Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview
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effects has progressed in this area too. Researchers now identify groups by the intersection of race, age, and education with gender, pointing out effects for specific groups e.g., black high-school educated women. Looking at these specific groups in relation to the emerging job categories leads to a disturbing new question: Which women will find jobs in the clerical occupations? National statistics show an increase in the proportion of black women in the better clerical jobs, as in the occupation as a whole, between 1970 and 1980. Yet factors such as the decline in entry level positions in insurance (such as key punching/data entry), new educational requirements and the movement of jobs away from the inner cities to suburban centers and small towns--and even overseas or "offshore"--could reverse this trend.


The relationship between the changing organization of offices and clerical work is still in flux. From research over the past 5 years, some elements of this relationship are clearer, whereas others are revealed as more complex. For example, it is now clearer that technological change does not itself determine how offices will be organized and what clerical jobs will exist. Yet the relationship among changes in the economy, the use of new technologies and employment is more complex than anticipated. It varies not only by industry but within industry, reflecting differences in both the nature of particular businesses and the historical context in which the managerial practices were established. The result is both common and contradictory outcomes at different levels and for different groups of workers.

Trying to unravel those complexities reveals three sets of outstanding questions. First are those that ask what kinds of clerical jobs are emerging. These cover the nature of the jobs, the conditions of work, the quality of work experience, and its place in the employing organizations. Second are those that ask about numbers. Here the issue is how many, of those kinds of jobs, will there be. Third are those which ask about the relationship between the jobs and the workers. These address the issues highlighted by the concept of differential effects: which workers are being recruited for and excluded from which jobs, according to gender, race, age, education, and related social characteristics.

Because such critical questions remain outstanding, it is especially important for a wide range of constituencies to take part in uncovering new information and influencing public policy.


This article is a revised version of "Technology and work degradation: Effects of office automation on women clerical workers" that appeared as chapter 4 in Rothschild J. (Ed.), Machina Ex Dea: Feminist perspectives on technology. New York and Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1983 © Joan Rothschild 1983.


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