Starting in the mid-twentieth century, secretaries responded to the pressures of automation and feminism with a range of strategies. The members of the National Secretaries Association (NSA), a national network of thousands of secretaries who defined themselves against both women's liberationists and less skilled women office workers, saw their occupation as a separate-but-equal role for women in the business world and thought of themselves as members of a labor aristocracy. They insulated themselves just beneath the glass ceiling, working throughout the 1960s and 1970s to boost their status at work through the prism of gendered, classed respectability rather than equality or collective rights. Yet while NSA members initially kept the feminist movement at arm's length, employer-driven automation eventually compelled them to adopt some of its elements. By the 1990s, in response to the proliferation of desktop computers in office work, the NSA had reinvented itself as an association of office managers and technology specialists, arguing that the same machines that had deskilled, outsourced, and eliminated many women office workers' jobs would liberate secretaries from the drudgery assigned to them by outdated sex stereotypes. In the end, clerical workers were not simply replaced by machines, and some skilled secretaries obtained office manager jobs. However, the glass ceiling persisted even as professional positions were nominally opened up to women; office support jobs retained their low pay, monotony, and inflexibility; and automation continued to sharpen the class divide in office work.
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Research Article| May 01 2014
Katherine Turk; Labor's Pink-Collar Aristocracy: The National Secretaries Association's Encounters with Feminism in the Age of Automation. Labor 1 May 2014; 11 (2): 85–109. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/15476715-2410921
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