During the Second World War a huge change was wrought in our national working patterns, particularly in the involvement of women in the workplace. Prior to the outbreak of war very few women had been involved in skilled labour in manufacturing and other sectors, but the vast numbers of men diverted to the forces left employers with no choice but to recruit women for these positions. Indeed, campaigns were run encouraging women to “do their bit” for the war effort by entering Industrial and other employment.
During the war women built aircraft, ships, and munitions. They worked on the land and they drove canal boats. They drove ambulances and lorries (film of the Queen driving her Land Rover confidently round Sandringham and Balmoral probably owe a fair bit to the fact that she trained as a driver for the Second Windsor Subaltern Unit). They worked on anti-aircraft batteries, operated searchlights and they interpreted aerial reconnaissance photos. Indeed, women were considered some of the best interpreters of reconnaissance footage and were treated absolutely equally to men in the division, to the extent that it was women who looked at the photos of Normandy in 1944 and selected the beaches for the Allied D Day landings. I bet you didn’t know that.
In fact, in Britain women were considered every bit as good as men in all of the jobs they were called to do. (They didn’t get paid as much as men, but that was nothing to do with their competence; it was because they were, you know, women.) The whole of the war only lasted six years, and yet this massive, epochal change happened without resistance and with no downside to the organisations concerned. True, it was a national emergency, but it does somewhat give the lie to any idea that our current way of working can’t be easily changed. Oh, yes, it can.
And yet contrast this with the current position in respect of gender representation on company boards in the UK. More tomorrow!