Wartime Wednesday: What to do with the Women?
As a former Human Resources professional, I am fascinated with the societal and cultural impact due to the flood of women into the workforce during WWII. Women had always worked, but in very specific, allowable roles such as nurses, teachers, childcare providers, and clerks, and certainly not in the numbers they did during or after the war.
Men made up the majority of supervisors and didn’t seem to know how to manage the women who accounted for as much as fifty to seventy-five percent of their staff. The Federal Government and many industry organizations responded with pamphlets and articles to aid the men with their “new normal” of handling female employees.
In 1943, the War Department issued a pamphlet titled “You’re Going to Employ Women” and included such advice as:
- “A woman worker is not like a man. She is a substitute-like plastics instead of metal-she has special characteristics that lend themselves to new and sometimes superior uses.”
- “Industrially inexperienced, women make up for their unfamiliarity with the procedures and demands of factory work with their desire to win the war-to shorten it by even a minute.”
The pamphlet went on to inform managers that the women’s former occupations as housewives made them good at repetitive tasks and “fine color and material observants.”
That same year Transportation Magazine published an article with “Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees.” Here are just a few:
- “Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and tend to be cantankerous and fussy.”
- “General experience indicates that ‘husky’ girls – those who are just a little on the heavy side – are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.”
- “Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so they’ll keep busy without bothering management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say that women make excellent employees when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work for themselves.”
“Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowances for female psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.”
Your turn, ladies! What was your experience during your “work outside the home” years?