Women in the workforce

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A woman employee demonstrates a hospital information management system, Tanzania

Women in the workforce earning wages or a salary are part of a modern phenomenon, one that developed at the same time as the growth of paid employment for men, but women have been challenged by inequality in the workforce. Until modern times, legal and cultural practices, combined with the inertia of longstanding religious and educational conventions, restricted women's entry and participation in the workforce. Economic dependency upon men, and consequently the poor socio-economic status of women, have had the same impact, particularly as occupations have become professionalized over the 19th and 20th centuries.

Women's lack of access to higher education had effectively excluded them from the practice of well-paid and high status occupations. Entry of women into the higher professions like law and medicine was delayed in most countries due to women being denied entry to universities and qualification for degrees;for example, Cambridge University only fully validated degrees for women late in 1947, and even then only after much opposition and acrimonious debate.[1] Women were largely limited to low-paid and poor status occupations for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, or earned less pay than men for doing the same work. However, through the 20th century, public perceptions of paid work shifted as the workforce increasingly moved to office jobs that do not require heavy labor, and women increasingly acquired the higher education that led to better-compensated, longer-term careers rather than lower-skilled, shorter-term jobs but women are still at a disadvantage compared to men because motherhood. Women are viewed as the primary caregiver to children still to this day so their pay is lowered when they have children because businesses do not expect them to stay long after the birth.

The increasing rates of women contributing in the work force has led to a more equal disbursement of hours worked across the regions of the world.[2] However, in western European countries the nature of women's employment participation remains markedly different from that of men. For example, few women are in continuous full-time employment after the birth of a first child. Due to the lack of childcare and because women in Britain lose 9% of their wage after their first child and 16% after their second child.[3]

Restrictions on women's access to and participation in the workforce include the wage gap which in the United States, women only make 87.5% of what a man makes[citation needed] and the glass ceiling, inequities most identified with industrialized nations with nominal equal opportunity laws;legal and cultural restrictions on access to education and jobs, inequities most identified with developing nations;and unequal access to capital, variable but identified as a difficulty in both industrialized and developing nations. Women are prevented from achieving complete gender equality in the workplace because of the “ideal-worker norm,” which “defines the committed worker as someone who works full-time and full force for forty years straight,” a situation designed for the male sex (Williams 100). Women, in contrast, are still expected to fulfill the caretaker role and take time off for domestic needs such as pregnancy and ill family members, preventing them from conforming to the “ideal-worker norm.” With the current norm in place, women are forced to juggle full-time jobs and family care at home.[4]

Although access to paying occupations (the "workforce") has been and remains unequal in many occupations and places around the world, scholars sometimes distinguish between "work" and "paying work," including in their analysis a broader spectrum of labor such as uncompensated household work, childcare, eldercare, and family subsistence farming.

Areas of study

Attendees at a computer business networking event for potential entrepreneurs, United States.

The division of labor by gender has been particularly studied in women's studies (especially women's history, which has frequently examined the history and biography of women's participation in particular fields) and gender studies more broadly. Occupational studies, such as the history of medicine or studies of professionalization, also examine questions of gender, and the roles of women in the history of particular fields. Women dominate as accountants, auditors, and psychologists.[5][6][7]

In addition, modern civil rights law has frequently examined gender restrictions of access to a field of occupation;gender discrimination within a field;and gender harassment in particular workplaces. This body of law is called employment discrimination law, and gender and race discrimination are the largest sub-sections within the area. Laws specifically aimed at preventing discrimination against women have been passed in many countries;see, e.g., the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in the United States.

This chart depicts the change in the percentage of women in three professional occupations (dentist, physician, lawyer), from 1970 to 2007

Women still contribute to their communities in many regions mainly through agricultural work. In Southern Asia, Western Asia, and Africa, only 20% of women work at paid non-agricultural jobs. Worldwide, women's rate of paid employment outside of agriculture grew to 41% by 2008.[8]

One of the main forms of paid employment for women worldwide is actually a traditional one, that of the market "hawker". Women have worked outside the home as vendors at markets since ancient times in many parts of the world, such as Central America, South Asia, and Africa.

During the 20th century, the most significant global shift in women's paid employment came from the spread of global travel and the development of a large migrant workforce of women domestic workers seeking jobs outside of their native country. The Philippines is a major source of female domestic workers. Before the 1990s, the majority of Filipinos working outside the Philippines were male, but by 2012, an estimated 63% of Filipinos working overseas were female.[9]

Estimates of Filipino women working overseas are in the millions. Over 138,000 new domestic workers gained permission to work overseas in 2012, a number that grew 12% from the previous year.[9] Overseas employment often results in the women leaving their own children behind in the Philippines to be cared for by relatives. Domestic employees from the Philippines and other countries have also been subject to exploitation and sex and money extreme abuse, for example in several countries in the Middle East, where they are often employed. It is estimated that remittances from overseas workers (both male and female) bring $1 billion (USD) per month to the Philippines.[10]

Workforce participation by sector

Women and men often participate in economic sectors in sharply different proportions, a result of gender clustering in occupations. Reasons for this may include a traditional association of certain types of work with a particular gender. There is a wide range of other possible economic, social and cultural variables that impact the gender distribution in different occupations, including within a region or country. An averaging of statistics gathered by the United Nations for 2004 through 2007 reflects these differences (totals may not add up to 100% due to rounding):

Sectoral distribution of employed persons, by sector and sex (2004 through 2007)[11]

Region Agriculture Industry Services
Africa 43% women / 42% men 11% women / 20% men 46% women / 39% men
Asia (excluding China) 32% women / 26% men 12% women / 25% men 56% women / 49% men
Latin America and the Caribbean 7% women / 22% men 13% women / 27% men 80% women / 51% men
Europe and other more developed regions 6% women / 8% men 15% women / 36% men 79% women / 55% men

More detailed statistics show large differences even within these regions. For example, 11% of employed women in East Asia are employed in agriculture, a number that rises to 55% in South Asia; 70% of women in Southern Africa are employed in the service sector, while in Eastern, Middle, and Western Africa this number is 26%.[11]

Occupational Dissimilarity Index

Choice of occupation is considered to be one of the key factors contributing to the male-female wage differential. In other words, careers with a majority of female employees tend to pay less than careers that employ a majority of males. This is different from direct wage discrimination within occupations, as males in the female dominated professions will also make lower than average wages and the women in the male dominated occupations usually make higher than average wages. The occupational dissimilarity index is a measure from 0 to 100;it measures the percent of laborers that would need to be rearranged into a job typically done by the opposite sex in order for the wage differential to disappear. In 1960, the dissimilarity index for the United States was measured at 62. It has dropped since then, but at 47 in 2000, is still one of the highest of any developed nation.[12][13]

Organizations formed by Women for rights

In the nineteenth century women became involved in organizations dedicated to social reform.[14] In 1903 The National Women's Trade Union League (WTUL) is established to advocate for improved wages and working conditions for women. In 1920 The Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor was formed to create equal rights and a safe workplace for women.[15] In 1956 a group called Financial Women’s Association (FWA), was formed. It is an organization established by a group of Wall Street women. The goal was: to advance professionalism in finance and in the financial services industry with special emphasis on the role and development of women, to attain greater recognition for women’s achievements in business, and to encourage women to seek career opportunities in finance and business.[16] In 1966 the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded by a group of feminists including Betty Friedan. The largest women's rights group in the U.S., NOW seeks to end sexual discrimination, especially in the workplace, by means of legislative lobbying, litigation, and public demonstrations. NOW has 500,000 contributing members and 550 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.[17] Founded in 1972, the National Association of Female Executives (NAFE) provides education, networking and public advocacy to empower its members to achieve career success and financial security. Members are women executives, business owners, entrepreneurs and others who are committed to NAFE’s mission: the advancement of women in the workplace. />[16] Many of these organizations led to legal action and protecting women's rights as workers and empowered women in the workplace.

Laws protecting women's rights as workers

International laws protecting women's rights as workers exist through the efforts of various international bodies. On June 16, 2011, the International Labour Organization (ILO) passed C189 Domestic Workers Convention, 2011, binding signatories to regulations intended to end abuses of migrant domestic workers. It was anticipated that the Convention would put pressure on non-ratifying countries to support changes to their own laws to meet the change in international standards protecting domestic workers.[18] Also in 2011, Hong Kong's High Court struck down a law preventing domestic workers from having residency rights granted to other foreign workers, a move that affected an estimated 100,000 domestic workers in Hong Kong.[19]

The ILO has previously ratified the Equal Remuneration Convention in 1951, which came into force in 1953, the Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, which went into force in 1960 and the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000, which went into force in 2002. In 1966, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which went into force in 1976. UNESCO also adopted the Convention against Discrimination in Education in 1960, which came into force in 1962.[20] The International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, went into force in 2003. The Home Work Convention, adopted by the ILO, went into force in 2000;the Convention protects the rights of persons doing paid work out of their home, which is frequently women workers. It offers equal protection regarding working conditions, safety, remuneration, social security protection, access to training, minimum age of employment, and maternity protection.[21]

Human trafficking often targets young women who are abducted and sent outside their own country to work as domestic workers, often in conditions of extreme exploitation. A number of international laws have been ratified to address human trafficking of women and children.

But these laws are not being put in effect.

Maternity Rights and Child- Care- The Maternity protection measures are put in place to insure that women will not be discriminated against in the work place environment once they return from having a child. They should also not be exposed to any health hazards while they are pregnant and at work. They are allowed time off for maternity leave as well, which allows them to bond with their child and this aspect of development is crucial for infants to gain proper attachment skills. Employers are expected to hold to these policies. Yet many women on maternity leave receive very small amounts of time off to allow for their health along with their babies health. The amount of time allowed for maternity leave as well as the pay for maternity leave varies by country, with Sweden having the longest amount off with 68 weeks and The United states being on of the worst with the typical being 12 weeks without pay. (Burn, S. M. (2005). Women across cultures: A global perspective. New York: McGraw-Hill.)

Women in workforce leadership

An information technology networking social for potential entrepreneurs. New Delhi, India.

Female decision-makers from around Europe are organized in several national and European wide networks. The networks aim to promote women in decision-making positions in politics and the economy across Europe. These networks were founded in the 1980s and are often very different from the "service clubs" founded in the early days of the century, like Soroptimist and Zontas.

"Women in Management" is about women in business in usually male-dominated areas. Their motivation, their ideas and leadership styles and their ability to enter into leadership positions is the subject of most of the different networks.

As of 2009, women represented 20.9% of parliament in Europe (both houses) and 18.4% world average.[22]

As of 2009, 90 women serve in the U.S. Congress: 18 women serve in the Senate, and 73 women serve in the House Women hold about three percent of executive positions.[23]

In the private sector, men still represent 9 out of 10 board members in European blue-chip companies, The discrepancy is widest at the very top: only 3% of these companies have a woman presiding over the highest decision-making body.[citation needed]

List of members of the European Network of Women in Decision-making in Politics and the Economy:

The European Union Commission has created a platform for all these networks. It also funded the Women to the Top program in 2003–2005 to bring more women into top management.[24]

Some organizations have been created to promote the presence of women in top responsibilities, in politics and business. One example is EWMD European Women's Management Development (cited above), a European and international network of individual and corporate members, drawn from professional organisations. Members are from all areas of business, education, politics and culture.

Women who are born into the upper class rather than the middle or lower class have a much better chance at holding higher positions of power in the work force if they choose to enter it.

Barriers to equal participation

As gender roles have followed the formation of agricultural and then industrial societies, newly developed professions and fields of occupation have been frequently inflected by gender. Some examples of the ways in which gender affects a field include:

  • Prohibitions or restrictions on members of a particular gender entering a field or studying a field;
  • Discrimination within a field, including wage, management, and prestige hierarchies;
  • Expectation that mothers, rather than fathers, should be the primary childcare providers.

Note that these gender restrictions may not be universal in time and place, and that they operate to restrict both men and women. However, in practice, norms and laws have historically restricted women's access to particular occupations;civil rights laws and cases have thus primarily focused on equal access to and participation by women in the workforce. These barriers may also be manifested in hidden bias and by means of many microinequities.

Access to education and training

Maasai women at USAID literacy event.

A number of occupations became "professionalized" through the 19th and 20th centuries, gaining regulatory bodies, and passing laws or regulations requiring particular higher educational requirements. As women's access to higher education was often limited, this effectively restricted women's participation in these professionalizing occupations. For instance, women were completely forbidden access to Cambridge University until 1868, and were encumbered with a variety of restrictions until 1987 when the university adopted an equal opportunity policy.[25] Numerous other institutions in the United States and Western Europe began opening their doors to women over the same period of time, but access to higher education remains a significant barrier to women's full participation in the workforce in developing countries. Even where access to higher education is formally available, women's access to the full range of occupational choices is significantly limited where access to primary education is limited through social custom.[26]

Access to capital

Governor of Bahia, Brazil, attending the first state women's business conference.

Women's access to occupations requiring capital outlays is also hindered by their unequal access (statistically) to capital;this affects occupations such as entrepreneur and small business owner, farm ownership, and investor.[27] Numerous microloan programs attempt to redress this imbalance, targeting women for loans or grants to establish start-up businesses or farms, having determined that aid targeted to women can disproportionately benefit a nation's economy.[28] While research has shown that women cultivate more than half the world's food — in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, women are responsible for up to 80% of food production — most such work is family subsistence labor, and often the family property is legally owned by the men in the family.[28]

Discrimination within occupations

Women operating a cabinet manufacturing business, India.

The idea that men and women are naturally suited for different occupations is known as horizontal segregation.[12]

Statistical discrimination in the workplace is unintentional discrimination based on the presumed probability that a worker will or will not remain with the company for a long period of time. Specific to women, since employers believe that women are more likely to drop out of the labor force to have kids, or work part-time while they are raising kids, this tends to hurt their chances for job advancement. They are passed up for promotions because of the possibility that they may leave, and are in some cases placed in positions with little opportunity for upward mobility to begin with based on these same stereotypes.[29]

Women continue to earn less money than men, despite establishing equal pay laws.[26][30]

Network Discrimination

Part of the problem keeping women out of the highest paying, most prestigious positions is that they have historically not held these positions. As a result, recruiters for these high-status jobs are predominantly white males, and tend to hire similar people in their networks. Their networks are made up of mostly white males from the same socio-economic status, which helps perpetuate their over-representation in the best jobs.[31]

Actions and inactions of women themselves

Through a process known as "employee clustering", employees tend to be grouped throughout the workplace both spatially and socially with those of a similar status job. Women are no exception and tend to be grouped with other women making comparable amounts of money. They compare wages with the women around them and believe their salaries are fair because they are average. Some women are content with their lack of wage equality with men in the same positions because they are unaware of just how vast the inequality is.

Furthermore, women as a whole tend to be less assertive and confrontational. One of the factors contributing to the higher proportion of raises going to men is the simple fact that men tend to ask for raises more often than women, and are more aggressive when doing so.[31] Women, and men, are socialized at young ages into these roles. School-age boys and girls have been noted as enacting the same aggressive and passive characteristics, respectively, in educational settings that we see in adults in the workplace. Boys are more likely to be pushed competitively in school, and sports, to be dominant. The idea that “winning is everything” is not emphasized to the same extent for girls and therefore they are less likely to seek recognition for their work. [32]

An additional issue that contributes to income inequality by gender is that women are much more likely than men to take "breaks" in their careers to have children, often remaining out of the workforce for extended periods of time, while men in the same role or occupation (or other women who do not leave the workforce) most likely are continuing to earn promotions and/or merit-based salary increases. When a woman in this scenario re-enters the workforce, she may be offered a smaller salary or a lower position than she might have merited had she remained in the workforce alongside her colleagues (both male and female) who have not interrupted their careers.

Gender inequality by social class

Mechanic working on a motorcycle, United States.

In the last 50 years there have been great changes toward gender equality in industrialised nations such as the United States of America. With the feminist movement of the 1960s, women began to enter the workforce in great numbers. Women had also had high labor market participation during World War II as so many male soldiers were away, women had to take up jobs to support their family and keep their local economy on track. Many of these women dropped right back out of the labor force when the men returned home from war to raise children born in the generation of the baby boomers. In the late 1960s when women began entering the labor force in record numbers, they were entering in addition to all of the men, as opposed to substituting for men during the war. This dynamic shift from the one-earner household to the two-earner household dramatically changed the socioeconomic class system of industrialised nations in the post-war period.

Effects on the middle and upper classes

The addition of women into the workforce was one of the key factors that has increased social mobility over the last 50 years, although this has stalled in recent decades for both genders. Female children of the middle and upper classes had increased access to higher education, and thanks to job equality, were able to attain higher-paying and higher-prestige jobs than ever before. Due to the dramatic increase in availability of birth control, these high status women were able to delay marriage and child-bearing until they had completed their education and advanced their careers to their desired positions. In 2001, the survey on sexual harassment at workplace conducted by women's nonprofit organisation Sakshi among 2,410 respondents in government and non-government sectors, in five States recorded 53 per cent saying that both sexes don't get equal opportunities, 50 per cent women are treated unfairly by employers and co-workers, 59 per cent have heard sexist remarks or jokes, 32 per cent have been exposed to pornography or literature degrading women.

In comparison with other sectors, IT organisations may be offering equal salaries to women and the density of women in technology companies may be relatively high but this does not necessarily ensure a level playing field. For example, Microsoft (US ) was sued because of the conduct of one of its supervisors over e-mail. The supervisor allegedly made sexually offensive comments via e-mail, such as referring to himself as "president of the amateur gynecology club." He also allegedly referred to the plaintiff as the "Spandex Queen. E-harassment is not the sole form of harassment. In 1999, Juno Online faced two separate suits from former employees who alleged that they were told that they would be fired if they broke off their ongoing relationships with senior executives. Pseudo Programs, a Manhattan-based Internet TV network, was sued in January 2000 after male employees referred to female employees as "bimbos" and forced them to look at sexually explicit material on the Internet. In India HR managers admit that women are discriminated against for senior Board positions and pregnant women are rarely given jobs but only in private. Recently a sexual harassment suit against a senior member shocked the Indian IT sector. In addition to this, it has been suggested that there are less women in the IT sector due to existing stereotypes that depict the sector as male-orientated. Improvements in the education system could be the key to encouraging women to take up roles in this sector.

Recognizing the invisible nature of power structures that marginalize women at the workplace, the Supreme Court in the landmark Vaishaka versus High Court of Rajasthan (1997) identified sexual harassment as violative of the women's right to equality in the workplace and enlarged the ambit of its definition. The judgment equates a hostile work environment on the same plane as a direct request for sexual favors. To quote: "Sexual harassment includes such unwelcome sexually determined behaviour (whether directly or by implication) as: physical contact and advances;a demand or request for sexual favours; sexually coloured remarks; showing pornography;any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature". The judgement mandates appropriate work conditions should be provided for work, leisure, health, and hygiene to further ensure that there is no hostile environment towards women at the workplace and no woman employee should have reasonable grounds to believe that she is disadvantaged in connection with her employment.

This law thus squarely shifts the onus onto the employer to ensure employee safety but most mid-sized Indian service technology companies are yet to enact sexual harassment policies. Admits K Chandan, an advocate from Chandan Associates, "I have a few IT clients. When I point to the need for a sexual harassment policy, most tend to overlook or ignore it. It's not high on the agenda." An HR Manager of India's premier technology companies rues: "I am going to use the recent case to push the policy through. Earlier the draft proposal was rejected by the company." Yet another HR manager from a flagship company of India's leading business house, oblivious to the irony of her statement, admitted that the company had a grievance redressal mechanism but no sexual harassment policy in place. The lax attitudes transgress the Supreme Court judgment wherein the Court not only defined sexual harassment, but also laid down a code of conduct for workplaces to prevent and punish it, "Employers or other responsible authorities in public or private sectors must comply with the following guidelines: Express prohibition of sexual harassment should be notified and circulated;private employers should include prohibition of sexual harassment in the standing orders under the Industrial Employment (Standing Orders) Act, 1946." As for the complaint procedure, not less than half of its members should be women. The complaint committee should include an NGO or other organization that is familiar with the issue of sexual harassment. When the offense amounts to misconduct under service rules, appropriate disciplinary action should be initiated. When such conduct amounts to an offense under the Indian Penal Code, the employer shall initiate action by making a complaint with the appropriate authority. However, the survey by Sakshi revealed 58 per cent of women were not aware of the Supreme Court guidelines on the subject. A random survey by AssureConsulting.com among hundred employees working in the IT industry revealed startling results: Less than 10 per cent were familiar with the law or the company's sexual harassment policy. Surprisingly, certain HR managers were also ignorant of the Supreme Court guidelines or the Draft Bill by the National Commission of Women against sexual harassment at the workplace.

Not surprisingly many cases go unreported. However, given the complexities involved, company policy is the first step and cannot wish away the problem. Says Savita HR Manager at Icelerate Technologies, "We have a sexual harassment policy that is circulated among employees. Also the company will not tolerate any case that comes to its notice. But the man at home is no different from the person at the office," thus implying the social mindset that discriminates against women is responsible for the problem. Considering sexual censorship and conservative social attitudes emphasizing " woman's purity," the victim dare not draw attention for fear of being branded a woman with "loose morals". Women would rather brush away the problem or leave jobs quietly rather than speak up, even in organizations that have a zero tolerance policy. Says Chandan, "I do not have exact statistics but from my experience as an advocate one in 1,500 cases are reported." The problem cannot be resolved till more women speak up but the social set-up browbeats women into silence. The social stigma against the victim and the prolonged litigation process for justice thwarts most women from raising their voice. Purports K Chandan "It may take between three and five years to settle a case, and in a situation where the harassment is covert, evidence is hard to gather and there is no guarantee that the ruling would be in favour of the victim. In one of the rare cases I handled a Country Manager was accused and the plaintiff opted for an out of court settlement."

Effects on the working class

Women in lower wage jobs are more likely to be subject to wage discrimination. They are more likely to bring home far less than their male counterparts with equal job status, and get far less help with housework from their husbands than the high-earning women. Women with low educational attainment entering the workforce in mass quantity lowered earnings for some men, as the women brought about a lot more job competition. The lowered relative earnings of the men and increase in birth control made marriage prospects harder for lower income women.[33]

For the first time in the history of this country,[which?] there were distinctive socioeconomic stratification among women as there has been among men for centuries. This deepened the inequality between the upper/middle and lower/working classes. Prior to the feminist movement, the socioeconomic status of a family was based almost solely on the husband/father's occupation. Women who were now attaining high status jobs were attractive partners to men with high status jobs, so the high earners married the high earners and the low earners married the low earners. In other words, the rich got richer and the poor stayed the same, and have had increased difficulty competing in the economy.[12]

Impact issues of female participation in the workforce

A 2008 study published in the British Medical Journal found that women were 46% more likely to call in sick for short time periods than men and a third more likely than men to take short term sick leave. At 60 days or more, men and women were equal in terms of sick leave.[34] Women in the workforce have tripled and as their numbers increase it has been hard for both mothers and fathers to be able to take care of their own newborn child or a sick family member. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 has allowed for workers to have up to 12 weeks a year to leave work.[35]


Increased participation of women in the workforce is associated with decreased fertility. A cross-country panel study found this fertility factor effect to be strongest among women aged 20–39, but with a less strong but persistent effect among older women as well.[36] International United Nations data suggests that women who work because of economic necessity have higher fertility than those who work because they want to do so.[37]

However, for countries in the OECD area, increased female labor participation has been associated with an increased fertility.[38]

Causality analyses indicate that fertility rate influences female labor participation and not as much the other way around.[39]

Regarding types of jobs, women who work in nurturing professions such as teaching and health generally have children at an earlier age.[39] It is theorized that women often self-select themselves into jobs with a favorable work–life balance in order to combine motherhood and employment.[39]


19th century

Women have worked at agricultural tasks since ancient times, and continue to do so around the world. The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries changed the nature of work in Europe and other countries of the Western world. Working for a wage, and eventually a salary, became part of urban life. Initially, women were to be found doing even the hardest physical labor, including working as "hurriers" hauling heavy coal carts through mine shafts in Great Britain, a job that also employed many children. This ended after government intervention and the passing of the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, an early attempt at regulating the workplace.

During the 19th century, an increasing number of women in Western countries took jobs in factories, such as textile mills, or on assembly lines for machinery or other goods. Women also worked as "hawkers" of produce, flowers, and other market goods, and bred small animals in the working-class areas of London. Piecework, which involved needlework (weaving, embroidery, winding wool or silk) that paid by the piece completed, was the most common employment for women in 19th century Great Britain. It was poorly paid, and involved long hours, up to 14 hours per day to earn enough wages to survive.[40] Working-class women were usually involved in some form of paid employment, as it provided some insurance against the possibility that their husband might become too ill or injured to support the family. During the era before workers' compensation for disability or illness, the loss of a husband's wages could result in the entire family being sent to a Victorian workhouse to pay debts.

Inequality in wages was to be expected for women. In 1906, the government found that the average weekly factory wage for a woman ranged from 11s 3d to 18s 8d, whereas a man's average weekly wage was around 25s 9d. Employers stated they preferred to hire women, because they could be "more easily induced to undergo severe bodily fatigue than men".[41] Childminding was another necessary expense for many women working in factories. Pregnant women worked up until the day they gave birth and returned to work as soon as they were physically able. In 1891, a law was passed requiring women to take four weeks away from factory work after giving birth, but many women could not afford this unpaid leave, and the law was unenforceable.[42]

The 1870 US Census was the first United States Census to count “Females engaged in each occupation” and provides an intriguing snapshot of women's history. It reveals that, contrary to popular belief, not all American women of the 19th century were either idle in their middle-class homes or working in sweatshops. Women were 15% of the total work force (1.8 million out of 12.5). They made up one-third of factory “operatives,” but teaching and the occupations of dressmaking, millinery, and tailoring played a larger role. Two-thirds of teachers were women. Women could also be found in such unexpected places as iron and steel works (495), mines (46), sawmills (35), oil wells and refineries (40), gas works (4), and charcoal kilns (5) and held such surprising jobs as ship rigger (16), teamster (196), turpentine laborer (185), brass founder/worker (102), shingle and lathe maker (84), stock-herder (45), gun and locksmith (33), hunter and trapper (2).

20th century

In the United States, the "Rosie the Riveter" image, as it has become known, is an iconic representation of the US government's efforts to exhort women to work during World War II, and has been adapted numerous times to represent working women or, more broadly, women overcoming adversity and other proto-feminist messages.

In the beginning of the 20th century, women were regarded as society's guardians of morality; they were seen as made finer than men and were expected to act as such.[43] Their role was not defined as workers or money makers. 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. The role of men was to support the family financially.[44] Yet at the turn of the 20th century, social attitudes towards educating young women were changing. Women in North America and Western Europe were now becoming more and more educated, in no small part because of the efforts of pioneering women to further their own education, defying opposition by male educators. By 1900, four out of five colleges accepted women and a whole coed concept was becoming more and more accepted.[45]

Working at the Woolrich Arsenal, London, United Kingdom, 1917.

In the United States, it was World War I that made space for women in the workforce, amongst other economical and social influences. Due to the rise in demand for production from Europe during the raging war, more women found themselves working outside the home.

In the first quarter of the century, women mostly occupied jobs in factory work or as domestic servants, but as the war came to an end they were able to move on to such jobs as: salespeople in department stores as well as clerical, secretarial and other, what were called, "lace-collar" jobs.[46] In July 1920, The New York Times ran a head line that read: "the American Woman ... has lifted her skirts far beyond any modest limitation"[43] which could apply to more than just fashion; women were now rolling up their sleeves and skirts and making their way into the workforce.

World War II created millions of jobs for women. Thousands of American women actually joined the military: 140,000 in the Women's Army Corps (United States Army) WAC; 100,000 in the Navy (WAVE); 23,000 in the Marines; 14,000 in the Navy Nurse Corps and, 13,000 in the Coast Guard. Although almost none saw combat, they replaced men in noncombat positions and got the same pay as the men would have on the same job. At the same time over 16 million men left their jobs to join the war in Europe and elsewhere, opening even more opportunities and places for women to take over in the job force.[46] Although two million women lost their jobs after the war ended, female participation in the workforce was still higher than it had ever been.[47]

The Quiet Revolution

Customer account operators working for a large photography firm, United States, 1945.
A woman working as wait staff at a diner, United States, 1981.

The increase of women in the labor force of Western countries gained momentum in the late 19th century. At this point women married early on and were defined by their marriages. If they entered the workforce, it was only out of necessity.

The first phase encompasses the time between the late 19th century to the 1930s. This era gave birth to the 'Independent female worker.' From 1890 to 1930, women in the workforce were typically young and unmarried. They had little or no learning on the job and typically held clerical and teaching positions. Many women also worked in textile manufacturing or as domestics. Women promptly exited the work force when they were married, unless the family needed two incomes. Towards the end of the 1920s, as we enter into the second phase, married women begin to exit the work force less and less. Labor force productivity for married women 35–44 years of age increase by 15.5 percentage points from 10% to 25%. There was a greater demand for clerical positions and as the number of women graduating high school increased they began to hold more "respectable", steady jobs. This phase has been appropriately labeled as the Transition Era referring to the time period between 1930 and 1950. During this time the discriminatory institution of marriage bars, which forced women out of the work force after marriage, were eliminated, allowing more participation in the work force of single and married women. Additionally, women's labor force participation increased because there was an increase in demand for office workers and women participated in the high school movement. However, still women's work was contingent upon their husband's income. Women did not normally work to fulfill a personal need to define ones career and social worth; they worked out of necessity.

In the third phase, labeled the "roots of the revolution" encompassing the time from 1950– mid-to-late 1970s, the movement began to approach the warning signs of a revolution. Women's expectations of future employment changed. Women began to see themselves going on to college and working through their marriages and even attending graduate school. Many however still had brief and intermittent work force participation, without necessarily having expectations for a "career". To illustrate, most women were secondary earners, and worked in "pink-collar jobs" as secretaries, teachers, nurses, and librarians. Although more women attended college, it was often expected that they attended to find a spouse—the so-called "M.R.S. degree". Nevertheless, Labor force participation by women still grew significantly.

The fourth phase, known as the "Quiet Revolution", began in the late 1970s and continues on today. Beginning in the 1970s women began to flood colleges and grad schools. They began to enter profession like medicine, law, dental and business. More women were going to college and expected to be employed at the age of 35, as opposed to past generations that only worked intermittently due to marriage and childbirth. This increase in expectations of long-term gainful employment is reflected in the change of majors adopted by women from the 1970s on. The percentage of women majoring in education declined beginning in the 1970s;[citation needed] education was once a popular major for women since it allowed them to step into and out of the labor force when they had children and when their children grew up to a reasonable age at which their mothers did not have to serve primarily as caretakers. Instead, majors such as business and management were on the rise in the 1970s, as women ventured into other fields that were once predominated by men.[citation needed] They experienced an expansion of their horizons and an alteration of what it meant to define their own identity. Women worked before they got married, and since women were marrying younger[citation needed] they were able to define themselves prior to a serious relationship. Research indicates that from 1965 to 2002, the increase in women’s labor force participation more than offset the decline for men.[48]

The reasons for this big jump in the 1970s has been attributed by some scholars to widespread access to the birth control pill.[citation needed] While "the pill" was medically available in the 1960s, numerous laws restricted access to it. See, e.g., Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965) (overturning a Connecticut statute barring access to contraceptives) and Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438 (1972) (establishing the right of unmarried people to access contraception). By the 1970s, the age of majority had been lowered from 21 to 18 in the United States, largely as a consequence of the Vietnam War; this also affected women's right to effect their own medical decisions. Since it had now become socially acceptable to postpone pregnancy even while married, women had the luxury of thinking about other things, like education and work. Also, due to electrification women's work around the house became easier leaving them with more time to be able to dedicate to school or work. Due to the multiplier effect, even if some women were not blessed with access to the pill or electrification, many followed by the example of the other women entering the work force for those reasons. The Quiet Revolution is called such because it was not a "big bang" revolution; rather, it happened and is continuing to happen gradually.[49]

Occupational safety and health

Women tend to have different occupational hazards and health issues than men in the workplace. Women get carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, anxiety disorders, stress, respiratory diseases, and infectious diseases due to their work at higher rates than men. The reasons for these differences may be differences in biology or in the work that women are performing. Women's higher rates of job-related stress may be due to the fact that women are often caregivers at home and do contingent work and contract work at a much higher rate than men. Another significant occupational hazard for women is homicide, which was the second most frequent cause of death on the job for women in 2011, making up 26% of workplace deaths in women.[50][51] Immigrant women are at higher risk for occupational injury than native-born women in the United States, due to higher rates of employment in dangerous industries.[51]

Women are at lower risk for work-related death than men. However, personal protective equipment is usually designed for typical male proportions, which can create hazards for women who have ill-fitting equipment.[50] Women are less likely to report an occupational injury than men.[51]

Research is ongoing into occupational hazards that may be specific to women. Of particular interest are potential environmental causes of breast cancer and cervical cancer.[50] Sexual harassment is an occupational hazard for many women, and can cause serious negative symptoms including anxiety, depression, nausea, headache, insomnia, and feelings of low self-esteem and alienation. Women are also at higher risk for occupational stress, which can be cause by balancing roles as a parent or caregiver with work.[51]

See also

Women's participation in different occupations

below are a list of encyclopedia article links detailing women's historical involvement in various occupations.

Though women comprise approximately half of the student body of American law schools, they represent only 17% of partners at major law firms and less than a quarter of tenured law professors. Similarly, on the national level, we have had only one female U.S. Attorney General, three female Secretaries of State, two women Supreme Court Justices, and one acting Solicitor General.


History of women in workforce;see also women's studies, gender studies, and women's history
  • Challenging Professions: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Women's Professional Work by Elizabeth Smyth, Sandra Acker, Paula Bourne, and Alison Prentice (1999)
  • English women enter the professions by Nellie Alden Franz (1965)
  • Black Women and White Women in the Professions: Occupational Segregation by Race and Gender, 1960–1980 (Perspectives on Gender) by N. Sokoloff (1992)
  • Unequal Colleagues: The Entrance of Women into the Professions, 1890–1940 (Douglass Series on Women's Lives and the Meaning of Gender) by Penina Migdal Glazer and Miriam Slater (1987)
  • Beyond Her Sphere: Women and the Professions in American History by Barbara J. Harris (1978)
  • "Challenging Professions: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Women's Professional Work" (Book Reviews) Pamela Sugiman in Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations
  • Victorian Working Women: A historical and literary study of women in British industries and professions 1832–1850 (Economic History (Routledge)) by Wanda F. Neff
  • Colonial women of affairs;: A study of women in business and the professions in America before 1776 by Elisabeth Anthony Dexter
  • What a Woman Ought to Be and to Do: Black Professional Women Workers during the Jim Crow Era (Women in Culture and Society Series) by Stephanie J. Shaw
  • In Subordination: Professional Women, 1870–1970 by Mary Kinnear (1995)
  • Women Working in Nontraditional Fields References and Resources 1963–1988 (Women's Studies Series) by Carroll Wetzel Wilkinson
Social sciences and psychological perspectives;see also women's studies and gender studies
  • Suhail Ahmad, Women in profession: A comparative study of Hindu and Muslim women
  • Ella L. J. Edmondson Bell and Stella M. Nkomo, Our Separate Ways: Black and White Women and the Struggle for Professional Identity
  • Julia Evetts, Women and Career: Themes and Issues in Advanced Industrial Societies (Longman Sociology Series)
  • Patricia N. Feulner, Women in the Professions: A Social-Psychological Study
  • Linda S. Fidell and John D. DeLamater, Women in the Professions
  • Clara Greed, Surveying Sisters: Women in a Traditional Male Profession
  • Jerry Jacobs, Professional Women at Work: Interactions, Tacit Understandings, and the Non-Trivial Nature of Trivia in Bureaucratic Settings
  • Edith J. Morley, Women Workers in Seven Professions
  • Xiomara Santamarina, Belabored Professions: Narratives of African American Working Womanhood
  • Janet Skarbek, Planning Your Future: A Guide for Professional Women
  • Elizabeth Smyth, Sandra Acker, Paula Bourne, and Alison Prentice, Challenging Professions: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Women's Professional Work
  • Nancy C. Talley-Ross, Jagged Edges: Black Professional Women in White Male Worlds (Studies in African and African-American Culture, Vol 7) (1995)
  • Joyce Tang and Earl Smith, Women and Minorities in American Professions (S U N Y Series on the New Inequalities)
  • Anne Witz, "Patriarchy and Professions: The Gendered Politics of Occupational Closure", Sociology, 24.4, 1990, pp. 675–690. See Sage Publications.
  • Anne Witz, Professions and Patriarchy (International Library of Sociology) (1992)
Work and family demands/support for women
  • Terri Apter, Working Women Don't Have Wives: Professional Success in the 1990s
  • Sian Griffiths, Beyond the Glass Ceiling: Forty Women Whose Ideas Shape the Modern World (Women's Studies)
  • Linda Hantrais, Managing Professional and Family Life: A Comparative Study of British and French Women
  • Deborah J. Swiss and Judith P. Walker, Women and the Work/Family Dilemma: How Today's Professional Women Are Finding Solutions
  • Alice M. Yohalem, The Careers of Professional Women: Commitment and Conflict
Workplace discrimination based on gender
  • The Commission on Women in the Profession, Sex-Based Harassment, 2nd Edition: Workplace Policies for the Legal Profession
  • Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Off-ramps and On-ramps: Keeping Talented Women on the Road to Success
  • Karen Maschke, The Employment Context (Gender and American Law: The Impact of the Law on the Lives of Women)
  • Evelyn Murphy and E. J. Graff, Getting Even: Why Women Don't Get Paid Like Men—And What to Do About It (2006)
Mentoring and "old-boys/old-girls networks"
  • Nancy W. Collins, Professional Women and Their Mentors: A Practical Guide to Mentoring for the Woman Who Wants to Get Ahead
  • Carolyn S. Duff, Learning From Other Women: How to Benefit From the Knowledge, Wisdom, and Experience of Female Mentors
  • Joan Jeruchim, Women, Mentors, and Success
  • Peggy A. Pritchard, Success Strategies for Women in Science: A Portable Mentor (Continuing Professional Development Series)
Arts and literature studies on women in the workforce
  • Carmen Rose Marshall, Black Professional Women in Recent American Fiction

Professional areas

Teaching, librarianship, and university professions
  • Maenette K. P. Benham and Joanne Cooper, Let My Spirit Soar!: Narratives of Diverse Women in School Leadership (1-Off)
  • Roger Blanpain and Ann Numhauser-Henning, Women in Academia and Equality Law: Aiming High, Falling Short? Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, United Kingdom (Bulletin of Comparative Labour Relations)
  • S. A. L. Cavanagh, The Gender of Professionalism and Occupational Closure: the management of tenure-related disputes by the 'Federation of Women Teachers' Associations of Ontario' 1918–1949, Gender and Education, 15.1, March 2003, pp. 39–57. See Routledge.
  • Regina Cortina and Sonsoles San Roman, Women and Teaching: Global Perspectives on the Feminization of a Profession
  • Nancy Hoffman, Woman's "True" Profession, 2nd ed. (1982, 2nd ed.) ("classic history of women and the teaching profession in the United States")
  • Julia Kwong, Ma Wanhua, and Wanhua Ma, Chinese Women and the Teaching Profession
  • See also Category:Female academics
Social sciences
  • Kathleen Bowman and Larry Soule, New Women in Social Sciences (1980)
  • Lynn McDonald, The Women Founders of the Social Sciences (1994)
  • See also: Category:Women social scientists
Social sciences – Anthropology
  • Barbara A. Babcock and Nancy J. Parezo, Daughters of the Desert: Women Anthropologists and the Native American Southwest, 1880–1980 (1988)
  • Ruth Behar and Deborah A. Gordon, Women Writing Culture (1996)
  • Maria G. Cattell and Marjorie M. Schweitzer, Women in Anthropology: Autobiographical Narratives and Social History (2006)
  • Ute D. Gacs, Aisha Khan, Jerrie McIntyre, and Ruth Weinberg, Women Anthropologists: Selected Biographies (1989);Women Anthropologists: A Biographical Dictionary (1988)
  • Nancy Parezo, Hidden Scholars: Women Anthropologists and the Native American (1993)
Social sciences – Archaeology
  • Cheryl Claassen, Women in Archaeology (1994)
  • Margarita Diaz-Andreu and Marie Louise Stig Sorensen, Excavating Women: A History of Women in European Archaeology (1998;2007)
  • Getzel M. Cohen and Martha Sharp Joukowsky, editors, Breaking Ground: Pioneering Women Archaeologists (2004)
  • Nancy Marie White, Lynne P. Sullivan, and Rochelle A. Marrinan, Grit-Tempered: Early Women Archaeologists in Southeastern United States (2001)
Social sciences – History
  • Eileen Boris and Nupur Chaudhuri, Voices of Women Historians: The Personal, the Political, the Professional (1999)
  • Jennifer Scanlon and Shaaron Cosner, American Women Historians, 1700s–1990s: A Biographical Dictionary (1996)
  • Nadia Smith, A "Manly Study"?: Irish Women Historians, 1868–1949 (2007)
  • Deborah Gray White, Telling Histories: Black Women Historians in the Ivory Tower (forthcoming 2008)
  • Southern Association for Women Historians
Social sciences – Linguistics
  • Davison, The Cornell Lectures: Women in the Linguistics Profession
"STEM" fields (science, technology, engineering, and maths);see also women in science
  • Violet B. Haas and Carolyn C. Perrucci, Women in Scientific and Engineering Professions (Women and Culture Series)
  • Patricia Clark Kenschaft, Change Is Possible: Stories of Women and Minorities in Mathematics
  • J A Mattfeld, Women & the Scientific Professions
  • Jacquelyn A. Mattfeld and Carol E. Van Aken, Women and the Scientific Professions: The MIT Symposium on American Women in Science and Engineering (1964 symposium;1976 publication)
  • Karen Mahony & Brett Van Toen, Mathematical Formalism as a Means of Occupational Closure in Computing—Why "Hard" Computing Tends to Exclude Women, Gender and Education, 2.3, 1990, pp. 319–31. See ERIC record.
  • Peggy A. Pritchard, Success Strategies for Women in Science: A Portable Mentor (Continuing Professional Development Series)
  • Margaret W. Rossiter, Women Scientists in America: Struggles and Strategies to 1940 (Women Scientists in America)
  • Otha Richard Sullivan and Jim Haskins, Black Stars: African American Women Scientists and Inventors
  • See also Category:Women engineers;Category:Women scientists
  • See also List of pre-21st-century female scientists
Medical professions
Legal professions
  • Joan Brockman and Dorothy E. Chunn, "'A new order of things': women's entry into the legal profession in British Columbia", The Advocate
  • The Commission on Women in the Profession, Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms
  • The Commission on Women in the Profession, Sex-Based Harassment, 2nd Edition: Workplace Policies for the Legal Profession
  • Hedda Garza, Barred from the Bar: A History of Women in the Legal Profession (Women Then—Women Now)
  • Jean Mckenzie Leiper, Bar Codes: Women in the Legal Profession
  • Sheila McIntyre and Elizabeth Sheehy, Calling for Change: Women, Law, and the Legal Profession
  • Mary Jane Mossman, The First Women Lawyers: A Comparative Study of Gender, Law And the Legal Professions
  • Rebecca Mae Salokar and Mary L. Volcansek, Women in Law: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook
  • Ulrike Schultz and Gisela Shaw, Women in the World's Legal Professions (Onati International Series in Law and Society)
  • Lisa Sherman, Jill Schecter, and Deborah Turchiano, Sisters-In-Law: an Uncensored Guide for Women Practicing Law in the real world
  • See Women in the U.S. Judiciary and categories Category:Women judges and Category:Female lawyers
Religious professions
Helping professions (social work, childcare, eldercare, etc.)
  • Ski Hunter, Sandra Stone Sundel, and Martin Sundel, Women at Midlife: Life Experiences and Implications for the Helping Professions
  • Linda Reeser, Linda Cherrey, and Irwin Epstein, Professionalization and Activism in Social Work (1990) (covers gender as part of history of professionalization), Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-06788-7
  • Sarah Stage and Virginia B. Vincenti, editors, Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession
  • See also Category:Governesses
Journalism and media professions
Architecture and design
  • Designing for Diversity: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Architectural Profession by Kathryn H. Anthony
  • The First American Women Architects by Sarah Allaback (forthcoming 2008)
  • See also Category:Women architects
Arts and literature;see also Women's writing in English and Women artists
Entertainment and modeling
Explorers, navigators, travelers, settlers
Sports and athletics
Business and leadership
  • Roger E. Axtell, Tami Briggs, Margaret Corcoran, and Mary Beth Lamb, Do's and Taboos Around the World for Women in Business
  • Douglas Branson, No Seat at the Table: How Corporate Governance and Law Keep Women Out of the Boardroom
  • Lin Coughlin, Ellen Wingard, and Keith Hollihan, Enlightened Power: How Women are Transforming the Practice of Leadership
  • Harvard Business School Press, editors, Harvard Business Review on Women in Business
  • S. N. Kim, "Racialized gendering of the accountancy profession: toward an understanding of Chinese women's experiences in accountancy in New Zealand" in Critical Perspectives on Accounting
  • Deborah Rhode, The Difference ""Difference"" Makes: Women and Leadership (2002)
  • Judy B. Rosener, America's Competitive Secret: Women Managers
  • Robert E. Seiler, Women in the Accounting Profession (1986)
  • See also Category:Women in business
European Union initiatives and information
Public policy and governmental occupations
Military professions
Criminal occupations

See Category:Female pirates


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External links