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Women’s Work – Changing the Connotation Over Time 

27 Mar 2024, Posted By


As National Women’s History Month draws to a close, we would like to reflect on women’s role in the workforce throughout history, including challenges encountered along the way and progress in overcoming those challenges. Understanding this history is not only important for recognizing the contributions women have made to economic growth, but also for appreciating the diverse perspectives, skills, and ideas women bring to the table, which have driven innovation and productivity in various sectors. 

During early agricultural societies, women played a crucial role in family-based economic activities such as farming and cottage industry manufacturing. Women actively participated in agricultural work, including planting, harvesting, and tending to livestock. They played a vital role in ensuring food security for their families and communities. In addition to farming, women engaged in various cottage industry manufacturing activities. They crafted textiles, made pottery, and produced goods such as candles and soap. The economic contributions made by women were essential for sustaining households and supporting local communities.  

The Industrial Revolution marked a pivotal turning point in women’s work experiences. With the mechanization of production processes, there was a significant shift towards factory employment for women. The demand for female factory workers surged due to several factors, including employers’ view of women as cheap labor, women’s perceived adaptability to monotonous tasks, and women’s availability for employment due to societal norms dictating they focus on domestic work.  

As part of the workforce, women faced many challenges including poor working conditions. Long hours, minimal breaks, and unsafe working environments were common. Additionally, women strived to balance their work responsibilities with traditional domestic duties. Women have played a crucial role in the labor movement, fighting for improved working conditions as part of their larger battle for gender equality. Notable figures in this fight include Sarah Bagley, a champion for reform in factories.  

World War I had a profound impact on women’s employment opportunities, opening new fields of work that were previously male dominated. The war created a demand for workers in various war-related industries, such as munitions manufacturing, shipbuilding, and textiles. With millions of men being drafted, women stepped in to fill these roles. This shift challenged gender norms and pushed the boundaries of women’s roles in society. The significant contributions made by women during World War I helped challenge societal perceptions about women’s capabilities and undermined the notion that certain jobs were only suitable for men. This shift laid the foundation for future advancements in women’s rights and equal opportunities in the workforce. 

The expansion of women’s employment during World War I was a turning point in history, providing a glimpse of what women could achieve when given the opportunity. While women embraced these new employment opportunities and contributed significantly to the war effort, their roles were often seen as temporary. Once the war ended and men returned home, there was pressure for women to leave their jobs and resume their traditional roles as wives and mothers. It was during this time the staffing industry began with female employees. In 1946, a business owner “loaned out” one of his two office workers to a frantic customer who needed urgent but temporary help. He thought if one of his clients needed help, other companies could use this service as well. With a labor pool of women who had lots of experience working in many industries during the war, the idea took off. Women, now returning to more domestic pursuits, liked the idea of part-time flexible work hours which would allow them to be homemakers as well.  

The second-wave feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s brought issues of workplace discrimination to the forefront of public debate. Eventually, this led to legislative victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 which prohibited discrimination on account of sex in the payment of wages by employers engaged in commerce or the production of goods for commerce. Even with these advancements, women continue to face challenges in the workforce today. 

Despite considerable progress over the years, women still encounter obstacles when it comes to moving up the corporate ladder. One such barrier is the infamous “glass ceiling”, which refers to the invisible barriers that prevent women from reaching top-level positions in organizations. Another major challenge for women is striking a balance between their professional aspirations and family responsibilities. Potential strategies to address these challenges and create a more equitable working environment include promoting inclusive leadership practices and implementing family-friendly policies such as flexible work arrangements and parental leave. 

Today at Peoplelink, women comprise over 70% of the corporate workforce. We asked Shannan Manix, SVP of National Sales and Services, to share her thoughts on working in the staffing industry. 

As a woman who started in the staffing industry 25 years ago – Advancement opportunities for women in leadership positions were often limited, and breaking through the glass ceiling required determination, perseverance, and proving myself repeatedly in a male-dominated industry. Balancing the demands of a career in staffing with family responsibilities as a single mom was often challenging. The industry’s fast-paced nature and long hours sometimes made it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance.  

Watching women whom I had the privilege to mentor become successful in this industry or in their careers in general. I want people to see if she can do it, I can too.  

Women are now occupying more executive roles, including CEOs, presidents, and founders of staffing firms, demonstrating greater gender diversity at the top levels of organizations. The industry has become more inclusive, offering greater opportunities for women to advance in their careers and take on leadership roles. Companies are increasingly recognizing the value of diverse leadership teams and are actively promoting gender diversity and inclusion initiatives. 

Studying the history of women in the workforce is essential for the understanding of economic development and the contributions made by women throughout history. From early agricultural societies to the Industrial Revolution and beyond, women have played vital roles in sustaining households, local communities, and various industries. By supporting women-owned businesses, participating in mentorship programs, and advocating for policy initiatives that promote inclusivity, individuals can advocate for equal opportunities. 

Do you need to build your workforce? Peoplelink Group offers a range of staffing services that can help any business, big or small. Contact us today to get started.