Women, Work and History

March 14, 2023

For years women have faced many adversities and inequalities in the world, in education, healthcare and particularly the workplace and although we continue striving for equality it is only fair we recognise the achievements throughout history and the women who have paved the way for women in the workplace today. 

But why Women's History Month?

Women’s World history month started as a local celebration and expanded internationally to what we know today. Women have risked their lives, family and reputation for justice and equality for the next generations and some did not live to tell the tale. 

We use this month to acknowledge and celebrate the countless women who have contributed to the freedoms and opportunities some women have access to today. It goes without saying that we have gained giant strides in the development of women in the workplace. The Equal Pay Act 1968 breakthrough was with the contribution of 187 female workers who walked out of a car factory in Dagenham after releasing they earned 15% less than their male colleagues. 

And women continued fighting.

It was only until 1978 that women could legally be fired for being pregnant until the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 and it was only until the Employment Right Act of 1998 that women would not be guaranteed maternity leave.

All these laws were passed with the help of other women.

Women in the Workplace

Women have always worked, however, this work was either low-paid or unpaid and predominantly household based. Women were seen working in WW1 and 2 and as time moved on women began to dominate the health and social care industry, as today we see 88.6% of nurses being women, along with 75% of teachers and 87% of social workers

Women working in a factory during WW1

Women make up the majority in these industries and are smashing it too! 

Despite this, women are still trying to break the glass ceiling into leadership in the very same industries they thrive in, as there is a disproportionate amount of women in leadership. A report that collated states from different NHS trusts found that 25% of medical directors were women (2017). 

Kathy Mclean is one of several women that made that breakthrough as she stands as an Executive Medical Director for NHS Improvement. She started as an NHS junior doctor in 1983 and worked her way through the NHS after receiving support from fellow women and developing a passion for helping others and she gained recognition for her work. 

Mclean is not alone and many women have come before and after her, making a real impact on women in the workplace. We could not speak about women's unquestionable impact on the NHS without mentioning the women of colour who have contributed immensely throughout history including the Women of the Windrush generation who saved the NHS and other minorities who now make up 42% of the workforce with 20% of directors being BME. We acknowledge Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, who the NHS has awarded for being the first black nurse in the UK as she became a nurse in 1952, after arriving from Lagos, Nigeria in 1946 and was the first black student to attend the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital.

While some women are making changes in industries they love and have continued to shine in, others are entering unheard bounds in industries that only recently saw a rise in women choosing it as a career.

A woman in construction (top-left), in a research laboratory (top-right) and a boardroom of women (bottom)

Such as construction and STEM industries - including Computer programing, Science and Engineering. Where women make up only 28%, in STEM and 10% in construction.

But this is all changing and more and more women are beginning to study STEM subjects and work within construction. There is still an uneven split but women are chasing their ambition regardless of gender stereotypes.

Women can be seen working in construction as early as 1590, But now we see a rise in women choosing this as a career. including Suzannah Nichole - Chief Executive at Build UK, who has also worked as a site engineer for years.

The technology and science industries have seen a rise in women joining the industry, with the impact of women being undeniable. Women have led some of the world's most groundbreaking research. Most known being Marie Curie (1867-19340) whose discovery of chemical elements led to the impact of radiation treatment on tumours, something that has continued to save lives today.

With Technology being an ongoing development throughout history, we look at Artificial intelligence and data science as a new revolution and the women who continue to add to the world-changing technology. 

Dr Zoë Webster is the Director of AI and data economy for Innovate UK and has focused on using technology to support underrepresented groups to engage in business innovations. Her programs have increased applications from women in the industry of business. 

She speaks on the importance of Women in the industry of technology in an interview with Nesta saying:

“We need more women in technology because they have something to add to the field, not because they’re simply making up the numbers.”

This quote really sums up the meaning of representation for women, as women are making remarkable moves in their respective industries despite the inequalities once faced and continue to deserve recognition as they continue to impact the world around us. 

Here at Earlybird, we are proud to support everyone to follow their passion and further support women to overcome the barriers that they may face. 

Check out our Q&A with Kathryn Jellings - Director of Business Development at social enterprise 3SC. Another woman in the industry who is breaking boundaries and changing the narrative.

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