Until the early eighteenth century, agriculture was the primary human occupation. Women worked in fields with men and performed all the heavy physical jobs like grinding grain by hand in a stone quern, drawing and carrying water from wells, gathering wood, and churning milk. They only ever got a break during childbirth.
How did opportunities change for women in the workplace?
Women were an essential part of the industrial revolution. However, social and economic growth led to a change in women's role in the workplace ecosystem. The monumental rise in public education opportunities gave birth to thousands of jobs in the education sector for women.
Growth in industrial and commercial enterprises gave rise to jobs for office workers. Earlier, men were given these roles. But businesses soon realized that women could be employed for the very same roles at lower salaries. This, however, gave rise to the discrepancy in the salaries of men and women. The assumption was always that men would need to earn more because they support the family and women would do the same amount of work but can be paid less, as they are not the breadwinners.
The changing ecosystems at industries pushed the creation of more and more exciting opportunities for women and thus emerged a whole new range of opportunities for women in the workplace.
Industrial Revolution And Women:
The credit for changing the economic dynamics at the domestic front goes to the industrial revolution. Before that, the work areas for men and women were limited to fields and homes but it shifted to industries and factories after the industrial revolution.
In the beginning, families worked together in factories as teams but the harsh treatment and inhuman working conditions forced women to stop working in factories and limiting themselves to household chores and children. Men became the breadwinner and went out to work and gradually earned the position as the head of the family.
Invention Of Electric Power Changed The Scenario:
Throughout the 19th century and in most of the 20th-century the dynamics remained the same for men and women. It was the invention of the electricity that brought a new revolution of labor-saving devices into the home and women got some free time from their domestic chores. Factories now had electrical machines. Various other occupations also developed with the changing times.
Rapid social and economic developments now changed the nature of women’s work. Women now started stepping out of the houses to work in factories, schools, and offices. Employers were more willing to hire women for jobs that needed no muscular power because they had to pay less to women as compared to men for the same job. Differences in pay happened because of the conception that if you hire a man you will have to pay him enough to support a family. The fact that most women who joined the workforce in the United States before World War II were unmarried and had no other responsibility other than taking care of themselves. This was the seed of the differences in wages. This inequality in men’s and women’s pay scales for the same job is still prevalent and quite in practice. But women were never offered higher designations and they were limited to teaching, nursing, office work jobs or some other smaller jobs like that of a seamstress.
It was during the 1970s when women started getting acceptance in many works fields which were previously dominated by men and even married women began entering the labor force in great numbers. Jobs that needed alertness, judgment and coordination instead of physical labor were now taken up by women. But this was still a slow process and it by no means changed the pay discrimination.
With changing, times and rapid technological growth women may have come out and broken the glass ceiling but the persistence of segregation on the basis of gender in the work fields cannot be denied.
Women still have a long way to go to achieve their right to equality in the work fields.