Jobs And Careers - Gender At Work

INTRODUCTION 

In examining the status of women in Jamaica their numerical representation underscores the strides they have made in some spheres and their important role in development.  Women represent 51% of the population, 42% of the heads of household, approximately 72% of university graduates, 46% of the total labour force, 56% of the professional labour force, 88% of the minimum wage domestic workers, 60% of all formal commercial importers and 80% of teachers

Women also represent 85% of the unpaid labour in the home, 65.3% of the unemployed and suffer twice the unemployment rates of men, despite their academic achievements and numerical presence in the labour force, women are still impeded by the glass ceiling, that invisible artificial barriers creates by attitudinal and organizational prejudices which bar them from top positions.

On an international level, the International Labour Organization (ILO) reports in its study “Women In Management – Breaking Through The Glass Ceiling” that women’s share of high level management positions rarely exceeds 20% and in the case of Jamaica and the Caribbean less than 10%. The ILO also reports that at lower management levels, women are usually placed in non-strategic sectors and in personnel and administrative positions, rather than in professional and line management jobs which lead to the top. They also observe that this situation is compounded by the fact that women are being cut off from networks both formal and informal, which are necessary for advancement within enterprises.

Studies carried out by the University of The West Indies’ Centre for Gender and Development Studies and the Jamaica Employers Federation (JEF) concur with these findings and show that women are in those areas of management support jobs which offer the lowest compensation.

WOMEN AND THE NEW WORK ORDER

Women have been involved in work and productivity since the earliest history of mankind.  While man was busy hunting, woman was busy gathering other sources of food and medicinal plants.  While he was busy risking his life against wild beasts to feed the species, she was busy risking her life in childbirth to perpetuate the species.  Somewhere in the selection of the male/female gender roles however 'woman's work' lost prestige and her productive role was obscured by her reproductive role in the eyes of men, thus creating inequality among the sexes and the cause of much debate and struggle amongst almost every race and culture in the world.

Some anthropologists have explained male dominance as a result of physical superiority and others have searched hard to find one real example of female dominance, but alas not even the Amazon or Spartan women can claim this.

The word is out however that modern women are finally coming into their own;  that thanks to modern thinking, technology, equal opportunity, educational advancement and male enlightenment, women are about to earn what they deserve, take centre stage, even dominate the corporate and financial arenas and become real power brokers.  The question is when, where and how and what are we going to do with our power and influence when we have it?  Perhaps we need to reflect on our past and present before we can make predictions for the future and answer these questions.

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WAR AND WORK

Western women gained their first foothold in the male-made, male dominated working environment of the factory in the early nineteen hundreds with the outbreak of World War 1, when they were required to replace men who had gone off to fight.  Women proved to themselves and men that they could do a good job and with their new found status of independence went on to claim the right to vote.  One freedom and success led to another, and when World War II broke out, women were once again called to replace men in the work force and in so doing further strengthened their work status and productive role.

In her famous study of women, 'The Second Sex' author Simone de Beauvoir comments on the course of events in the nineteen hundred which changed the lives of women:

"Women regained an economic importance that had been lost since prehistoric times, because she escaped from the hearth and assumed in the factory a new part in production.  It was the machine that made possible this upheaval, for the difference in physical strength between male and female workers was to a large extent annulled.  As the swift growth of industry demanded a larger working force than the males alone could furnish, the collaboration of women became necessary.  That the grand revolution of the nineteenth century, which transformed the lot of women and opened for her a new era."

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A NEW ERA

The new era created the career woman, so woman could be worker, wife, mother all in one or whatever she chose to be.  It focused and confirmed woman's capacity to carry out different roles, but she is still battling myths about the weaker sex and the stereotype of the female ideal.

Today, one of the biggest challenges still facing women is the struggle for an identity and position of her own making in which she can shape rather than be shaped by circumstances.  Woman has been reacting to and in many instances mimicking a man-made ideal and she is sometimes guilty of mouthing the same male vocabulary of dominance and power place, while clinging vulnerably to her need to nurture and be nurtured.

In the nineteen sixties some feminists called for a reversal of male dominance to female dominance, but this was never the real issue because what women have been looking for is a better system than the dominant/subservient - superior vs. inferior one.  Women have been seeking a closer alliance and parity with men, mutual respect and understanding and better socio-economic conditions in which they will have a voice and make meaningful contributions.

These are the aspirations of women world wide in the developed and developing nations and there is now a greater consciousness than ever among women of the necessity to be at a decision making level in business, education, politics and social reform.

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CHANGING ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CARIBBEAN

In the collection of essays 'Women of the Caribbean' Editor Pat Ellis says:

"Caribbean women, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, are struggling for real freedom and equality.  In their efforts to achieve this, they are subjected to a great deal of tension and frustration.  At the same time, the participation of women at all levels of Caribbean society, their initiative and success, is beginning to be publicly recognized by legislation and programmes aimed at alleviating their special problems."

In the same collection of essays writer Jeanette Bell in her chapter on Women and Entrepreneurship commenting on strategies for change says:

"Since International Women's Year in 1975, followed by the UN Decade for Women 1976-85, there has been a far greater awareness of the contribution that these women have and continue to make in our societies.  Demands are now being made for more opportunities for women and for more women to take up the opportunities available for education and training.  Greater access to credit and necessary support services are now being seen as critical for women entrepreneurs operating in the informal sector.  Many initiatives have been taken at individual level as well as collectively.  Community/collective enterprises have started in traditional as well as non-traditional areas.  But if these initiatives are to succeed a long term commitment is needed at all levels and across all relevant sectors."

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IN JAMAICA

In Jamaica women are making steady progress in important spheres of productivity and development.  Over 45% of our labour force is female.  Women play key roles in education and health care and are steadily moving into the ranks of middle and senior management within our most successful industries.  Although there are no significant number of women on the Board of Directors of companies or no significant number of women leading companies listed on the stock exchange, women are becoming more involved in business leadership and entrepreneurial development, and from the formal to the informal sector are making a considerable impact on the economy.  This has led financial and political institutions to acknowledge women's position of importance in Jamaican society today through special investment plans for women, seminars and specific policies relevant to the development of women.

Women have thus gained influence and an important say in decisions relevant to the socio-economic and political development of our country.  We need to go beyond just a say however and develop more female legislators, politicians, business leaders and financiers who will play a direct role in shaping the future.

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