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Workforce (gender) re-composition in ‘traditional’ industry: lessons from European port and steel sectors

Stroud, Dean Allen, Turnbull, Peter John and Fairbrother, Peter 2010. Workforce (gender) re-composition in ‘traditional’ industry: lessons from European port and steel sectors. Presented at: International Labour Process Conference, Rutgers, New York, USA, 2010.

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Abstract

This paper employs evidence from separate projects on the employment of women within European steel and port sectors, which are traditionally held to be bastions of male employment. The focus of the paper is on the changing nature of employment and labour process within these sectors and the implications for the gender (re)composition of their workforces. In particular, we find evidence that as a result of wider industry developments, such as with regard to technological innovations and changes in patterns of recruitment toward more highly skilled and qualified workers, the potential for the employment of women in these sectors has increased significantly. There are however, a range of equality and diversity (and other) implications – for workers, unions and management – that derive from the employment of women in these traditionally male sectors of employment. This paper explores some of the positive steps that have been taken towards women’s employment within these sectors, and contrasts them with the numerous obstacles and resistance to employment that many women continue to face. The European port and steel sectors have changed in important ways over the past few decades. These sectors have been marked by increasing levels of privatisation, albeit in different ways, and parallel processes of restructuring have had significant implications for work and employment in the different sectors. The European steel sector has moved from being a largely nationalised industry to one that has become dominated by private ownership and increasingly marked by processes of consolidation. Such processes, paralleled by technological innovations and increasingly sophisticated customer demands, have led to large reductions in workforce numbers across Europe, which have been accompanied by changes in work organisation and developments in strategies of recruitment and retention. In particular, with regard to the latter, the focus has shifted from the recruitment of large numbers of poorly qualified men living local to steel-plants, towards a broader strategy based on recruiting a diverse range of highly qualified individuals. The European port sector has experienced a similarly turbulent time to steel, but in contrasting ways. Most recently, efforts by the European Commission to liberalise Europe’s ports have been defeated by consolidated action by port-workers. Nonetheless, private enterprise has significant purchase within Europe’s ports, and lives cheek by jowl with nationalised parts of the sector. Employment has developed in quite similar ways to steel, insomuch as technological innovations have removed many of the heavy aspects of the work. However, whereas steel employment has decreased markedly and will continue to do so as the industry consolidates further, port employment is expected to increase significantly. More particularly, recruitment, like steel, is increasingly focusing on the recruitment of more highly qualified individuals than was previously the case. Indeed, both ports and steel employers now rely much less on traditional patterns of recruitment from generations of family living local to the site of work, than they do graduates and other highly qualified people from diverse sectors of society. As far as the employment of women is concerned, the implications of such developments might be seen to be generally positive – in terms of increased employment levels and the potential for further recruitment. Indeed, evidence from the port sector suggests an overall increase in the number of women employed to the sector, but with variations from place to place. In steel the pattern is mixed, with significant (but declining) numbers of women employed in Eastern Europe and low but potentially significant numbers in Western Europe. However, there are a number of issues with regard to the experiences of women currently employed within both industries, which have implications for expanding the number of women employed to these sectors. Sexist and patriarchal attitudes persist among male workers, their representatives and management and the development of equal opportunities policy is under-developed in most places. At the same time, trade unions (and male workers) fail to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the employment of women to develop better entitlements at work, with regard to work-life balance for example, and, in the case of ports particularly, stronger bargaining positions. This paper discusses the potential for increasing levels of female recruitment in ‘traditional’ sectors of employment and what this means for typically ‘male’ places of work. We also evaluate the experiences of women working in these environments – and what underlies differentiated rather than common experience – and speculate on the potential for the ‘feminisation’ of these workplaces.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Social Sciences (Includes Criminology and Education)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
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Last Modified: 04 Jun 2017 03:31
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/22370

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