People all over the world take on life challenges and struggles every day in order to better their way of living. Women in particular have taken on the hardest life challenges for hundreds of years in order to be seen as equals to that of their male counterparts. Since the time of Enlightenment in the 18th century, women began to realize that they were just as intelligent and able to learn new skills just as men, so there should be no reason that they shouldn’t be able to take part in the same activities as well as work outside the home. They wanted to receive an education, state their own opinions and even get into the workforce. However, this was not an easy task for women, nor was it something that happened over night. For centuries women have always been suppressed by society, particularly by men. Men believed that women had a place, in the home, bearing the children and taking care of their husbands. Working outside the home was not even something many women even thought of. Many men believed that a woman’s place was to do everything in her power to please her man. Women fought a long and hard battle, but things did start to change for the better at the turn of the 19th century, when the government started to take part in helping women become equal. Sadly, even with the help of laws that have been passed to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace or in getting an education, they are still fighting hard centuries later in the 21st century to still be considered a complete equal compared to men.
Men have most certainly not made it easy for women to fight for freedom to be equal human beings in the world much less be able to have a job. During the time of Enlightenment, when women really started to come out of their shells, men tried even harder to keep them suppressed just as they always had been in society. Men disliked the fact that women were even considering doing something with their lives that did not revolve around pleasing them in some fashion.
Some male philosophes of the time even went as far as to write explicit essays about where women should stand in society. A philosophe is not a philosopher, but an individual during the time of Enlightenment who would question truths from the church and the government. They would investigate and reflect on their findings in science, technology and religion. One philosophe of the time that was against women equality was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Rousseau’s Duties of Women, he believed that it is in a woman’s best nature to be subordinate and their duty was to please and delight men. A woman’s opinion should only be taken if it is in regards to bodily matters, whereas a man’s opinion should always be taken when regarding matters of morality and understanding. Rousseau clearly states in his essay that women should only stick to what they know, and make themselves pleasing to men to keep them happy. Women should be kept restrained, have little freedom, and be kept in constant habitual cycles in order to keep them from being insubordinate and idle. Rousseau may have feared that if women became educated in some way, men’s lives would no longer be the focus of life. Women learning anything, much less a job skill was totally absurd to many men. It is sad to even think that people actually thought of and treated women as basically animals enslaved to be perfect counterparts of men who tended to every need a man every had or would have.
Women really had their work cut out for them to get anything accomplished. It took a lot of work and pressure for women to finally start receiving education and working outside the home like men. The Enlightenment was the beginning of change for women, and things continued to change for the better as time went on. Women had already started to become novelists, writing of their own philosophies and understandings of the world. During the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century more women were entering the workforce as servants to those in the middle or higher classes. Women were cheaper to hire because men were paid higher wages, therefore giving way to a more female profession. By 1870 the state was providing schools where more working class girls could receive an education. In the late 1870s the invention of the typewriter and the telephone provided more job opportunities for women. Britain saw the first female doctor in 1865 and dentist in 1895. Women were really moving up in the world having more options to work outside the home. In the 20th century women were given even more options pertaining to the type of work that they could pursue. The first woman was appointed to the police force in 1910. The Sex Disqualification Removal Act of 1919 allowed for women to become lawyers, veterinarians, and civil servants.
These new opportunities for employment not only helped give women a sense of freedom but it really increased labor participation rates for women. In the 1900s there were only about 19% of women compared to 80% of men apart of the labor force. That percentage nearly doubled by the 1940s and saw a steady increase especially after the 1950s. World War I created new jobs for women at higher wage rates than they previously had as large numbers of men went off to war. However, this was only a temporary change so when men returned home from war they received first priority in hiring causing a number of women to be driven out of the labor force.
The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote but it did not liberate them from all discrimination. Many supporters thought that ending sex discrimination in the right to vote would end all forms of sex discrimination in other areas, like that of employment but the 19th Amendment failed to do that. In 1970 the law was modified so that women would have equal wages as men for the same work. By 1975 women were emancipated when the Sex Discrimination Act was passed. It was made it illegal to discriminate against women in the workplace, training and education.
World War II was a turning point for women and working. Similar to that of World War I, World War II also created what was thought to be temporary jobs for women while men were away at war. Women became more intrigued by war-related industries due to advertising campaigns appealing to patriotism. Women were given access to the more skilled, higher-paying jobs that were usually held by men. When the men returned back from war in 1945, the labor force did not go back to a “manly dominated workplace.” The gap between men and women’s labor participation rates continued to slim becoming 75% for men and 60% for women by 2000. Surprisingly, it was unusual for married women to work outside the home during this time except during times of war. By the 50s it became increasingly common for married women to work at least part-time and it soon became an everyday occurrence for married women to have their own careers by the end of the century.
Today, women account for over 45% of the world’s workforce. Women account for about 46% of the total U.S. labor force. In 2006 there were 67 million women employed in the U.S. and the labor participation rate was up to 59.4%. Women in other countries are also taking the opportunity to get into the workplace, helping to increase the total labor force for women. Women in countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, and Botswana have seen almost a 20% increase in a period of 20 years. Despite these growing numbers, women are still facing discrimination in the workforce even through efforts and laws enacted to fight against discrimination. Women are still facing the trials of discrimination like job segregation, lack of advancement in the job place, lack of training, unequal pay and complete exclusion from certain job fields that are considered to be masculine. The glass ceiling has been a burden on women in the workforce for centuries. There seems to be no real explanation why women have a hard time filling top management positions except for the fact that they are women. There are several notable factors that contribute to the existence of the glass ceiling. The entry of women into top management positions is influenced by the structure of the decision-making process along with the accountability of decision makers. Many organizations do not have a systematic procedure for making promotions to top management positions, which makes any decision regarding these positions to be unstructured and even biased leaving little to no consequence for the decision maker.
Another factor that contributes to the glass ceiling is that the decision makers’ cognitive processes involving stereotypes, prototypes, and their preference for people with similar characteristics to the decision maker. Women who aspire to be in management positions follow common stereotypes in that they are unfit for those roles, which causing a major disadvantage for women. These stereotypes may only become known when a woman is being considered for a top-level management position, and her presence at those levels “violates” the norm of male superiority.
People tend to make the most positive evaluations and decisions about people who are similar in character as they may be. This can be characterized as “homo-social reproduction” when a person hired for a top management position is considered to be similar to that of the decision maker. The main motivation for all decisions is to minimize uncertainty. Uncertainty is present whenever a particular individual is relied upon (usually someone unlike the other staff), and the effects of such uncertainty are at its greatest when these individuals hold significant responsibility for the direction of the organization. For this reason it is necessary to make decisions that will minimize the uncertainty. This may cause top management positions to be closed to people who are regarded as “different.” For this reason, women have a difficult time entering top management positions because they are “different” compared to that of the males in the organization.
Women also have to deal with juggling work and family life. It is one of the main problems that women face in the workplace that may deter them taking a better job. Some women often find that working full-time while raising a family can be expensive, so they may opt for working part-time or not until their children can go to school. Most organizations promote family-friendly environments, while others make it really hard for people to work and raise a family. Some organizations may offer work-family programs like dependent care or alternative work arrangements, but will be clear that if employees take part in such activities that they will be sacrificing future prospects for career success. Employers can provide solutions, which will help women keep there jobs and prevent employers from having to hire and train new people. Employers could offer part-time employment, flexible starting and end times, job sharing and even allowing telecommuting. Employers that are flexible in certain aspects and do not punish their employees for using them will see a much better outcome from their employees and their output.
Despite the fact that women are still being discriminated against in the workplace, that hasn’t stopped them from owning their own businesses, or reaching management positions in companies while still raising a family. Women also play a major role in contributing the GDP and GNP in having their own businesses and being in such major leadership roles. In the United States 45% of women are managers at organizations. Asian and white women hold the largest percentage, 46% and 41% respectively, for being in management, professional and related occupations.
There are 9.1 million businesses in the United States that are owned by women, which represents nearly 40% of all businesses. Together their businesses employ nearly 27.5 million men and women while generating more than $3.6 trillion in sales. Of these 9 million businesses run by women, 35% employ more people than any of the Fortune 500 companies combined. Women also contribute to the economy by having major purchasing power spending more than $3.3 trillion annually. Judging by these numbers it would seem that not only are women successful at owning their own businesses, they are a major asset in contributing to the economies growth, more than many people may have known.
Women are thought to be an “untapped source” that could potentially be very beneficial to the economy. The Economist conducted a survey that suggested that having a female child is better for the economy rather than having a male, which was and still is preferred by parents. Females get better grades in school compared to males do and are more likely than males to attend universities in developed countries. This ensures that women will be better equipped with education for new jobs in the future. The ever-increasing amount of female employment has helped contribute more to the global GDP than any new technology or producing country. Women also take part in housework and child rearing which puts them on the map in accounting for over half of the world’s output. The government should use the potential that women hold for the economy, especially during these trying times. Women are the world’s “most under-utilized” resource, and having more of them in the workforce may help to lessen economic problems like poverty and shrinking populations. Women will continue to enter into the workforce and increase overall labor rates. It is projected that there will be a 49% increase in the total labor force between 2006 and 2016. At that projected rate, it is vital that women continue to fight against discrimination and continue to flood the workforce. They are aiding in the increase in the global GNP, and during trying economic times as we are in today, everyone needs as much help as possible.
Women have gone through many hardships for centuries in order to be seen as equals among men. It was been a hard fight to find their way into the workforce, that for so long was dominated by men. They never stopped trying to get this injustice fixed and started to prevail when people realized that there was no reason why women shouldn’t be able to have the same rights as men. The government passed laws allowing women to receive equal pay, get an education, and work in the same industries as men have for so long. Women still face the challenges of the glass ceiling and being discriminated against in the workplace, but it is only a matter of time before the world realizes how much of an “under-utilized” resource women really are and that the benefits would be hugely beneficial for the economy and world’s future.
Take a look at these resources for more information on women’s rights, discrimination, the 19th Amendment, and women in the workforce.
- Women in the 19th Century
- The 19th Amendment
- Women-Owned Businesses in the 21st Century (PDF)
- Economic Growth is Driven by Women
- Women in the Global Workforce
- Women in the Workforce
- Suffrage History
- 1776-1923 Suffrage Timeline
- Battle for Suffrage
- Women in the Workplace: A History
- Women in Government
- Glass Ceiling Issues Study
- Empowering Women in Business
- Women and Naturalization
- Struggle Around the World
- Sex Discrimination
- Women Working 1800-1930
- National Women’s Hall of Fame