Friday, December 9, 2022
Published 3 Years Ago on Thursday, Nov 28 2019 By Hannah Beth Cooper
Since the birth of
the telegraph and the telephone in the 19th Century, women have
played an imperative role in the history of telecommunications. ‘Cable girls’
were huge contributors to both the industry’s development and also the overall
improvement of women’s working conditions throughout the 20th
in most sectors, telecoms never gave women a privileged position or even, an
equal one, in comparison to their male counterparts. Despite this, there is a
unique difference as the telecoms sector has developed through the women that
have been a part of it.
The first telephone exchange offices were built at
the beginning of the 20th century. Initially ‘cable girls’ were
recruited in small numbers but eventually, with the growing demand of this new
communication method, it became hundreds. Hundreds turned in to thousands.
At the time the duties and skills of ‘cable girls’
were considered typically female traits. The role of the women was to ensure
the telephone connection by connecting the correct line to the correct jack.
General prerequisites for the role were that women were young, discreet,
courteous and pleasing on the ear. A major requirement was that they knew how
to respect the caller’s confidentiality.
During the First World War, whilst most men in
Europe were away fighting, telephone exchanges became even more appealing to
female operators. There was a need to ensure vital messages and communications
could get through.
In spite of the industry’s growing popularity,
conditions were difficult at that time as they were in many sectors. The
equipment was heavy and uncomfortable. Women’s dress, efficiency and courtesy
when answering calls were scrupulously controlled by hard and intolerant
supervisors. This control didn’t stay in the work place either….. telephone
operators had to be single and apply for permission to marry!!!
Women were also paid an average of 30-50% less than
their male counterparts in the industry until 1946 in France and 1970 in the
There have in fact been several significant struggles: they took
part in strikes from the beginning of the 20th century, not to mention the fact
they acquired the right to maternity leave before it became law in 1909.
Technological developments in the telecoms sector have evolved
at huge speed in recent decades. The early telegraph system made way for fixed
line connectivity to every home, almost ubiquitous internet and mobile
telephony, and an explosion of digital practices around the world.
These huge technological transformations, and the evolution of
needs and markets, continue to shape companies and our ways of working.
Soon!!! Back to the Future Part 2: Telecoms, women and the future
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