A Century Worth Celebrating

Since getting the right to vote, women have been instrumental in shaping labour practices

With a provincial election on the horizon, it was somewhat timely that in January we celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Manitoba women getting the right to vote, and 56 years since our indigenous population was finally granted the right to vote.

At the same time, there were and continue to be administrative changes that create more flexibility today in how we exercise our right to vote.

There have also been many changes in the work world that can be directly attributed to the influence of women in the workplace; however, I often find people take these improvements for granted. In fact, many younger workers are not even aware of the challenges and struggles experienced in bringing about these positive changes.

Think back for a moment and consider the work environment 100 years ago. Many workers were confronted with 12-hour workdays, six days a week, and often in an environment that wasn’t safe.

Compensation for periods of unemployment, on-the-job injury or accidents at work was nonexistent. In many cases, with situations such as the harmful effects of asbestos, employers simply didn’t know what they didn’t know.

Very few women worked outside the home, and if they did, society frowned on their decision.

Their jobs were often in low paid, "pink-ghetto" jobs with little or no opportunity for advancement.

Professional roles were limited to elementary school teacher, social worker or nurse. Daycare consisted of a grandmother and/or a helpful neighbour who worked for free and/or $1 an hour. So I think it is time to celebrate the positive changes in our work world that have made the lives of all employees better.

Leadership styles

Leadership and management philosophies have changed extensively. That old "command and control" military model of leadership has, for the most part, gone by the wayside. Those who attempt to lead this way are quickly being moved aside. Participative management and employee engagement are now known as the key ways to motivate employees to do their best work and contribute to overall organizational success. Sometimes, this is referred to as the "feminization" of the workplace.

A focus on work environments

Much has been learned since the women’s vote issue regarding the impact a work environment has on productivity, work injury, personal stress, mental health and illness. Much of this is related to lighting, workspace, furniture, equipment and the work tasks themselves. Leaders today are much more willing to invest in ergonomic assessments in order to increase employee productivity and prevent injury. Of course, workplace accommodation today is legislated rather than simply a nice gesture on the part of management.

Investment in employees

Leaders today see the value of training and developing their employees; it is now considered an investment instead of an expense. Thus, employees are being sent on courses, engaging in on-site professional development and receiving support for college or university degrees. The payback to employers for increased employee productivity and skill enhancement is enormous.

People are knowledge workers

Work today requires a higher level of education because we are using our brains more than our hands. Work is more interesting, challenging and more related to problem solving, creativity and innovation.

Work is also more of a social enterprise in that we are engaged in more teamwork and joint problem solving. We are never alone.

Biased job labels no longer apply

The concept of "women’s versus men’s" work has mostly disappeared. Men are elementary teachers or nurses while women are doctors, lawyers and tradespeople. Women own masculine-oriented trades businesses while men own hair and nail salons. It just doesn’t matter anymore. An individual can choose whatever career he or she wants without the social stigmas of yesteryear.

Society today seems to be more conscious of sexist biases, and so we are more quickly able to reflect on our comments or behaviour and be open to new lessons about personal choice.

Work is not just a job

Employees today realize job satisfaction is important to well-being.

In other words, work should never just be about having a job. They recognize career management is all about matching their skills, personality and motivational style with the right job. Employees also recognize they do have control over that decision. As well, there are many more opportunities than there were 100 years ago.

Benefits are beneficial

Employees could not imagine themselves without benefits. Today, our long list of personal and family benefits makes our daily lives better while also protecting our jobs. These include sick days, bereavement leave, vacation leave, parental and maternity leave, veteran’s leave, education leave and/or short- and long-term personal leaves of absence. Finally, many employers also offer financial assistance if employees wish to upgrade their education. None of these benefits was available 100 years ago.

Legislated protection

There are many pieces of legislation now that protect workers, including Manitoba’s employment standards and workplace health and safety legislation. These are always being updated to meet current needs, such as bullying in the workplace. Unemployment insurance, on the other hand, now covers approximately 90 per cent of workers. However, this was not always the case, as some work classifications such as teachers were initially not included.

Daycare services

Although many might complain about availability, it is interesting to note formal daycare services were not available until the early 1970s. Since then, the standards for daycare centres and worker training requirements have been upgraded, and child-care fees have been established on a provincial basis. This service is now critical for both men and women and families wanting to be in the working world.

Fair compensation

Fair wages have always been a work issue, but today we have legislation, union negotiations and a corporate philosophy of fair market rates. Once again, in the late 1970s, women pushed for equal pay for equal work, which led to legislation in some provinces. Today, most business leaders are far more conscious of the need for equal pay than they were 30 years ago.

I have only touched on a few of the many workplace changes and improvements that have been instituted in the last many years, many as a direct result of women gaining a sure foothold in the legislative processes.

However, as the world continues to change, all of us as employers, employees, parents and voters must be vigilant in standing up for what needs to be done for equity as the future unfolds.

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