We are beginning to realize that we must set free for military service numbers of young men now engaged as clerks.
They must largely be replaced by women, and it is most important that women of the right training and character should be employed. The average woman has not been so well trained as the average man. The rapidity and thoroughness essential for skilled clerk’s work do not, as a rule, distinguish the sisters of the men who at present do such work. Women have been kept back, and the result is that to replace an ordinarily skilled man a more than ordinary woman is required.
For Government service only women of university or corresponding training are of use. There is still a fair supply. Yet their services have been secured by no means to the full extent, because the Government deliberately drags behind the average rate of payment for educated women. Women clerks in responsible positions are offered salaries of from £2 to 25s a week; and the latter rate is the commonest.
There are, roughly, three classes of employed women. The first may be called “the girls who live at home”. Their salary is simply pocket money. They are lodged and mainly fed by their parents. When these two items of expenditure are provided for, even 25s a week gives a pleasant margin for frocks and holidays. The employer is subsidized by the parents of his employee. It has been one of the great drawbacks of women in the labour market that so many employers can face with equanimity the position that “Half a man’s wage is plenty for them.”
Even £3 a week means a very hard life for a woman of refinement. That there should be a decent standard of living for our middle-class women workers is of more than temporary importance. More women will have to work and more work will be open to them when the war is over. Not only will many young men, potential workers and husbands, return no more, but many will be reluctant to return to their former limited occupations. Yet the dull routine must be done, and adequately trained women will have to do it. It is for the employers, and above all for the Government, to see that prospects are opened to women more encouraging than those offered by a salary of 30s a week.