Technology and the Transformation of White-Collar Work

By Robert E. Kraut | Go to book overview

3
White-Collar Women and the Rationalization of Clerical Work

Priscilla Murolo Empire State College, State University of Now York


ABSTRACT

This chapter examines the rationalization and feminization of labor at the Aetna Life Insurance Company's home office, 1910-1930. Like most large clerical employers, Aetna Life hired women to fill the routine jobs created as skilled work was divided from simple, repetitive operations. Jobs requiring the exercise of considerable judgment in decision making remained the province of men. The gender/skill line was hardened in the late 1920s, when women who held jobs generated by the first wave of rationalization were subjected to a second wave, which did not affect male occupations. The period 1910-1930 was also a time of rapid mechanization of office work. But a study of changing labor systems at Aetna Life during these years shows that it was the managerial drive to minimize labor costs, and not technological innovation, which provided the engine for rationalization and the concomitant creation of a gender-divided work force. The chapter concludes by bringing this historical perspective to bear on a brief discussion of the computer's impact on men and women in the insurance industry.

Aetna Life and Casualty's home office is the largest colonial style building in the world. Strangers to Hartford might easily mistake it for the Connecticut State Capitol, and they would not be entirely wrong. For Aetna, the largest diversified financial company based on assets in the United States, is a major seat of power. The power is concentrated in executive suites where company officers preside over a work force that is typical of the insurance industry. The work force is enormous (13,000 in Hartford alone), and its structure is quite complex; but, like all white-collar labor in the monopoly sector, it is divided into two main tiers. The first is the large and

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