Gender Transition in the Workplace Essay

Gender Transition in the Workplace
“The single most important event in the American labor market in the twentieth century has been the unprecedented entry of large numbers of women into the workforce” (Changing Profile of the U.S. Labor Force, 1985, p. 46) This paper provides information about the present and past role of women in workplace and home.

Rise of Women in the Workplace

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More than sixty years ago the notion of an unfulfilled homemaker was, for most but certainly not all women, unheard of. Prior to World War II, the maintenance of a house and (often) a large family was a full-time occupation and acknowledged as such. Those women who did venture outside the home in search of full-or part-time employment did so either out of dire financial need or in an attempt to earn a little “pin-money” to subsidize a few household extras. Only in recent years have the everyday tasks of meal-making and house and clothing maintenance become less than full-time jobs. This, and the decrease in family size, left large numbers of women no longer merely bored by housekeeping, but, in the view of many, underemployed and underestimated. However, it wasn’t until the late 1950s and early 1960s that women once again received “cultural permission” to enter the workforce in search of jobs, careers, and a new sense of identity.

Some of the factors that contributed to this cultural shift included the feminist movement and its impact on social consciousness, technological advances in the information and communications industries, the conversion to a service economy, increased access to education, fair employment and affirmative action legislation, and the ever-increasing costs of a higher standard of living. While contemporary women’s grandmothers may or may not have found satisfaction solely employed in their homes, their daughters and granddaughters now find fulltime work outside the home not only possible and desirable, but, in many cases, financially necessary.

At the turn of twentieth century, only five million of the 28 million working Americans were women. One quarter of these were teenagers and only a very few were married. As recently as 1947, women accounted for fewer than 17 million of the 59 million employed. Since that time, however, six of every 10 additions to the workforce have been women. Between 1969 and 1979 women took on two thirds of the 20 million newly created jobs; (Smith, 1979) between 1980 and 1992 women accounted for three fifths of the increase in the American workforce. (Are Men Becoming…1997) In 1984 the Census Bureau reported that for the first time in history the prototype of American worker–the adult white male–no longer made up the majority of the labor force. (Sixth Annual Salary…1985) Women and minority men now hold approximately 57% of all jobs. In 1995 with a labor force of 124.9 million, 57.5 million of these are women.

In 1960, 35.5% of all women and 78.8% of all men worked full time; in 1995, 55.6% of all women and 70.8% of all men work full time. (Employment Status…1996) Depending on how you crunch the numbers, women now make up 46%-49% of the entire workforce. Between 1947 and 1995 women’s participation in the workforce has increased 17%. Some demographers suggest that employed women may represent a simple majority of the workforce early in the twenty-first century. (Borman, 1984) The Bureau of Labor Statistics more conservatively estimates that women will maintain but not necessarily exceed the present percentage of the workforce. The bureau projects a labor force of 150.5 million workers by the year 2005, of these, 71.8 million will be women. (Schmeltzer, 1994)

While single and divorced women have long had relatively high labor force participation rates, fewer than 25% of married women were working full time in 1960. That number today is 33.3 million or 61% of married women. Of these married women, 70.2% have children under 17 years of age. It is estimated that two thirds of all mothers are now in the labor force and that more mothers have paid jobs or are actively looking for a job than are nonworking mothers. Two-job families now make up 58% of married couples with children. (Hochschild, 1989) One set of statistics indicate that 20% of women in double-income families earns more than their husbands. (Weiss, 1991) A more recent survey conducted by the Women’s Voice Project, an ongoing study by the Center for Policy Alternatives in Washington, suggests that as many as 55% of all married women earn half or more of their family’s income. (Kleiman 1996)

According to social commentator John W. Wright, an unmistakable sign of the depth and degree of the social change going on in the workplace is the significant increase in the number of women who go back to work immediately after having a baby. In 1976, said Wright, about 31% of the women who gave birth returned to or entered the labor force; by 1985 the proportion climbed to 48%. (Wright, 1997) it was found that at places of employment 75% of the women who had babies returned to work within 12 weeks of giving birth.

Another fundamental social change that has occurred because of this increasing presence of women in the workplace is that women in significant numbers have begun to seek employment outside the occupations traditionally labeled as “women’s professions.” While nurses, teachers, librarians, and clerical workers are still predominately women, the proportion of female engineers, architects, and public officials–while still small in whole numbers–has more than doubled since 1960. (Sixth Annual Salary 1985) Typically, law and medical school classes are now composed of between 40% and 50% women. According to the Department of Labor special report Working Women Count, 30% of working women are engaged in service and sales jobs; 13.1% have factory, craft, construction, and technical jobs or jobs in the transportation industry; 27.6% of working women have professional or executive-level jobs; and of those working in the corporate environment in a professional capacity, 40% of all middle-management positions are held by women. (Anderson, 1995) In general, although women are grossly overrepresented at the lower-paying end and in entry levels of all kinds of work, especially in the professions, it is clear that the once absolute distinction between “woman’s work” and “man’s work” has begun to blur.

What lessons can be drawn from some of these statistics? To begin with, obviously we no longer operate under a gender-based division of labor. The entrance of women into the labor market has changed the composition of the workforce and the workplace as well as the structure of family life. According to Working Women Count, it is now expected that 99% of all American women will work for pay sometime during their lives. (Women’s Bureau, 1994) Nontraditional families are now the majority. (Coontz, 1992) The old notion of the 1950s traditional family–dad’s at work and mom is home with the kids–no longer often exists. Again, depending on whose figures you are willing to accept, it is estimated that less than 15% of all households fit the 1950s family model. (Googins, 1991) As recently as 1960, 43% of all families conformed to the single-earner model, (Googins, 1991) but in less than 40 years we have become a nation of DINKS (Double-Income-No-Kids) and DISKS (Double-Income-Some-Kids). According to sociologist Uma Sekaran, “The number of two-career families, single-parent families, and unmarried working couples living together is steadily increasing. This population constitutes more than 90% of today’s labor force. Organizations are … beginning to feel the impact of this new breed of employee.” (Googins, 1991, p. 5)

Second, women are now demanding the right to define themselves in the way that men have always defined themselves–through their jobs. Being a wife, a mother, a homemaker has, over the course of the past two or three generations, simply changed until it no longer meets the definition of work to which most people now subscribe. It has been argued that when the first wave of women baby-boomers hit the college campuses in the early 1960s, no matter what they were majoring in, the only degree they were really after was an M.R.S. (Friedman, 1996) Not anymore! According to a survey cited by Arlie Russell Hochschild, less than 1% of 200,000 freshmen women surveyed wanted to be a “full- time homemaker.” In a 1986 survey of senior college women, 80% thought it was “very important” to have a career. (Hochschild, 1989) And in 1995, fully 86% of recent women college graduates thought of themselves as “careerist.” In this society, who we are is directly tied to what we do.

Women now want to be known by their accomplishments and occupations and not merely as “Mrs. John Smith” or “Little Johnny’s mommy.” When First Lady Barbars Bush gave the commencement speech at Wellesley College in 1991, many of the all-women student body loudly protested her appearance because her only claim to fame was as somebody’s wife. (Friedman, 1996) Gloria Emerson has pointed out, in her award-winning Some American Men, that every 12-year-old boy in America knows what must be done to achieve identity and make it as a man: money must be made–nothing else is as defining or as masculine as this. (Emerson, 1985) Rightly or wrongly, women now want to forge their own sense of self-worth and identity by means of paid employment–the principle activity that is classified as work. In the words of demographer Daniel Yankelovich, women now view a paid job as “a badge of membership in the larger society and an almost indispensable symbol of self-worth.” (Yankelovich, 1978, p. 86)

Third, in a very real sense, women’s desire for a new work-based sense of self-worth was initially spurred on by the ideas and issues raised by Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and the feminist movement; the “new breed” of women sought to be autonomous agents, able to guide and direct themselves, determining their purpose and role in life by their own choices and actions in their careers. They no longer wanted to be viewed as “second-class citizens,” relegated to hearth and home and totally dependent on the will and whim of a man. Perhaps, however, a more prudent analysis of the rush of (especially) married women into the workplace is to suggest that their motivation was both ideological as well as practical. Yes, many women desired a new sense of identity on par with men. Yes, many women no longer wanted to feel emotionally and financially dependent. But at the same time, many of these women sought out jobs/careers as a means of contributing to the ever-increasing costs of middle-class existence: suburban homes, Montessori schools, Suzuki music lessons, good colleges. As recently as 1980, only 19% of working women surveyed by Roper Starch Worldwide said that their incomes were necessary to support their family, while 43% said they worked to bring in extra money. (Annual Report… 1995)

In 1995, however, 44% of employed women said that they worked out of necessity and only 23% to earn extra cash. The survey concluded that married working women now view their incomes as essential to their family’s well being. In part, because of this, only 43% look on their work as a career, while 55% consider their work a necessary job. (Annual Report…1995) The new piece of cynical conventional wisdom currently circulating around college campuses today reads something like this: “Guys, look around. Don’t just marry the pretty one. Marry the smart one, the one who’s got the best chance of landing a good job. Why? Because you’re going to need each other to acquire the things and lifestyle that your parents managed to achieve on one salary!” (For example, in 1989, 79% of all homes bought were purchased by two-income households. (Coontz, 1992) Some realtors estimate that in the mid-1990s, 85% of all home purchases were made by double-income family units.)

Women may once have entered the workforce out of desire, but today they stay because of need. Not only have they been granted “cultural permission” to seek out work, they have now acquired a “financial imperative” to do so. In the not-too-distant past, women had three choices about employment: don’t work at all; work part time; work full time. Now, like men, their options have been reduced to just one–most women must work faithfully all of their lives, without interruption or openly wishing otherwise.

Finally, perhaps the second most stunning demographic statistic of the later half of the twentieth century has been the precipitous rise and continuous high rate of divorce in America; 90% of men and women eventually marry, but 50% of all first marriages end in divorce and an alarming 60% of second marriages also end in divorce. (Coontz, 1992) Besides the trauma and pain these divorces have on husbands and wives, the practical and psychological effects of the divorce are equally traumatizing and painful for the children involved. The immediate consequences of a divorce is that almost 60% of all children will live in a single-parent household for a significant period of time before they are 18 years old. (Googins, 1991) Although 70% of divorced adults will remarry, sometimes again and again, the longterm consequences of divorce on children translates into fully 25% of all children primarily growing up in a one-parent household. (Coontz, 1992)

The vast majority of children in a divorce are in the custodial care of the mother. Whatever the causes of the divorce, the practical and financial fallout of the separation is much harder on the women. According to psychologist Lenore Weitzman, in the first year after divorce, women experience a 73% loss in their standard of living, whereas men experience a 42% gain. (Hochschild, 1989) Even when divorced fathers dutifully comply with child support payments and maintain a high level of emotional involvement with their children, the primary responsibility for both the day-to-day and long-term well-being of the children falls to the mother.

The reality of divorce is now an accepted part of our social tapestry. Another strand of our increasing complex social tapestry is the high proportion of unmarried teenage mothers as well as the growing number of women who choose to have children outside of wedlock, i.e., the “Murphy Brown” phenomenon. Because of all of this, one of the major lessons learned by women, wives, ex-wives, mothers, and young girls alike is that “it is the very rare girl/woman who won’t have to worry about her own self-sufficiency.”

According to Karen Nussbaum, former head of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, “There should be no girl out there (anymore) who thinks someone else is going to take care of me.” Life has changed, and the expectations of women must also change. Work for women is now less of an option and more of a brute necessity. “If (today) girls aren’t working when they get out of high school,” says Nussbaum, “they will be at some point.” (Schmeltzer, 1994, p. 2) While for many women work remains a badge of honor and a symbol of self-worth and identity, now, owing to the reconfiguration of family life, added to the equation is the fundamental element of simple survival.

Justice At Home
The problems, prejudices, and injustices that women face in the workplace are, unfortunately, mirrored in and in fact exaggerated on the home front. In the words of Helen Gurley Brown, author and former editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, “Women can have fame and fortune, office affairs, silicon injections, and dazzling designer clothes. But the one thing she can’t have, apparently, is a man who shares the work at home.” (Hochschild, 1989, p. 26) There is a price to pay for having “made it,” and, by all accounts, women are being asked to pick up most of the tab.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, in her important 1989 book The Second Shift, claims that even though women have won certain rights in the workplace, they have not won many rights at home–in fact, in many cases, women are losing ground. According to Hochschild, women in dual-income families not only carry the burdens and responsibilities of their profession or place of employment, but 80% of most working women also have the task of carrying the burden of the second job–their second shift–the home, the kids, and, yes, the care and maintenance of their husbands.

On average, Hochschild claims, American women in the past two decades have worked an extra 15 hours per week around the house than have men. On a day-to-day basis, that breaks down to women roughly averaging three hours a day on housework while men average 17 minutes, and women spend 50 minutes a day exclusively with their children while men spend 12 minutes. Over a year, this adds up to women putting in an extra month of 24-hour days on household chores. According to Hochschild’s computations, 61% of men do little or no housework; 21% attempt, on an irregular basis, to do their share of household chores; and only 18% of men actually share housework equally. (Hochschild, 1989) In effect, says Hochschild, the second shift means that women put in a double day. They’re on duty at work. They’re on duty at home. And, the next day, they’re on double duty again! As one angry woman put it, “I do my half. I do half of his half. And the rest [just] doesn’t get done!” (Hochschild, 1989, p. 25)

Although some of Hochschild’s findings are unexpected–for example, working-class husbands actually did more around the house than did ostensibly more liberal middle-class professional husbands–most of her conclusions regarding the cultural cause(s) of the second-shift phenomenon are painfully pedestrian, parochial, and paternalistic. To begin with she suggests that most men feel that their work is more important than their wives’ jobs. Although their wives’ salaries may be necessary, most men, because they earn more and because they have been traditionally seen as the head of the family, view their work as the primary defining ingredient regarding household status and class. Secondly, most men believe that women are natural nurturers and are better suited for child care. Finally, although domestic chores may be aesthetically and hygienically necessary, they are neither creative nor important and therefore are not the concern of the progenitor and main provider of the family. Sadly, suggests Hochschild, what passes for benevolence and understanding from some husbands of wives working a double-shift day sounds something like this: “Hey, I’m not like my dad. I don’t need my wife home all the time. I’m a modern guy. If she wants to work and have a family too, that’s fine with me–as long as she can manage it!”

Hochschild argues that the sudden surge of women into the marketplace has not been accompanied by a new cultural understanding of both marriage and work that would have made this transition smoother. Families have changed. Women have changed. Work has changed. But most workplaces have remained inflexible in the face of the family demands of their workers. At home, most men have yet to really adapt, in serious lifestyle ways, to the changes in women. Because of this absence of change, said Hochschild, because of the burdens of the second shift, the revolutionary movement of women into the workforce in search of identity, independence, and financial security remains at best a “stalled revolution.” (Hochschild, 1989, p. 12)

In her most recent book The Time Bind (1997) Hochschild suggests that not only is the revolution still “stalled,” but the burdens and fallout of the second shift have gotten more complex. Even with men actively contributing to child care and household chores, men and women still find themselves desperately trying to juggle their commitments to family and work. The demands of a workaholic corporate system and the needs of families and children have us rushing from one responsibility to another and have us trapped in a “time bind” of guilt. Unfortunately, says Hochschild, “many working families are both prisoners and architects of the time bind in which they find themselves.” (Hochschild, 1997, p. 249) They want it all: great jobs, great families, and all the goodies that go along with it. But the more energy and time they pump into work and the more time and energy they pump out of the home, the more emotionally stressful their lives become. Ironically, what Hochschild discovered in her three-year study of a “family-friendly” Fortune 500 firm, is that for a growing number of two-career couples, when work and family compete, work wins. Or, to be more accurate, many workers choose to escape into work because life at home has become a “frantic exercise in beat-the-clock, while work by comparison seems a haven of grown-up sociability, competence, and relative freedom.” (Shapiro, 1967, p. 64)

According to Hochschild, the worlds of home and work have begun to reverse places. Work has become a form of “home” (a village of associates, peers, coworkers) and home has become “hard work” (a locus of duty, tasks, chores, and demanding personalities). Work is the new “neighborhood,” where we spend most of our time, where we talk to friends and develop relationships and expertise. Meanwhile, says Hochschild, home is now the place where we are the least secure and the most harried:

At home the divorce rate has risen, and the emotional demands have become more baffling and complex. In addition to teething, trantrums, and the normal development of growing children, the needs of elderly parents are creating more tasks for the modern family–as are the blending, unblending, reblending of new step-parents, step-children, exes, and former in-laws. (Hochschild, 1997)

By comparison, work is less chaotic, cleaner, more enriching, and much less personal. As one female worker candidly admitted to Hochschild, “I put in for (overtime). … I get home, and the minute I turn the key, my (teenage) daughter is right there. … The baby is still up. … The dishes are still in the sink. … My husband is in the other room hollering at my daughter, ‘I don’t ever get any time to talk to your mother. … you’re always monopolizing her time! …’ They all come at me at once.” (Hochschild, 1997, p. 53) Is it any wonder, asks Hochschild, that work becomes home and home becomes work? Work is less demanding, a surrogate, a refuge from our troubled private lives. It is also a place where conflicts that originate in the home can be discussed, debated, and subjected to sympathetic scrutiny. In the sanctuary of work, says Hochschild, increasing numbers of women are discovering the “great male secret”–work can be an escape from the pressures of homey In the words of a James Thurber character as he leaves for work after a long weekend of kith and kin, “Ah, thank God it’s Monday!” Somewhat reluctantly, Hochschild concludes that for more and more women, “the world of ‘male’ work seems more honorable and valuable than the ‘female’ world of home and children.” (Hochschild, 1997, p. 84) The paradoxical result of such a shift, suggests Hochschild, is altogether too clear: that for which we work–families–is that which is most hurt by our work!

In a very real sense what Hochschild is implying is that every dual-career family needs a full-time wife. One National Public Radio (NPR) pundit, in commenting on The Time Bind, argued that given Hochschild’s findings and insights, perhaps the only way to save the family is to change it:

In the future individuals who want to “have it all”–children and a career–without shortchanging one or the other or both will be required to enter into a communal marriage involving six pre-certified adults. Two of them will work full time in order to support the family. Two will be in charge of the house and kids. And two of them will be held in ready reserve, to fill in wherever they are needed. Divorce will be forbidden, all property will be owned in joint tenancy, sleeping arrangements are negotiable and sex will be strictly optional. Hey, why not give it a try? Nothing else seems to be working.

Conclusion
Women have changed. The economy has changed. The workplace has changed. Families have changed. Unfortunately, most men have neither privately nor professionally adapted to these changes, nor have the rules of work been sufficiently altered to accommodate these changes. Are women in the workplace to stay? Absolutely. Women report that they both need and want to work. Current research also suggests that no matter how taxing and hectic their lives, women who do paid work feel less depressed, have a higher sense of personal worth, and are happier and more satisfied than women who do not have jobs. Do men need women in the workplace? Yes. Demographic trends regarding birth rates, urban population patterns, and college graduation rates necessitate women’s active participation in the workplace. Do men want women in the workplace? Yes and no. For a lot of men, women simply represent another group of individuals that they have to compete with for jobs, salaries, promotions. And for some men there yet remains a sense of social awkwardness about women’s roles and men’s appropriate response.

For too many men, women’s commitment to work and their general dependability remain suspect because of “the one immutable, enduring difference between men and women–maternity.” (Schwartz, 1989, p. 66) On the job, families and babies are seen as a vulnerability, an impediment rather than as a normal and necessary part of life that we have to accommodate. According Betsy Morris, in an interesting turn of events, the newly resuscitated “ultimate male status symbol [of the 1990s] is not a fancy car or a fancy second home, or a wife with a fancy career. You’re really made it, buddy, if you can afford a wife that doesn’t work. She may be a drag on earnings, but she provides a rare modern luxury: peace on the home front.” (Morris, 1998, p. 72)

References

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Anderson, Lisa. (1995). “Women Escape Affirmative Action Feud,” Chicago Tribune, 16 May 1.

Borman, Kathryn M. (1984). “Fathers, Mothers, and Child Care in the 1980s,” in Women in the Workplace: Effects on Families, ed. Kathryn M. Borman et al. (Norwood: Ablex Publishing), 73.

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Hochschild, Arlie Russell. (1989). The Second Shift (New York: Viking), 2.

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Hochschild, Arlie Russell. (1997). The Time Bond (New York: Metropolitan Books), 249.

Kleiman, Carol. (1996). “Women’s Voices Poll Speaks of Solutions as Well as Questions,” Chicago Tribune, Business Section, 12 November, 3.

Morris, Betsy. (1998). “Is Your Family Wrecking Your Career?” Fortune, 17 March, 71, 72.

Schmeltzer, John. (1994). “Daughters Will Face Many of Mom’s Barriers at Work,” Chicago Tribune, Business Section, 28 April, 1.

Schwartz, Felice N. (1989). “Management Women and the New Facts of Life,” Harvard Business Review, January/February, 65-76.

Shapiro, Laura. (1967). “The Myth of Quality Time,” Newsweek, 12 May, 64.

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Smith, Ralph E. (ed.), (1979). The Subtle Revolution: Women at Work (Washington, DC: The Urban Institute), 1.

Weiss, Daniel Evan. (1991). The Great Divide: How Females and Males Really Differ (NewYork: Poseidon Press), 32.

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