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The Role Of Women In Business From The Past Century To Today Report


The report commences with an examination of women’s professional opportunities in the early twentieth century. At the time, most women could only access low-paying jobs in poorly-maintained industries. During the First and Second World War, women took up unconventional jobs in order to replace the male workers that had joined the military.

However, these women’s husbands displaced them when they came back from war. In subsequent years, this group fought for its rights through the women’s movement and other organisations. By the end of the twentieth century, several females started owning their own enterprises. Today, a number of company CEOs are female, and they do a good job.

Nonetheless, barriers that prevent women from reaching for leadership positions at work are causing most of them to become frustrated. It was recommended that the government should make legislations to even out the playing field. Women should undergo confidence building and be entitled to flexible hours of work. This would narrow the gap between men and women in the business world.


Women’s role in business has improved dramatically since the early twentieth century. Society’s attitude towards this group affected its level of achievement in the business arena. The paper will examine some historical developments in the female movement and how these relate to the role of women in business.


This study will assist in bringing out the challenges that women in business face as seen through a historical lens. By starting with the twentieth century, the study will illustrate some of the historical injustices faced by women and how societies can deal with that inequality.

Women in the early twentieth century and the First World War

Females in the early twentieth century had minimal access to job opportunities. However, a few sectors provided women with work, such as art and literature. Female writers like Dorothy Richardson highlighted the challenges that women faced in their society.

This era also recorded an increase in female artists who used their craft to portray powerful images of working women. Although society frowned upon the participation of women in work, a small proportion of them (20%) had jobs. Most women in the 1900s were factory employees who worked under squalor conditions for minimal pay.

The 1920s were the roaring twenties; this was a progressive era in which women defied the submissive stereotype of the late nineteenth century. They were daring in their social and professional lives. Some of them took up jobs in the public sector. Female clerical workers were widespread at the time; others participated in the field of journalism, law and mining. However, these opportunities were largely available to middle class Caucasian women; ethnic minorities and older women struggled to secure employment.

The number of women who participated in the labour force rose by 50% in this decade. Nonetheless, some sections of society felt threatened by this new breed of independent and hardworking women. Therefore, stakeholders in the film industry quelled men’s insecurities by portraying images of married women. Nonetheless, those images did not depict the true goings-on in society.

As professional roles began changing, women embraced opportunities in healthcare, education and other professions designed to cater to the needs of manufacturers. When the First World War started many men left for military service. This created a vacuum in the workplace that only women could fill. Many of them rose to the occasion; however, when the war ended, they had to step aside for their male counterparts. Those who stayed behind could only do low-paying jobs as men took all the lucrative opportunities (Hameed, 2008).

Women in the Second World War

When the United States entered the Second World War, it required a lot of military supplies. Suppliers converted automobile factories into aircraft facilities. This demand for military supplies created a labour shortage that only women could reverse. The government wanted women to do this only temporarily, so they made a call to work.

Since few women responded to it, the government decided to launch a propaganda campaign in which it created a fictional character called Rosie the Riveter. The US government looked for a series of individuals who could fit the profile of a patriotic, attractive and efficient female. Advertisers displayed images of such women in various media channels, and the public responded positively to the portrayals (Ross, 1993).

In the beginning, most women took factory jobs, but there was still a need for more qualified workers. Employers began hiring women who had just completed high school; these efforts were still not sufficient to fill the labour gap. Companies needed to tap into a demographic group that they had forbade from working; married women.

They initially started with mothers who had older children. Most females took low-paying jobs in order to free up men for higher-paying jobs. Furthermore, few of them had access to powerful positions in their places of work. Women enjoyed the economic incentives associated with work and also appreciated the fulfilment they found in these new roles as employees.

However, they had to fight negative attitudes from men. It should be noted that although a large proportion of women entered the labour force, stakeholders still felt that their greatest strength was at home. Many perceived career women as unattractive prospects for marriage. Therefore, when the war ended, women got into low-paying jobs or went back home. Nonetheless, this era paved the way for participation of women in unconventional professions. Future generations of women would follow their path.

The Women’s Movement

In the 1960s, female writers articulated the challenges of women in society. They asserted that domestic roles defined women, and this disempowered them. The writers urged their colleagues to find new roles and define their own identities through professional opportunities.

It was such sentiments that led to the birth of the women’s movement. Many participants drew inspiration from the civil rights movement of the 1970s. It should be noted that the birth control pill contributed to the prevalence of this movement, as well. The decade 1960 was an era of rebelliousness. Many middle class youth joined the women’s movement because of these sentiments.

During this decade, civil rights bills prompted female supporters to call for their own protective laws. In 1964, women secured their first antidiscrimination bill. A number of women formed the National Organisation for Women which fought for women’s rights and prompted other members to participate in the same. It was these developments that eventually spread to other parts of the western world such as the UK and Australia.

Women in business today

Women have made enormous strides in the business world today. Some are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies while others own medium and small enterprises. Their participation in the workforce is indicative of the degree of advancement that women have undergone over the past century. Better educational opportunities, strong antidiscrimination legislation and positive attitudes towards the female gender have contributed to these advancements.

Women are now leading powerful institutions such as PepsiCo. The CEO of this institution is Indra Nooyi; she is the most powerful woman in the fortune 500 list. This leader started as a company manager and climbed the company ranks to become CEO. Indra became a chief financial officer seven years after she joined the institution and a CEO five years later (Kalyan, 2009).

Other women have started their businesses from scratch and grown them into international empires. A case in point was Archer Daniels Midland. The President of this organisation is Pat Woertz, and she is the fourth most powerful woman in the fortune 500 list. Andrea Jung, Brenda Barnes, Irene Rosenfeld, Meg Withman, and Anne Mulcahy lead or own Avon, Sara Lee, Kraft Foods, eBay, and Xerox respectively.

These women have worked hard to get to these positions, yet their achievements would have been unrealistic in the 1950s. The CEO of Yahoo Inc is also female, and is known as Marrissa Mayer. The born leader took up responsibility for running an ailing internet firm at the beginning of this year (2012). It is too early to judge whether her leadership has been extraordinary, but one can already see how committed she is to the firm.

She only took a two-week long maternity leave and resumed her duties immediately after the break. Another example of a strong female executive is Reg Leaver who is a leader at Australia.wana. She first purchased a newsagency in 1995 and then went on to form various news groups. Leaver has the title of 2010 Nextra Australia’s winner.

The above-mentioned women are not the only ones who have made a mark in the business world. Statistics indicate that women around the world own 10.4 million organisations. In some countries, women started approximately 40% of all companies. Furthermore, studies show that the number of businesses owned by this demographic group is increasing at an impressive rate.

Over the past decade, female-owned businesses have grown by 42.3%. Additionally, sales generated from these organisations have increased by 4.4%. Female entrepreneurs have entered various sectors such as retail, real estate and manufacturing. Although most of these participants belong to the service sector (68%), a substantial proportion of these business owners are trying real estate (7.7%) and retail (14.4%) (Kalyan, 2009).

Representation of female participants in business.

Representation of female participants in business

Clearly, women have done well for themselves. It is necessary to understand why these figures have been improving with time. One obvious explanation is the level of educational attainment among members of the group. Studies indicate that the number of women with master’s degrees has increased by 40.7% over the past 32 years.

Additionally, the world now has 44.1% more first degree holders in this demographic group. Even the number of female doctoral degree holders has increased by 43% since 1980. These advancements in education have increased women’s chances of becoming business leaders.

Another reason behind such impressive growth rates in entrepreneurship is the diversification of business portfolios. 38% of all female employees belong to sales and office occupations. 36% of these women handle managerial and other professional positions. 18% of them engage in service occupations while 8% of female employees handle the production, transportation and movement of goods.

Participation in various sectors of the economy opens up opportunities for advancements and this increases one’s chances of owning one’s organisation.

Shown is a graphical representation of the diversification of business among women

Shown is a graphical representation of the diversification of business among women

Challenges faced by female workers

Although the above advancements exist in the labour force, a disproportionate number of men dominate leadership positions in business. Experts assert that an invisible barrier, known as the glass ceiling, prevents women from becoming company leaders. It is imperative to understand some of the challenges that women in business face when reaching for these leadership positions (Mason, 2012).

A firm’s management style may impede women’s advancement in the business world. Men and women have divergent management styles; company stakeholders may misinterpret female managerial styles and accord men more latitude. People often condemn females who adopt a masculine style.

Additionally, recruitment behaviours tend to mirror prevailing demographic patterns in a company. If a firm is male-dominated, then it is more likely to hire people who represent this image. As a result, females lack opportunities to participate in such companies. Discrimination still exists in certain companies that overlook qualified women for men. Some occupations segregate women naturally.

Firms in these industries are male-dominated and will rarely offer women opportunities for advancement. Typical examples include engineering, shipping or construction. In order to climb the corporate ladder, one needs access to informal and formal networks. Female employees lack access to these networks and thus have limited advancement opportunities. Some employers perceive women as problematic because they have to attend to their families’ needs.

Because of this, employers may overlook mothers when promotion opportunities arise. All the above challenges have caused many women to consider entrepreneurship as the ultimate solution to the glass ceiling. Many women are leaving the workforce to start their own organisations. This shields them from the unfairness of the corporate arena (Miller, 2009).


More women should consider entrepreneurship because this allows them to create their own rules; they can also succeed on the basis of their personal input. Currently, costs of starting businesses are quite low. Further, businesses allow women to create corporations that match their personal values (Bullock, 1994).

However, before more women can enter into the world of entrepreneurship, governments and other stakeholders need to do a number of things. They need to work on the concept of work-life balance through legislations and provision of relevant facilities. Women need to be enlightened about how to build their confidence as well as how to cope with new roles.

Flexible scheduling should be considered by potential female entrepreneurs. This will prevent them from perpetuating the same discrimination that caused them to leave the corporate arena. Stakeholders should start creating female business networks in order to foster growth and development.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, society restricted women to low-paying jobs. Economic necessity prompted employers to hire females; however, the group never gained access to leadership positions. This has changed today because a number of women own their own enterprises. Such patterns stem from better education, legislation and business diversification. Covert discrimination places a barrier in career advancement thus compelling many women to consider entrepreneurship.


Bullock, S. (1994). Women and work. London: Zed Books.

Hameed, Z. (2008). . Web.

Kalyan, S. (2009). The changing role of women in the workplace. Web.

Mason, W. (2012). Women in business. Web.

Miller, B. (2009). Encouraging women into senior management positions. Web.

Ross, S. (1993). The rights of women. London: McMillan.

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