Evolution of women's labour

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Evolution of women's labour


Complete document in French:

La sensibilisation des sociétés marchandes du secteur tertiaire

vis-à-vis de l'égalité des chances entre les femmes et les hommes


DESOIL, Nathalie

Graduat en comunication

1998 – 1999 1ère session



Enseignement Supérieur Social


General conclusions

The first part of those conclusions will remind three main facts studied in that dissertation: the evolution of women's labour (history and present description), the social evolution (family's evolution), and the awareness of companies about equality of opportunities for women and men. Indeed we can not understand the equality of opportunities concept outside the social and economic context: so the economic evolution, determining about women's employment, has been studied in great detail in that dissertation. The social evolution entailed by the econonomic evolution has also been the subject of a chapter headed " Is the professional life incomptatible with the family life?" I wish to make it clear that the personal interpretation which I will develop from the facts studied in that dissertation involves myself only.

In the second part of those conclusions I will express my point of view about the employment and equality of opportunities policy leaded by the Minister Miet Smet. In the last part I will try to outline the bases of a new thought which could be the subject of an other study and would be centred on the following question: are women and men cut out to live together? How can they live both harmoniously?

Equality of opportunities for men and women as part of a process of evolution

As I have indicated in dans the second chapter headed "Is equality of opportunities part of a process of evolution?" women's employment is part of a process of evolution mainly economic. On basis of the general theory of systems I have been able to demonstrate in that chapter that women's entrance in the employment market resulted from the successive imbalances which struck the economy constantly confronted to lacks of manpower for centuries. Indeed the general theory of systems puts in a prominent position stresses and imbalances necessary to an (open) system in order to advance: there is no survival of the system if there is no evolution, and there is no evolution if there is no imbalance. Moreover a phenomenon of progressive centralization takes place at the same time that the system advance: that principle of progressive centralization represents the principle of progressive individualization. Some parts of the system will progressively acquire a dominating role and will determine the behaviour of the system as a whole: that explains the principle of progressive individualization.

The liberal economy is an open system par excellence seeing that that kind of economy allows economic exchanges. But that is the economic evolution which determined women's evolution: I am tempted to say that if there was no economic development there would no feminism. First we must remind that our economy was based on agriculture before the XVIIIth century (so before the French Revolution and the agricultural and industrial Revolution in Great-Britain). In the XVIIIth century Great-Britain knows a lack of manpower: it supports every technical innovation which can take the place of that manpower. That is the begin of the Agricultural Revolution. That period will also represent a key moment in the history of capitalism. The agricultural development will involve a development of the secundary sector: it is here that the phenomenon of progressive centralization begins. However the lack of manpower persists although the manpower is indispensable to support the industrial development. Therefore the British businessmen and government will go on supporting technical innovations capable of making good the lack of manpower. Those technical innovations will require a mobilization of principals: the Industrial Revolution will start. But the industry (and mainly the textile industry booming from the end of XVIIIth century in England) will stay confronted to that lack of manpower in spite of the technical progresses which will take place. From that moment women and children will make good the lack of manpower in order to support the industrial development. Manufacturers will be incited to employ women and children more because of the lack of manpower than the cheapness of the womanpower. Concurrenthly the Revolution, recommending the nations' freedom but mainly the economic freedom, takes place in France: indeed it was more a question of a middle-class revolution than of a revolution in favour of the masses' social welfare. However liberalism and industrial development will expand in France more belatedly than in England: that is why French women will come in the labour market later than English women (who will be given the vote earlier than French women as if women had to work first before to may vote).

The industrial sector will expand considerably in France only from the XIXth century. That development will require a mobilization of principals, but also a mobilization of manpower. From that moment French women come in the labour market: they will be numerous to work in the textile manufacturies like English women. But the development of the secundary sector will involve the development of service industries: industries will appeal to womanpower again. Indeed the service industries do not require an important physical power. In that way men will support the industrial activity and women will support the development of service industries. Then the typing pools, exclusively made up by women, will be born in the XXth century...

But more women will work, more they will free themselves. Working in the service industries sometimes requires high academic qualifications (for examples: barrister, doctor, ...): so some middle-class women will assert women's access to schools and universities. In spite of some attempts of women's return home women will progress slowly but surely: they will hold on the labour market and will even work more and more. After the second war (period marked by the right to vote given to women, the birth of Social Services and the promulgation of diverses social laws) women, more numerous on the labour market, will assert "an equal pay for an equal work". Having an financial independence thanks to the work they will assert their independence in comparison with man, but also in comparison with their body: they will assert the depenalization of the contraception. Woman does not fall pregnant anymore but she chooses to be it or not. No mastering the fertility implied some riks: nowadays woman does not depend on those risks anymore.

What about today? The division of labour is always topical. In Belgium men are still very numerous in the secondary sector: 37 % of Belgian men are employed in that sector. Those are essentially manual workers: the rate of male manual workers in the secondary sector comes to 74 %. When we take all sectors into account we come to a rate of 47 % of Belgian men as manual workers, although the rate of manual workers comes to 27 % for women's part. Women mainly work in the service industries: 87 % of women which work in Belgium are employed in that sector (what does not mean that the service industries is monopolized by women: indeed 50 % of that sector's workers are men). 77 % of that sector's women are intellectual workers. Briefly 82 % of Belgian secondary sector's workers are men, and 50 % of Belgian service industries' workers are women.

Why are Belgian men in the majority in the secondary sector? At first working in that sector require a physical force (for example: the building sector). Afterwards the working conditions, and espiacially remunerations, have stayed satisfactory. Trade unions have contributed to the support of those relatively satisfactory working conditions: the syndical sphere - essentially male - has mainly defended men's work until now. Why do Belgian women work mainly in the service industries? In that sector the physical force is not required, and remunerations are mainly less high and working conditions less satisfactory (for examples: trade sector, catering sector, education, health services). Why are women's remuneration less high? Is it women's entrance in a trade which involves a degradation of working conditions, or is it the degradation of working conditions which involves women's entrance in a trade? Interrogated about that subject, Adida Vanheerswyngheels, researcher in ULB (Université Libre de Bruxelles) thinks "that is few of both. Actually when a trade is less prestigious the profession includes more women. Indeed less prestigious working conditions are less attractive for men: so the trade appeals to the womenpower. Men want jobs with good working conditions, so we note men's leaving and women's entrance in less prestigious professions. We can draw up this phenomenon to the immigrant's labour" she said. Moreover the service industries' female workers are mainly intellectual workers. Would it be their weak physical force which would urge girls to study more? In France 25 % women at work have obtained a higher diploma after the baccalauréat (= Ceneral Certificate of Education) against 20 % of men .

The horizontal segregation of the labour market is consequently obvious: on the one hand women are in the service industries, and on the other hand men stay in the majority in the industry. But segregation often means discriminations and inequalities... Inside the service industries we note a second segregation: the vertical segregation. Women in the service industries are mainly office worker seeing that one manager on eight only is a woman in Belgium. In the secondary sector we also note intellectual workers (ingeneers, executive, managers)'s minority and manual workers's majority. So why do I talk about vertical segregation and inequalities in the service industries? There are as many men as women, that is not a male sector: so why are there not as many women as men to the top of companies? It is understandable that executives and managers' minority is male in the secondary sector (male sector); but that is less understandable in the service industries (co-educational sector).

Moreover it is more and more difficult to support men's labour in the secondary sector because of the economic crisis (or rather the worldwideness = mondialisation?), all the more as men are not ready like women to accept lower salaries (for women's part we designate low remunerations as extra salaries). Indeed nearly one man on three lost his job from 1974 to 1993 in Belgium: in this way more than 550 000 employments have disappeared in the secondary sector. However nearly 700 000 employments (including 506 000 employments holded by women) was created in the service industries in the same time. Briefly men lose jobs (industriel sector falling off) and women win some (service industries booming).

Consequently we note that women's entrance in the labour market has started with the economic development (and women have stayed on it since the booming of the service industries). In spite of this mass entrance in the labour market woman still comes up against many obstacles: women's salaries less high than men's salaries, they have to take on family charges alone, ... All those obstacles to the women's professional life are based on sexual discriminations: woman are less paid because she holds feminine professions (secretary, teacher, home help, babysitter, ...); she doesn't have the same opportunities to access to executive or managing positions than her male colleague because she must take on nearly all educative and household charges according the society's mentality. Some men have some difficulties to dissociate "work" and "sexuality" as if both were indissociable and form a whole. In this way some men interviewed as part of this dissertation have refered to biological differences between women and men, sexuality and differences of amorous behaviour although any question was not asked to them about it. For example a trade unionist told that "women looks for fondness and are ready to give up everything (and notably their professional life), to give up their freedom in order to get this fondness from a man", although "a man is not ready to give up everything for a woman." Moreover, according to him, women would be more dependent on their body than men (a lot of women are nevertheless on the pill...): thereby they would create their own status (mother's) by their body. On the other hand men would be less dependent on their body and would need to fulfill themselves on the outside. A managing director also interviewed as part of that dissertation reminded that there would always be "differences which we could never delete (...) Biology exists and we have to take it into account." According to me we must absolutely dissociate "work" from "sexuality and "love": associating both would amount to justify inequalities. Indeed must women accept to be less paid than men just because they give birth? Can not they access to management positions just because they have a different sexual and amorous behaviour than men? We must distinguish the immutable differences from changeable differences. Men and women will always have a different sexual and amorous behaviour: so why should we come back to that unceasingly? Some reality is more complex: some women can have masculine behaviours and some men can have feminine behaviour (expressing their sensibility and their emotions for example): but those differences are not always tolerated in our society. Be that as it may we will never can change the biological differences. On the other hand women and men's position in the society, in the labour world constantly evolves: so those differences can be changed without undermining of the other differences - the immutable differences. But as I said men have many difficulties to dissociate "work" and "sexuality", probably because until now they have always based their identity in the professional sphere and much less in the private sphere... For their part women need to juggle with the professional life and the family life every day: so they do not have many difficulties to dissociate both: no women interviewed as part of that dissertation talked about biological differences or sexuality.

Let's talk about the obstacles met by women again. The obstacles are contributory factors in having women moved. More women have met obstacles more they have called themselves in question: the height of feminism in sixties and seventies (let's remember "Le Deuxième sexe" from Simone de Beauvoir) reveals that. In the same time FN's Belgian female workers asserted an equal pay for an equal work. Briefly in 50 years woman has called the position of inferiority in which she was for centuries. When women called themselves in question a phenomenon of individualization started. That phenomenon of individualization has been expressed by a recognition of women's rights (right to vote, right to work, right to master births, ...) but also by a recognition of children's rights (abolition of children's work, right to be educated, ... Nowadays some Belgian politician talk about children's right to be minded outside schooltimetable).

What about the man? For centuries the man had no reasons to call himself in question: indeed he was in a position of superiority for a long time. But recognizing women's rights and children's has come to call that superiority in question. The man has lost his job and has found himself unemployed becauce of the economic crisis, but he has also lost the influence which he had over his wife and his children. That position obviously creates a "ill-being" in man who is not used to call himself in question (mainly about power...). That cultural change which we live is more difficult for man seeing that this change signifies for him a lost of his privileges' part. So how do men react? Arlene Skolnick (American) discerns 3 reactions:

- the man fleeing: this man is unable to face his family responsabilities;

- the man getting bogged down in a tenuous machismo, just because he feels his superiority is calling in question; he is losing power and he is not controlling many things anymore, so he is behaving macho and he is taking refuge in traditional values;

- the man fitting in with this change: he is tolerant of women who are at work and even agrees to share house work and children's upbringing.

Briefly the man who was so powerful in the past is losing his power, and the woman who was so weak is becoming more powerful. Indeed they are today more powerful thanks to their independence of their husband and of their body, but also because women's labour generates economic wealth. As we said the rise of women's employment results from the development of the service industries: so women contributes to support the rise of those industries. Moreover more and more women create their own business. Companies which are created or managed by women are now experiencing a stable rise. In United States 75 % of the companies managed ou created by women stay working in production more than 3 years against 60 % of the companies managed or created by men. In France companies managed by women is experiencing a rise superior to the average of companies; those companies are also experiencing a profitability superior to the average. Briefly women's labour, as much employees' labour as female entrepreneurs' labour, contributes to develop economic wealves. Several economists uphold that idea, like Béatrice Majnoni d'Intignano, professor in Paris, and Etienne Wasmer, an economist at the European Center for advanced research in Economics (Université libre de Bruxelles). In a report meant for the French Prime Minister, Mr Jospin, the Council of economic analysis proves that women's labour stimulates the growth and the employment . That report leans on the B. Majnoni d'Intignano's economic analyses which show that more women work, more the unemployment falls (the countries where unemployment is high are also those where the rate of women at work is weak). Moreover that report reveals that women (excepted the least qualified women) earn on average more than they need to provide for their new needs: baby-sitting, etc. As a wage earner women consume products which they could not afford if they did not work. That new consumption is very turned torwards services and is in favour of the employment. Indeed tasks are not very mechanizable: so when the demand rises the employment also rises. Moreover B. Majnoni d'Intignano shows that women are more inclined to make children's number which they want when they conciliate career and children. The states which have a less weak birthrate are those where the family policy stresses the use of structures of childcare (those structures are besides considered by François de Singly, a French sociologist, like "birthsupports"). Children represent an important factor in a society's development, "because their number et the quality of thei education determine the demographic balance and the social cohesion long-range" reminds B. Majnoni d'Intignano. As for Etienne Wasmer (Université Libre de Bruxelles) he also reaffirms that "women's integration in the labour market create wealth and induce other employments" , sending them back at home would be an "economic aberration" and it would come to forget "l'irreversibility of social evolution."

But how do men have to react facing that evolution? Do they have to be in the war with women to win back their power? We do not have to answer that question. The essential question is, as said A. Skolnick: how will men (and institutions) fit in with that change, that mutation? As the general theory of systems indicates the man can be considered like a system in himself. A system must make progress in order to survive. In order to make progress the system must experience some imbalances. The man is now experiencing an imbalance: there is an imbalance between what the man is for centuries (and what he is still today) and what the woman has become. So now it is for him to restore the balance. How would he do it? In sending women back at home? Is such a solution thinkable? As we have seen it is not thinkable for several economists. Moreover that would not induce the man to change (so to take progress) because that would support his dominating, but old-fashioned because century-old position. According to me the man is induced to define himself again, to redefine his identity and to fit the one with social changes. As opinion polls show women would like their husband to share more housework and children's upbringing. But would the man less "male" because he does the dishes and takes care of the baby? Picture to yourself male washer-up in restaurants, all those men working in the catering, cooking, doing the dishes and cleaning on the ground: are those men less "male" because they exercise those activities? Picture to yourself the men who take care of their body and their clothes, and put on perfume? In Japan for example "young men think that they have to take care of their appearance, put nice clothes and attract attention": that is what we could read in a Japanese monthly magazine, exclusively established for the male fashion . "That does not signify that they feminize themselves. They just prefer to go to a beauty salon than to a barber." So does that signify that the men who are anxious about their beauty and do the dishes are less "male"? Not the least in the world, because they "appropiate" some so-called feminine activities (doing the dishes, going to a beauty salon) in bringing a masculin stroke to it: men do not the dishes in the same way than women, and they do not use the same cosmetics. In this way looking after children does not mean becoming a maternal assistant. Besides biological differences do not determine who has to wash the dishes, who may look attractive, who has to look after children. Women and men can exercise those activities in bringing their own differences to it. According to me this is the idea which men should think about: that is a track which could lead them to a "new" identity. But feminists, or even women, do not have to dictate to men what they have to become: feminists did not ask men what they had to become when they wanted to change. They changed themselves: so now it is up to men to be responsible in their turn. Some men already do it uninhibited: men from the "Stuts" club for example, who have given all up for their wife's professional career, or profeminists men, who are calling the masculin identity (builded on domination and violence) in question.

But what is the companies' reactions facing those changes? Does it change itself in order to fit in with that new environment? The company can also be considered like a open system which is unceasingly induced to fit in with in order to stay competitive on the market. It would be surprising if it is going on staying impermeable to those cultural changes. At first I discern three essential reasons which should urge the companies on integrate equal opportunities for women and men into their human resources management (what lets them to fit in with those changes):

- at first the labour segregation, as much horizontal as vertical, prevents the mobility of the manpower. But that mobility will be essential in the years to come: the Belgian population is ageing and the companies may be confronted again with a shortage of manpower (and white, +/- 30 year-old and middle-class);

- then the company will have to cope with a more and more important and qualified womanpower's suply: the companies will not even induced to fit jobs to a manpower anymore, they will also induced to fit it to a increasing and more qualified womanpower's aspirations. In this way seeing that the rate of the development of women's employment in United States the womanpower will be equivalent to the manpower from the next century;

- lastly markets are feminizing themselves as much as manpower: the company's staff needs to be the clientele's reflection. In order to fit the business communication to a more and more various market the staff also needs to be various.

Two concepts enable to integrate the equal opportunity for women and men into the human resources management: the mainstreaming which takes shape of positive actions, and the ideology of the diversity which takes shape of programmes of diversity management. Positive actions contribute to "unpartition off" activities sectors (to delete the horizontal and vertical segregation), while the diversity management enables to make up a staff as various as the market. In all cases both concepts (mainstreaming and diversity management) are tools for a better staff motivation.

It becomes very important to make Belgian companies sensitive to the equal opportunity for women and men because:

- on the one hand the companies are unaware of positive actions and programmes of diversity management according to what I have learnt from that study;

- on the other hand women's evolution is irreversible: that evolution has taken place for a long time and it has induced deep changes.

The equal opportunity policy's Miet Smet, the Belgian Employment and Labour Secretary

Miet Smet was the Employment, Labour and Equal Opportunity Secretary from ... until June 1999. In 1989 and on social partner's request she set up a cell in charg of leading positive actions in order to delete inequalities between men and women in companies. For some people setting up such a cell is a "hypocrisy": that is the word which Adida Vanheerswynghels, researcher at ULB (Universtié Libre de Bruxelles) used to term positive actions when she was interviewing as part of that study. Why? At first because the means released for leading such actions were "ridiculous" in comparison with what had to be done, as Annie Cornet, lecturer at the University of Liège, said. But mainly because Miet Smet developped measures completely discriminatory and moving away women from the equality. Indeed in 1998 Miet Smet took new action to urge workers on suspending their career. But that measure has mainly concerned women: 85 % of workers suspending their career are women in Belgium. Such as it is defined in the law the measure does not urge men on suspending their career as much as women. When one member of the family needs to suspend the professional career in order to cope with children that is often the wife (because it comes back to the mother to cope more with children, but mainly because she is payed less than her husband). But employeers are very anxious about the staff absenteeism. For that reason according to Danièle Meulders (Université Libre de Bruxelles) they always prefer to employ men. So suspending the professional career is not in favour of women but does not suit companies anymore.

Then Miet Smet's policy induced the restructuration and the refinancing of Equipments and Collective Services Funds (FESC: Fonds des Equipements et des Services Collectifs), an funds which finances and organizes day nurseries in Belgium. Many Belgian women thought that services of childcare (during and after the period) would considerably have been improved with women's mass entrance in the labour market. But "on ten years nothing has changed" said a Human Resources Manager from an important company of supermarkets, although the rate of women's activity has unceasingly increased. Briefly Miet Smet developped incitements to suspend the career but certainly not the network of day nurseries, although that sector is generating of many jobs according some Belgian and French studies. Of course the measure for suspending the career has enabled:

- on the one hand to curb unemployment seeing that a unemployed person must take the place of the employee who is suspending her career;

- on the other hand to save money on the financing of the FESC: if women come back at home we must developp less childcare services.

Nevertheless does suspending the professional career resolve the problem of unskilled women's unemployment? A study from the Belgian National Council for Employment revealed that the overqualification was spread in service industries: many jobs suitable to unskilled persons are holded by overskilled people. Thereby I doubt very much that suspending the professional career curbs unskilled people's unemployment, all the more as such unemployed people fit into the work sphere with much difficulty and make in addition the most unemployed. Would the development of childcare services howether enable to create jobs for those unskilled people? According to me developping employment in childcare sector would create jobs for unskilled women, but it would also support wealves produced by women working in the service industries or as head of business. But what did Miet Smet do instead that? She curbed long-time unemployed women's problem in abolishing unemployment benefit for long-time unemployed women who were cohabiting with a man. So under Miet Smet's government cohabiting with a man became an offence and signified the interruption of the payment of unemployment benefit.

Are men and women made for living together?

Humanity always runs on a binary way. During ancient Greek civilization Platon discerned the body and the mind; Pascal, the calculating machine's inventor, brought the infinitely small and the infinitely big to the fore in a "Thinking" of him. A very long time after computers running with binary numbers were born. We meet that binary reality every day: don't we talk about positive current and negative current in electricity? So that binary reality has always been a part of our life.

Man has always been aware of it but has always denied that reality, the difference which there could be between two elements. So he wondered which element had to dominate the other. So Platon asserted the supremacy of the "thinkings' world" on the tangible world (although Aristote believed that both were complementary seeing that "Nothing in our intelligence which is not got by our senses"). Later some economists will assert the supremacy of liberalism although will become the planned economy's upholders. For a long time white man tried to prove his supremacy on other men. In all fields (economy, ethnology, politics, sexuality, ...) there is a rejection of the difference and the pursuit of an inaccessible ideal because unitary and non-binary: a single, whole and non-double model must prevail. In denying the difference man tries to convert the binary model into a single, polished and without "bumps" model. In order to hit that target man will use this way: a group's enslavement on an other one. In politics we call that a dictatorship. Man will use violence in order to institute that dictatorship. Violence removes a dictatorship in order to institute an other one. Let's take the example of the French Revolution: the aristocracy's supremacy was followed by the middle class' supremacy in a nauseating slaughter. Communist revolutions have not been conducted without violence either. Communism was maintained in Russia until 1989: the fall of Berlin wall involved its collapse. Today Russia is ruined: after having undergone the communist dictatorship it now undergoes the market dictatorship. What are those dictatorship positive of? Where do it lead to? This is getting us nowhere... The characteristic of a dictatorship consists in deleting (social, political, ...) tensions: as a single model prevails two different models (or systems) can not emerge and confront with each other, so necessary tensions can not appear in order that the system can evolue. Briefly a dictatorship, whatever it may be, is a closed system where exchanges, tensions, unbalances necessary for the survivance of the system. Besides a dictatorship survives so well that it is always overthrown by an other one in the end... What about between men and women? Until now a masculin model has always prevailed although women have successively asserted their rights. Women did not need to overthrow the masculin model in order to may vote, work, be on the pill, ... Which feminists did torture, slaughter, disembowel to get their rights? British suffragettes broke shop windows, treaded flowers under foot, spitted on some policemen's face; but they have never killed anyone. Female workers from the FN in Herstal (Belgium) triumphed over the strike of 1966 thanks to their tenacity, not thanks to punches. Feminist revolution of sixties-seventies took even place during a pacifist period (great opposition to Vietnam war in USA, hippy movement)... "Women nevertheless took part in the French Revolution and in justifiable slaughters during that period torwards the nobility." Certainly: Frenchwomen made the Revolution of 1789 but they were not the leaders of it (so that Olympe de Gouges, a woman asserting women's rights, was guillotined in the same time than Louis XVI). That feminine strategy is effective: women keep their rights seeing that those are part of a long but durable changing process.

Unfortunately a lot of men do not understand that strategy. They often imagine that women are like them (always the rejection of the difference...): when they are feminist women inevitably try to crush men and to impose the matriarcat on them. Every movement includes extremist persons (the feminism too) and some people maintain that the matriarcat is a reality. However it is difficult to talk about a matriarcat when heads of State and heads of business are mainly men all over the world...

So I think that an interesting thinking can be developped as much in the sphere of that binary reality as in the sphere of that feminin changing strategy. The point is not knowing who has to dominate the other but how to live harmoniously together and how to manage our differences. Needless to discourse longer on Love, single love (a fairytale for young girls in order to distract their attention from politics and economy), a ideal also inaccessible. Jean-Claude Kaufma, a French sociologist, said about love: "(...) in sexual relationship, in the subjective and loving exchange, everybody intuitively try to progress in the way of improbable equation: 1 + 1 = 1. Then that strange trip's passengers discerns the signs showing to them that they are always distinct. More (loving) starting impulse weakens (...) more the impulse slows down: 1 + 1 = 2." In a systemic approach 1 + 1 = 3... That confirms that the fusion of both is impossible: so women and men need to live with their differences. Tolerance is maybe a pledge of harmony, but certainly of peace.


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