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​Women in the Workplace: Then v. Now

​By Kemi Ogunlade, Administrative Assistant, Human Resources​

This article is presented in celebration of Women’s History Month. A month dedicated to women’s contributions to culture, history, and society. An article published by The Economist states that, “the economic empowerment of women across the rich world is one of the most remarkable revolutions of the past 50 years.” It is rather interesting because what this signifies is that millions of people who were once dependent can now control their financial fates and contribute to the economic growth of society. Gender equality in the workplace is at its finest, and although there are still barriers to women’s workplace advancement, there is no doubt that the growing cohort of university educated women will influence the workplace in the next decade.

To understand how far women have come and why there has been an enormous amount of women in the workplace over the last 50 years, let's take a look at some causes of the increase of women in the workforce.

Increased Access to Education
In colonial America, the level of women's education depended on race, class, and location. Women were expected to be knowledgeable about skilled household duties and chores to find suitable husbands.  Women who were highly educated were assumed to be unusual and not sought after. As a result; there was a broad exclusion of women from the educational system. However, in the late 1700’s to the early 1800’s, there were new beliefs, especially in the Quaker communities about educating both genders, and the booming economy made it more affordable to send children to school. There was a rapid growth in school systems, and more women and men were admitted into state colleges.

Due to this increase in students, there was a need for more elementary and high school teachers.  At that time, most teachers were male and were harder to find because males had more opportunities and the potential to earn higher wages in other fields. Though there was some push back,  it was evident that hiring female teachers was the solution to the open 30,000 teaching positions. Many were reluctant because this meant that women would work outside the home. There were also claims that female teachers would find it harder to control a disruptive class. In the end, the shortage was relieved because women were eager to teach and superintendents were able to double the number of teachers without having to raise their budgets as female teachers were paid a third of what male teachers made.

World War II Labour Shortages

when world war ii came, there was a widespread enlistment of men leaving to fight in the war against germany. this recruitment led to a shortage in the industrial workforce.  the government realized this shortage and came up with an interesting campaign “rosie the riveter,” aimed at attracting women to join the labor force.  fictitious rosie was strong, dedicated, and had a positive attitude. her image ultimately became a symbolic representation of female workers during the war. the results were such that from 1940-1945, the female labor force grew by 50% and women's employment in defense industries increased by 462%.

increase in the cost of living
the cost of living has continued to increase and is up by 67 % since 1990. this increase is due to inflation, and although the us economy has grown by 60%, income and wages for americans have stagnated. if the median household income had been consistent with the growing economy since 1970,  the median should be $92,000, not $56,000. as a result, there has been an economic need for households to make more money causing more women to get jobs to support their families. 

How Far Women Have Come in the Workplace
Since 1950 the number of women in the labor force has continued to grow. About 53% of professional workers in the US are female. Due to technological advancement, opportunities for women have continued to increase and so has the desire for women to work. 4 in 10 American households with children under the age of 18 now include a mother who is the primary or sole earner for her family. Women are starting businesses at 1.5 times the national rate; there are 7.8 million women-owned business. 80% of American women with university degrees are in the labor force, compared to only 50% in 1980.  About 19% of women are C-Suite executives and approximately 24% are Senior Vice Presidents. The infographic below highlights some more facts and figures about women in the workforce today. 

Click image to zoom

Even though there have been broken barriers in the workplace when it comes to workplace equality, women still make about 78 cents for every dollar a man makes. Female entrepreneurs begin with an eight of the funding of male-owned ventures. The “Paycheck Fairness Act” has been blocked twice. There is a need for more change, and 67% of millennial women and men agree. However, with millennial women leading the charge in the workforce, things can only get better.

If you have any questions about this article or how Raffa can help your organization with Human Resources, please email kogunlade@raffa.com.