and outlined by society. Women were seen as the fairer sex, more morally just and noble than men and were expected to uphold such social statuses with their behaviour. Misdemeanours and rebellions from women were punished more harshly than men.
Women were expected to hold on to their innocence until the right man came along so that they can start a family and inculcate that morality they were in charge of preserving. Women, not being ‘expected’ to fulfil the working role of the family were often denied access to higher education – by the men who had previously qualified.
However, by 1916 the world was at the slow beginning of a revolution that would change all of this. Influential, defiant and strong women were already beginning to fight against this ideal, gradually increasing their access and acceptance into colleges and universities.
Let’s allow ourselves to traverse time, remind ourselves of pre-war working conditions for women and take a look at the key events that saw women progress to the most equal state of working conditions they’ve seen to this date.
A Timeline Of Key Events In The Working Woman’s History.
Before World War I
- Women made up only 15% of the total workforce in the United States. A huge proportion were socialites and housewives, not expected to be employed.
- Two thirds of teachers were women.
- Others featured prominently in dressmaking and fabric mills.
- Only a third of factory workers were women.
- Typically women received anywhere between 48% and 76% of a man’s wages for performing the same job.
In fact, it was World War I became the ultimate catalyst to spark a defining social reaction. Men and women were placed on the greatest and most equalising of fields: that of life and death and once the war ended, the British government, in a move which would be reflected across the Western World, were forced into accepting the time for pompous male supremacism had passed.
In particular, the 1970s saw a huge development in women’s pro-activity with regards to work. The sexual revolution of the 1960s which would continue into the 70s saw women embrace a period of empowerment and belief of the rightful control over their own lives.
The idea that women had to abandon their careers in their 30s to begin families and that men could not adopt similar roles dissipated. Women entered colleges and universities in the 70s embarking on career paths akin to men; being granted the opportunities to progress in fields such as law, medicine and business.
A big factor to this effect was the free accessibility to the birth control pill and a declining oppression in society to abortions. With women more free to control when they fell pregnant and if they wished to have their baby, the implications of motherhood took less of a hold on their careers.
Where Do We Stand In 2016?
Women have never had a more equal footing in the workplace.
There are more female MPs than ever before, with a greater share of the total number of MPs than they’ve ever had before… and yet that share is 29%.
There are more female high court judges than ever before… and yet they total only 13.2% of the whole.
In terms of high-profile roles, women are best represented as head teachers of high and primary schools, where they total 36.7% of the whole – still a good chunk below a direct 50/50 split.
What can we take from this?
We can take that there’s still a good distance to go. Whilst women have made massive progression in the workplace in the past 100 years, there is still a slight hangover from traditional gender stereotypes that can be evident in today’s workforce.
The answer lies in education. As female candidate shortages are witnessed across business sectors, it is being recognised the change needs to happen at grassroots. Surprisingly girls are still being steered away from IT, technical and ‘skilled’ roles such as electricians, manufacturers and chefs.
The good news is organisations like the Code Club and Minecraft Education are proactively working with schools to encourage girls to take an interest in IT, and potentially pursue a career in the industry. With the emergence of initiatives like this times are certainly changing and these females will be skilled up to take on our digital roles of the future.
The media also must play its part and continue to showcase female professionals alongside males. On a positive note with more and more female role models in the media and visible in business there are plenty of role models for the next female workforce to aspire to.
At ground level at Benchmark we work with many successful female entrepreneurs, Managing Directors and senior management who are inspiring figure heads in the Sheffield business community. This is great to see and will only work to further encourage other women to aim high.
Senior company positions, such as mid-high level management, are also seeing more women in these positions than ever before and yet they still make up only 16%. How will you affect that figure? Browse our current jobs here.