The Evolving Roles of Women

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Introduction This report on women in the workplace discusses the roles that women have developed in the workforce, and how they have evolved throughout the twentieth century. At the turn of the century, the only place for a woman was in the home raising large families and taking care of household chores; however, “this traditional definition of the wife and mother, is no longer work to which most subscribe.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003, p.6) In the early 1930’s, women surged into the world of work, gaining employment as typists, bookkeepers, telephone receptionists, and things of the like; this was only the beginning of the struggle to penetrate the workforce that women took on. As the prevalence of women in the office became more obvious, their male counterparts began to feel the pressure, as they began to realize that, “the distinction between the roles of men and women at work were beginning to blur.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003) The Evolving Roles of Women A. Women of the Past For the purpose of employment, there really isn’t any one trait that sets a woman apart from a man, but up until the Second World War, women would only enter the workforce with cultural permission. Until their husbands left them at the beginning of the war, women were working full time raising children and keeping house, but with the opportunity to work after their husbands left, women found it very difficult to give up their newly acquired responsibility, independence, and income when the men returned home. The stereotype type that we had placed on women of the early twentieth century was about to change, from being solemn housewives, to individuals who desired to be, “identified by their occupation and accomplishments, not as ‘Mrs. John Smith.’” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003) B. Women of Today With the end of the Second World War, housework became less than a full time job, partly filled with the desire to be on par with men. The stereotypical housewife of the 1950’s quickly morphed into the, “liberated braless radical,” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003) of the 1960’s and 1970’s, and then into the blue suit mom type of the 1980’s and beyond. As women permanently entered the world of work, they were no longer compelled to work out of choice, rather out of need. As the focus of women was wandering away from home life, family size decreased substantially, when both mom and dad realized the significance and the strain of having both parents outside the home. “Working mothers are not simply a demographic phenomenon of the later half of the twentieth century, they were always part of the working world, but their participation has always been dependent upon need, – personal and public – circumstances, and cultural permission to an extent.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003 p.3) Values have shifted somewhat within the last few decades, to where women are placing greater priority on obtaining a formal education and establishing a career before taking on the role of wife and mother – if at all. Although we [society] have taken great strides to create and maintain a sense of equality in the workplace, women still seem to get the short end of the stick. At the rate that they’re going now, it will only take four-hundred and seventy-five years for women to catch up to men, with eight-three percent of their companies having only one woman on the executive board at best. Even with the odds that they are against, women are persevering and will find their way to the top long before five centuries have passed. The Dynamics of the Workforce are Changing A. Men and Women in the Office Beginning just after the turn of the twentieth century, men started to feel the presence of women in what used to be a predominantly male world, more than ever before. What had sparked a sense of hope and new possibility for women, created some anxiety for men, which would lead to a redefinition for both men and women at work. Men suffered a lack of confidence when their female counterparts entered the force, “borrowing what were commonly feminine traits, using powers of persuasion, manipulation, and flattery in their daily work encounters.” (Strom, Sharon, 1995) As women became more of a permanent fixture in the workplace, men regained their confidence and women began to feel comfortable enough in their surroundings to step outside of was formerly known as “women’s work”, into other professional fields, such as engineering. B.Deloitte and Touche In the early 1990’s, accounting professionals Deloitte and Touche came to the realization that the small number of women that were employed at the firm were leaving at an alarming rate. Being one of the top three accounting and taxation firms in North America, the leaders of the firm knew that it was definitely time for change when the five percent of their staff that were female, were quickly diminishing. In 1992, Chief Executive Officer, Mike Cook implemented the Retention and Advancement Task Force to help both men and women eliminate the gender bias that discourages many women. After conducting numerous workshops on business ethics and effective management, Deloitte and Touche found success in offering equal opportunities based on qualifications rather than gender. Down from twenty-five percent in the early nineties, the turnover rate of women had dwindled to eighteen percent by 1998. With fourteen percent of the firms’ partners now being female, there is now an increased morale and equity. Challenges Women Still Face A. Sexual Static Sexual static is seen a working atmosphere were both men and women feel uneasy in their work, due to beliefs and values that one or both genders have toward the opposite sex in the workplace. No matter how it is approached, “sexual static generally does interfere with the lines of communication between co-workers and can restrict development of effective management skills.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003) Women are the primary victims of this occurrence, as some of their forty and over counterparts still view them as housewives, which can lead to a lack of trust for men in the workplace and leave some women feeling as though they have no room to advance. Although this issue is becoming less and less frequent, it does still exist and it’s something that so many people are not even aware of. How the Family Structure Has Changed A. The Stigma of Divorce in the Past Fifty years ago, women had many children and rarely worked outside the home, their husbands were the sole breadwinners. If a group of twenty children were asked if their parents were divorced, many of them would not even know what the word divorce meant, and there might have been only one or two children reply that their parents were in fact divorced. So many families were struggling to make ends meet as it was, so even the thought of divorce was taboo at this time. So many marriages stayed intact for this reason and because a single woman would have such a difficult time getting herself a decent job, much less a job that would support half a dozen kids. B. Divorce, Today The demographics are changing, today, non-traditional families are the norm. The “Murphy Brown Phenomenon,” as Gyeongjoon Yoo calls it in the 2003 article titled Women in the Workplace, is not something that happened overnight, we’re [society] just paying more attention to it now than in the past. Unwed and single mothers were considered taboo thirty and forty years ago, just as divorce was, but I guess it took a revolution to realize that neither are that bad. Today, families are considering divorce a somewhat healthy alternative to volatile situations therefore, the “Murphy Brown Phenomenon” of single mothers is a function of divorce. When all of the divorce proceedings are final, both parents have things to worry about, but women generally end up sacrificing more, experiencing, “a seventy-three percent decrease in standard of living during the first year after divorce.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003, p.7) In many cases, the mothers end up taking custody of their children, which would explain why their newly divorced husbands experience, “a forty-two percent gain in their standard of living, in the first year after a divorce.” (Gyeongjoon Yoo, 2003, p.7) The increase in divorce and the newly acquired poverty in the aftermath of it [divorce] is what has created a surge of single and teen moms in the workforce. The fact of the matter is, that it isn’t 1952 anymore and as mentioned earlier, the non-traditional family model is becoming more and more acceptable in our society. As time passes families are accepting the fact that often times, both mom and dad are outside the home, and many times the stress of work related responsibilities can prove to be too much for the family as a whole to bare. As a result of these revelations, so many married couples decide to sever their ties, as it is a decision that can be healthier than staying together. We [society] have come a long way since the war years, but making these strides does not guarantee victory. Drawing Conclusions There have been so many movements throughout the twentieth century in regards to women securing their position in the workplace, but these advancements go far beyond the women themselves. Women have always been a part of the work force, just as divorce has most always been an option in the realm of marriage, but we [society] have found that these occurrences are fully dependent on need, circumstances, and cultural acceptance. Initially, men in the office were taken by the presence of their female counterparts on what used to be their turf, but as men and society became accustomed to seeing women in the office, the competition increased for the men and possibilities opened up for women. Women worked their way into the workforce taking entry level positions, but they slowly became more educated and worked their way in to careers that were commonly sought by men. With their professional lives taking hold, many women and men would postpone starting a family, with fear that the stresses of professionalism could lead to overexertion, or possibly a failed marriage. We have come to realize in today’s world, that marriage is not necessarily a life long commitment, it is now a viable option that is readily accepted, in the event that a couples’ personal and professional lives just are not in harmony. In the long run, a divorce can prove to be the healthier choice, although it doesn’t seem to be true at the time, with the flood of responsibility that seems to fall on the women. At the end of the day, whether marriage stay together or break apart, whether there is a flood of single women in the workforce, or more married women, we [society] must understand that we have only scratched the surface here and equality is far in the distance. Despite the challenges they face, women will persevere and rise up to their male counterparts, and maybe that will happen before the four-hundred and seventy-five year mark is reached. Graphics Exhibit A Women versus Total Workforce Population Number of People in the Workforce (Millions) References Miller, T and Lemons, M. (1998). Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Lessons from a Management Pioneer. SAM Advanced Management Journal. Vol. 63. p4-6 Gini, A. (1996). Women in the Workplace. Business & Society Review. Issue 99 p3-15. Strom, S. (1995/1996). Engendering Business: Men and Women in the Corporate Office. Labor History. Vol.37 p119. Gyeongjoon Yoo (2003). Women in the Workplace: Gender and Wage Differentials. Social Indicators Research. Vol. 62/63, p367, p20

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