International Women’s Day: a history of working women

International Women’s Day is right around the corner, so we’re getting stuck in with uplifting our fellow women. Spaces locations around the globe are hosting their own events, and our Dutch locations are prepping for the big day by hosting a coffee table (you can find out what’s happening near you here). We’re also due to launch our picture perfect partnership with Profile[me] on March 6th. Profile[me] provides portrait photography for women in business; you can also read the interview with its founder, Babou Olengha-Aaby, here.

Working women: a (brief) history

Working women have come a long way since we broke down barriers and started entering the workforce in droves. An inability to access education excluded women from the majority of professions. Work women did prior to this was poorly paid, and carried a tag of low status.

Both world wars were instrumental in allowing women to begin entering factories. With demanding pressure for heavy artillery and munitions, the government turned its attention to middle class women, who did not work. They were encouraged to step and get stuck in by posters of Rosie the Riveter with one arm flexed, saying “We can do it!” But Rosie the Riveter was no feminist icon, merely a propaganda tool to encourage women to participate in the war effort, rather than encouraging emancipation.

The women who worked at the factories were expected to jog on once the men returned, which is exactly what happened. Two million women lost their jobs in post-war America. Those who had worked and wanted to continue doing so found themselves gravitating, or perhaps shoved, towards more “feminine” roles, namely office related positions such as secretaries and clerks, which were condescendingly referred to as “pink collar” jobs.

Workin’ 9 to 5

It was the Quiet Revolution throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s also kicked things into gear, named so because it didn’t come with a bang or a shout, merely the tides were turning and still are today. More and more women were entering college and – shock horror – began to start expecting more out of their lives, including careers. The introduction of the pill and the electrification of household appliances have been credited in aiding this. With the ability to delay pregnancy, as well as housework going from a fair amount of work to something that could be knocked out in a couple of hours, women found themselves with more time on their hands.

In 1968, the UK saw a group of women campaign for equal pay at the factory where they worked as sewing machinists. The protesting eventually resulted in the Equal Pay Act in 1970, which, for the very first time, aimed to prohibit unequal treatment of men and women in the workforce.


Nowadays, women’s liberation groups still focus on achieving equal pay in the workforce. To date, only six countries give men and women legal work rights – this includes pay. Sexual harassment at work also continues to be a huge problem, and plenty of women find themselves unable to climb the proverbial work ladder. Out of the Fortune 500 CEOs, only 24 are women. In the past 100 years, women have made leaps and bounds, but it is very clear that there is still work to be done.

So, for this International Women’s Day, do not forget our powerful foremothers and the achievements they made, as we continue to break through barriers and push past walls. Remember the older generations, and uplift the younger ones.

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