Skip links

100 years’ of Women on the rise in the global workplace

Definite trends reveal that great strides have been made in solving the gender balance equation

Are women really on the rise in the global workplace?  In the closing years of the second decade of the 21st Century how close really have we come to closing the gender equality gap when it comes to the modern day workplace?  In order for us to understand the great strides that have, in fact, been made let us travel back in time and take a look at what has happened over the past 100 years.  While we still have a way to go, definite trends reveal that great strides have been made.

Travelling back in time

To understand how women first began to make their mark in the global workplace at large, let us for a moment travel 100 years back in time to WW1.    During WW1 (1914 – 1918) a large number of women were recruited into jobs that were vacated by men who had gone away to fight the war.  As part of the war effort, new jobs were also created that saw even larger numbers of women migrating into the workforce.  For example, the high demand for weapons during this time resulted in the munitions factories becoming the largest single employer of women during 1918.

Amidst initial resistance to hiring women for what was seen as ‘men’s work’ the introduction of conscription in 1916 increased the urgency for the need for women.  This led to women taking up occupations such as railway guards and ticket collectors, firefighters, bus and tram conductors, postal workers, police workers, civil service workers as well as jobs in the financial sector such as bank tellers and bank clerks; all of which were formerly reserved for men.  Some women also earned their livelihood through manual labour occupations involving the operation of heavy or precision machinery in engineering.  Even then there were no holds barred where physical labour is concerned with women leading cart horses on farms and serving long hours in factories.

But, back to what is paving the way to the future to take a look at a few global trends

Over to the UK

Still, a recent Work in Progress study undertaken in the UK indicates that the trends in present decades indicate that women have made their way into the labour market in larger numbers than ever before.  Previously male-dominated occupations such as medicine and law now hold equal levels of participation.

USA working women trends

In the USA, another study undertaken by Forbes reveals that more and more women are starting to take up management and professional roles that require a higher level of education which translates into higher pay as well as elevated status.   According to the Department of Labor’s women’s Bureau, women are now dominating some of the occupations that traditionally used to belong to men.  Accounting and tax preparation roles noticeably skew towards female dominance, with 61.8% accountants and auditors, 65.9% tax preparers and 73.8% tax examiners and collectors.  The same study reveals that women now receive three Bachelor’s degrees for every two earned by men and are graduating in near equal numbers from law and medical schools according to the U.S. Department of Education.  However, because women remain primary parents and take on the majority of household and domestic responsibilities, well-paying professional jobs that allow a degree of flexibility to cope with these responsibilities hold greater general appeal.

South African women in the workforce

South African women in the workforce are by no means behind the global curve.  In 2015, to commemorate Women’s Month in South Africa, Careers 24 compiled a list of some of the careers that women were largely excluded from 20 years ago and that are now taking over from men which, amongst others, includes:

  1. Pharmacists

The 2014 National Pharmacist Workforce study revealed that 57.1% of actively practicing pharmacists are women.  The study also publicised that 55.2% of women held pharmacy managerial positions.

  1. Accountants

As things currently stand, accounting and tax preparation positions noticeably skew towards a female bias at 60% female accountants, a significant portion within the financial industry.

  1. Photographers

The percentage of female photographers now stands at 53%.  While this field is predominantly still male orientated, the trend started to change since the early 90’s.  Of note:  Constance Stuart Larrabee was South Africa’s first female World War II correspondent and is best known for her images of South Africa, with one of her most renown compilations being ‘the vanishing tribes of Southern Africa’.  Her exhibitions created national attention which led to her being appointed as a war photographer.

  1. Psychologists

According to the Health Professionals Council of South Africa, in the past two decades more women registered with the Professional Board of Psychology than men, a trend that has notably seen the increase of women in this field to 67%.

  1. Entrepreneurs

When it comes to start-ups and entrepreneurship, South African women are on the rise.  In 2001, 8.7% of South African men between the ages of 18 to 65 were involved in early stage entrepreneurial activities compared to only 4.5% of women.  However, by 2013, the gap began to close with 9% of women and 12.3% of men entrepreneurs.    Thuli Sibeko, Founder of Girls Invent Tomorrow, suggests that women entrepreneurs “Need to create a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to consider careers in growing fields, such as in ICT.”

  1. Security guards and police services

The security industry and South African Police Service (SAPS) have grown at an alarming rate in recent years.  Since 2001, private security officers have increased by 111.30%.  Of note, 15% of the overall security workforce is now made up of women, which is worth special mention since women were once prohibited from working in law enforcement.

What will the landscape of the working woman look like in 100 years’ time?  How will these statistics grow and change as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century?  We cannot be exactly sure but, with even more and more women reaching for even greater opportunities, time will certainly tell.