Research: Women's clerical work was segregated

When an equal pay claim was raised on 18 April with DHBs across the country for Administration and Clerical Workers it was supported by a research paper commissioned by the PSA.

DHB Admin signature4.Historian Sarah Christie's work on the feminisation and segregation of the clerical workforce helps define the parameters of an area of research that is much-needed to better inform an essential struggle.

In a research paper for the PSA Christie notes that clerical work has been ignored by the historians of hospitals.

Her research covers up to the period before equal pay legislation, demonstrating just how far back the restriction of women to lower status, lower paid roles goes.

From the early days of increased participation in the workforce women were being limited to certain sectors and occupations; a segregation reinforced by educational options, workplace attitudes and government policies. The two World wars of the 20th century opened doors for a female influx into the workforce but were treated as emergency situations.

Christie writes that new positions at the time of Workd War 1 were created on a blanket basis as 'temporary' and always surrounded by the premise that a women's future prospects would be put behind them, or even barred, by marriage and motherhood.

By the 1940s it was also apparent that a gendered division of work was being perpetuated by downsizing or re-categorising jobs filled by women to assign them less responsibility.
For the following decades Christie identifies the biggest shift within clerical work as the increasing participation of married women.

This research describes the story of administration and clerical work for women as one of "both expansion and limitation".


Christie concludes: "Despite significant changes in the relationship between women and the workforce... the legacies of segmentation and historical attitudes to women and work can still be seen in continued pay inequities and undervaluing of clerical work."

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