IWD – 41 YEARS IN THE WORKPLACE
Today I sit within a rather well-presented office with just about every mod-con you could think of. The facilities here are better than some houses; it’s such a far cry from the first office I worked in.
I have been in the working world for 41 years now, with my first office just approximately 600 yards from where I sit currently. Geographically not that far but it feels like I’m in a George Lucas film… you know the one, it starts in a galaxy far far away…
In 1976 when I started work in a solicitors’ office, the head cashier sat on a high chair behind a high desk looking down on the 3 cashiers below, where everything was added up on an adding machine and printed out on a till roll. All entries were then shown in a huge ledger! I used to assist on the reception and use a dolls eye switchboard… you know the sort, when you watch a 1940’s film and the operator tries to attach the caller to various extensions via a long flex with a plug at the end of it. The typewriters were all electric and made a heck of a noise, but I was taught on a manual typewriter so I thought the office was really up to date! If you wanted multiple copies of a document you would use a Gestetner machine (pre dated the photocopier)… but you would have to stand and turn the handle for hours on end! We had a Tannoy to announce visitors and, as a very green junior, I did a call for a Mr P Enis… much to the hilarity of my colleagues (and me when I finally got the joke).
As time passed and I moved on to pastures new, I saw the first fax machines in use, computers replacing typewriters and everyone boasting when they had a desktop publisher (or when we changed to Word Perfect). The computers themselves were not small compared to the slick machines we use now, neither were they reliable… we all learnt very quickly that there were two types of people in the world; those who saved work and those who worked late to add it all in again!
Telephones also had a revolution; everything became direct dial with no need for an operator. Along came the mobile phone; initially not used much in the office and I think it was considered a bit of a fad. The first ones had batteries the size of bricks so there was nothing really mobile about them! There weren’t even that many people who had them, so you were really just calling landlines and impressing some people with the fact that you were calling them wirelessly.
The work world has evolved in the physical sense and there’s no doubt that work life is so much easier than when I started all those years ago, but have attitudes evolved too?
When I left school there was no fanfare, no prom, no tic a tape parade for my fellow pupils and I. Why should there be? We were just a load of kids leaving school after completing exams. I wasn’t by any means a star pupil… and I think my teachers would tell you that I did enough to keep my head above water and keep myself out of trouble.
I, like many of my generation, was educated enough to get by. We were the inbetweenies – just out of the sixties and the sex discrimination act of 1975 had just been passed. Perhaps I was given more practical skills than some of the pupils today; I can sew, knit, cook and keep a house clean and germ-free!
I couldn’t tell you if I left school with any ambition; in fact I don’t even know if at that time I knew how to spell ambition or what it meant. I do know that I knew what I didn’t want to do. My teachers were giving me practical skills because, let’s face it, as a girl I would perhaps end up in an office, but I would most certainly end up as a housewife with lots of children to look after…. Oh no, not me!
I have been privileged to work in large cities (Birmingham, New York and London) and I have seen so much of the work world change drastically for the better; including attitudes towards women in the workplace.
I had men feel me up because I was young and it was the “done thing”. When I complained, action was taken, but initially my male colleagues were surprised! I wasn’t offered a job because the manager of the sales team thought that I would distract the men in the office. I’ve worked alongside guys doing the same job, knowing that they earnt more than me… for no other reason than they were men. Even in the nineties when I married, my future employer asked was I getting married as I intended to start a family?
So, have things changed? Thankfully, yes, I would say that they have… but there is always room for improvement!
Credit – Cath Struggles