A news story from 1955 may require some adjustment, but it remains too current for comfort when discussing equality at work
“Managements must reorganise not only their thinking but their factories to give women their rightful place alongside the men to play a responsible part in industrial life. Although they do not say so in so many words, the employers in general do not regard women as capable of equal work and that makes the achievement of equal pay a difficult task”. This excerpt from the Shields Daily News dated 16 March 1955 – it might require some adjustment but it remains too current for comfort.
Women today aren’t so much faced with barriers to entry into the professions as advancing to the higher ranks
The story’s headline, “Women are here to stay”, is over 60 years old. To me, it is a stark reminder of how far we’ve come but also of how much further we have yet to go to achieve parity for women across all walks of life and, importantly, at all levels of seniority. For a century now women have “quietly but persistently” worked to find a place for themselves in trades and the professions. And history can teach us that they did this on merit alone, pushing aside each new obstacle (however absurd!) thrown in their path like stones in the road to clear the way for future generations. But the time has now come to lift perhaps the biggest obstacle of all – to give women the decision-making roles they are clearly capable of holding but not at a discounted rate to that of a man in a similar role.
Women today aren’t so much faced with barriers to entry into the professions as advancing to the higher ranks. In 1905, we could talk of the curious fact of London having “several women builders, two or three women architect” – so there’s no doubt we’ve come a long way. For the most part of the last century, women were prevented from entering the professions either by legislation, or by outright discrimination – factories were prevented from employing women builders, for example, unless there were insufficient men available. They weren’t allowed to work night shifts which prevented women engineers from holding supervisory roles and thus potential leadership positions.
History can teach us that they did this on merit alone, pushing aside each new obstacle (however absurd!) thrown in their path like stones in the road to clear the way for future generations
Nowadays, it is women’s advancement to positions of leadership and securing equal pay that have remained stubborn challenges. It is time that women celebrate their past and educate future generations – men and women - of their contribution to each economic sector over the years and demand the structural changes needed in the workplace to accommodate their leadership aspirations. Otherwise we will be forever caught in the invisible trap of “unconscious bias” and unequal pay, none of which are recent problems identified in blocking women from achieving equal success to men.
We all – men and women – must update our thinking and adjust our business structures. Unlike the 1940s, when it was believed that ‘men build houses – but it is women who build homes”, in 2018 it is time that women and men build homes through shared parental responsibility, for example, so that women can build sustainable careers for themselves. It isn’t complicated and it starts with all of us accepting that “women are here to stay” and encouraging them to flourish professionally.
Dana Denis-Smith is the CEO of Obelisk Support and the Founder of First 100 Years, a charity campaign seeking stories of pioneering women in industry