Women in Business Network

History

Learn more about the way women have evolved in the business world and read a brief summary of women’s roll in history

By the turn of the 19th century, women altered the cultural landscape by creating the idea of a new woman. Changing ideas of women included the central role of woman as partner to the economic well-being of the family and society as a whole. By 1900, more than 20 percent of women worked for a wage. The range and variety of employment in the 1900 census indicates that women held jobs in law, journalism, dentistry, medicine, engineering, mining, and other typical occupations. The increasing industrialization of the United States resulted in a surge in factory work. More than one million women worked in factories in 1900. Factories were unsafe and dirty, and as a result, the businesswoman's first association with labor unions appeared.  Many labor unions appeared that either solely represented or incorporated the female employee during the early 1900s.  Even as women worked in industry to fuel its growth, the outcome created new business opportunities for women in clerical jobs. Between 1900 and 1920, the number of women clerical workers grew from 187,000 to 1,421,000. Women entered professional and managerial jobs during this time as well. During World War I, women assumed many of the jobs of men during their absence, but after the war women were expected to return to the home. Still considered a secondary labor force, women were encouraged to engage in volunteer and charity work. During World War II, women again entered the workforce in great numbers. In response to a need for new workers and new production, six million women went to work during the war. Society's approval of this phenomenon was reflected in posters of Rosie the Riveter and other cultural signals.  Again, however, at the end of the war, women were encouraged to leave the workplace. While half the women in the workplace left between 1945 and 1946, by 1947 the employment rate of women had regained its wartime levels, and, by 1950, almost one third of all women worked outside the home. From the end of World War II to present, women continued to gain a significant presence in the work world. In the 1960s, the women's movement articulated a number of issues that concerned women employees, including low pay, low status, and sexual discrimination. Gaining steam, women networked and organized and successfully lobbied for governmental protections such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Through a series of redress such as court decisions, laws, and affirmative action, women found new rights and opportunities in the workplace. Spurred by consumerism and the need to make more money to buy more things, married women composed almost two-thirds of the female labor force in the mid1970s.

Read about the most notable women in business in “Notable Women” 

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