The first clerical workers were men. Early clerical work was seen as a craft, developed to help business owners keep current records of their enterprises and to maintain relations with the outside world. Apprentices or journeymen craftsmen learned their crafts from master bookkeepers or chief clerks then advanced in the business by promotion. Since clerks often rose into management positions, owners tended to fill these entry-level slots with male family members.
As the office developed in complexity and size, clerical work was mechanized. The skills required to operate a typewriter or take stenography differed increasingly from those required of managers. Women were brought into offices to fill these new "clerical" positions, with firms taking advantage of the supply of middle-class, high school or college-educated women who would work for lower wages than men of comparable education. As women were drawn into clerical work, the jobs' contents changed. The previously masculine job of clerk, the first step on the ladder to a management position, was transformed into a permanently subordinate, and hence feminine, job.
As we approach the twenty-first century, many women have advanced from secretarial jobs to management positions by talent, hard work, and determination. It is fair to say, however, that most clerical positions remain "permanently subordinated." But this is not to say that nothing has changed.
A major difference in today's work world from that of our grandparents and great-grandparents is that women are not limited to a choice between clerical and factory work if they are without education or skills, and between teaching and nursing if they have advanced education. Both men and women work in virtually all the professions.
But again, these changes do not mean that being a man or a woman has no bearing on the kind of work a person will do. When we recall that the overwhelming majority of all professional positions were held by men at the beginning of the twentieth century, women's current career success represents their clear and steady progression into men's jobs. We do not see a similar rush by men to women's jobs, however. "Men's jobs" remain the favored choice.
No one could say with certainty which jobs will be held by men, which by women, fifty years from now. We probably are unable to imagine what the jobs will be, given the rapid pace of technological change in modern life, let alone who will hold them. But certain factors need to be considered when thinking about work in the future.
Technological advances bring changes to the occupational opportunities available to men and women. For example, many professionals now work without secretarial support, using their own computers with word processing capabilities to write correspondence and reports, using the computer to file information that formerly would have had to be stored in a filing cabinet. Telephone answering machines and services already replace receptionists and personal secretaries for many people. These factors would tend to change or affect the traditional hierarchies of offices.
Subordinate work or support work will always be attractive to some segment of the population, if only at certain times in their working lives. Some women will continue to choose family over career, at least for a number of years. Many people work more than one job, or work while preparing for another career, and are attracted to support positions. And as the population ages, former careerists may choose to supplement pensions or augment volunteer work with part-time or temporary jobs. These millions of workers would tend to support the continuance of "noncareer" jobs in the corporate or office structure.
Finally, not everyone can be the boss or a professional, nor do they want to be. If everyone could be in charge, managers would have nobody to manage.
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