In January 1949, Fortune magazine advertised a survey of its readership. The ad announced: “We have just completed a statistical portrait of men, like yourself, who are readers of Fortune.”
It was accompanied by three illustrations showing a businessman sitting at progressively nicer desks. The nameplate on the first reads “Office Manager.” The next one, “Vice President.” And finally, “President.” By the final panel, he has gained a cigar but lost his hair. In each illustration, a female assistant takes dictation by his side.
Today, of course, there’d be outrage if an ad like that ran—because the American workforce has changed a lot. It’s now 47 percent female, and those women are doing a lot more than taking notes.
In some ways, our workplaces have evolved with our workforce. Paging through the rest of the magazine, you see a lot of things that didn’t make it to the 21st century. Smoking in the office. A special posture chair advertised as “something special for the girls.” Asbestos. Yet when you really think about it, in many of the most important ways, our offices are still stuck in the past.