“As telephone operators, we did socially important work. That’s how we were. We took it personally. We sympathized. We tried to find solutions. We cared ...”
Telecommunications women in Greece, and mainly women telephone operators, hold a number of firsts in a long history of emancipation and gender equality.
Women telephone operators were the first women to start working in the public sector. The proposal to hire women operators was rejected by the Greek Parliament in 1900.
1908: the first women take a seat in the call centres
Following protests by the first Greek feminists, women were admitted to call centres in 1908 under strict restrictions that were not applicable to their male colleagues (age, marital status). Another source of pressure was the international norm.
The initiative to hire women in the first call centres was taken by Alexander Bell himself, who had conceived of telephony as a residential service mainly aimed at the upper-middle classes. Young women were more polite than men, more obedient, lower paid, and
WOMEN DRINK LESS BEER
As one of the first telephone centre managers in America said, “They drank less beer.”
In 1964, the Association of Greek Telephone Operators was formed and quickly became very active in improving wage and pay-grade issues. The power of the telephone operators was based on their professional qualifications and the key position they occupied in the still non-automated telephony system.
The first strike in Greece, demanding wage equality between the sexes in 1978, was carried out by OTE’s telephone operators, with partial success.
In Zoe Vlachouta’s words: “When you take it personally, you want to find solutions. We cared ... “The human element was paramount at OTE at that time (1970s - 80s), and especially among telephone operators. Subscribers may not have been able to correctly phrase what they were asking for, but they knew that the girls would make the maximum effort to serve them. The people in these areas (remote mountain villages) only had the telephone to connect them to the outside world. How many times did a phone call save lives! As telephone operators, we did socially important work! That’s how we were. We took it personally. We sympathized. We tried to find solutions. We cared.”