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Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing

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In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation's inability to manage its technical labor force hobbled its transition into the infor In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation's inability to manage its technical labor force hobbled its transition into the information age. In Programmed Inequality, Marie Hicks explores the story of labor feminization and gendered technocracy that undercut British efforts to computerize. That failure sprang from the government's systematic neglect of its largest trained technical workforce simply because they were women. Women were a hidden engine of growth in high technology from World War II to the 1960s. As computing experienced a gender flip, becoming male-identified in the 1960s and 1970s, labor problems grew into structural ones and gender discrimination caused the nation's largest computer user -- the civil service and sprawling public sector -- to make decisions that were disastrous for the British computer industry and the nation as a whole. Drawing on recently opened government files, personal interviews, and the archives of major British computer companies, Programmed Inequality takes aim at the fiction of technological meritocracy. Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure that women will rise to the top in science and technology fields. Programmed Inequality shows how the disappearance of women from the field had grave macroeconomic consequences for Britain, and why the United States risks repeating those errors in the twenty-first century. "


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In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation's inability to manage its technical labor force hobbled its transition into the infor In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing. By 1974, the British computer industry was all but extinct. What happened in the intervening thirty years holds lessons for all postindustrial superpowers. As Britain struggled to use technology to retain its global power, the nation's inability to manage its technical labor force hobbled its transition into the information age. In Programmed Inequality, Marie Hicks explores the story of labor feminization and gendered technocracy that undercut British efforts to computerize. That failure sprang from the government's systematic neglect of its largest trained technical workforce simply because they were women. Women were a hidden engine of growth in high technology from World War II to the 1960s. As computing experienced a gender flip, becoming male-identified in the 1960s and 1970s, labor problems grew into structural ones and gender discrimination caused the nation's largest computer user -- the civil service and sprawling public sector -- to make decisions that were disastrous for the British computer industry and the nation as a whole. Drawing on recently opened government files, personal interviews, and the archives of major British computer companies, Programmed Inequality takes aim at the fiction of technological meritocracy. Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure that women will rise to the top in science and technology fields. Programmed Inequality shows how the disappearance of women from the field had grave macroeconomic consequences for Britain, and why the United States risks repeating those errors in the twenty-first century. "

30 review for Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    I have recently read a number of books along this topic line such as “Hidden Figures, Rocket Girl, etc.”. This book deals with the United Kingdom. According to Hicks Britain was the leader in electronics field at the end of World War II. The author chronological reveals the history from Bletchley Park to the collapse of the UK-sourced IT industry in the late 1970s. Hicks also details the rigid Civil Service attitudes and strictures to constrain the role of women in the workplace. The book is well I have recently read a number of books along this topic line such as “Hidden Figures, Rocket Girl, etc.”. This book deals with the United Kingdom. According to Hicks Britain was the leader in electronics field at the end of World War II. The author chronological reveals the history from Bletchley Park to the collapse of the UK-sourced IT industry in the late 1970s. Hicks also details the rigid Civil Service attitudes and strictures to constrain the role of women in the workplace. The book is well written and meticulously researched. The author spent many hours in the British archives. Hicks displays scholarship in her excellent use of original sources and extensive supporting notes and references. Hicks delves deep into the gender discrimination in the UK. The writing style is easy to read but is very academic. I found this book fascinating. It reinforces the need and benefits of a diversified work force. Marie Hicks is associate professor of history at Illinois Institution of Technology. I read this as an audiobook download from Audible. The book is eleven hours. Becky White does a good job narrating the book. White is a voice-over artist and audiobook narrator.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Leena

    Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in business (especially in the tech fields). Because of it's focus on how women were treated during the rise and fall of Britain's computing industry, this books will probably most often be read by those interested in gender studies, history, or sociology. But the people who NEED this book are in the business class. And anyone with an opinion on issues like pay equality and the gender gap in STEM fields. I stole this book from my husband, a develope Highly recommended for anyone with an interest in business (especially in the tech fields). Because of it's focus on how women were treated during the rise and fall of Britain's computing industry, this books will probably most often be read by those interested in gender studies, history, or sociology. But the people who NEED this book are in the business class. And anyone with an opinion on issues like pay equality and the gender gap in STEM fields. I stole this book from my husband, a developer who picked it up after seeing a good write-up of the "Google Manifesto debacle" that occurred recently. He figured, as a developer who doesn't understand why sexist lines of thought keep happening, that this book could shed some light. But I opened the box first, and that was that. To be fair, I head up the marketing team at an IT company. We have almost 500 employees around the country, and focus on public sector systems integration and data warehousing work. We are also woman-owned. So I found the situations and examples in this book extremely relevant and interesting. Onto the book. It starts with WWII, which I think is a very important factor. I'm American, but even I know that Britain suffered massive losses after this war. Far more than we did. They had a hell of a hole to climb out of, and one of the ways they did that was to gender labor. Women could be used as a great, cheap labor source. It's not an underestimate to claim that Britain's computing industry (from electro-mechanical to electric) was built on the labor of women. I thought about this every time I caught myself thinking, "I bet IBM was just as sexist over here, but they didn't collapse." The author, a history professor at MIT, does a great job bringing out all these factors. She meticulously researched this topic and lets the facts speak for themselves. Long story short, by "enjoying" the benefit of gendered labor, Britain screwed themselves. Instead of keeping it a temporary measure, and then training these women as demand and status grew, they bent over backwards to ensure women stayed in their (low paid and disregarded) place. Nothing seemed more important than ensuring that white, "professional" men kept the power - not labor shortages, not collapsing monopolies, not labor unions (labor unions lobbied against equal pay - what?), not a Labour government, or a Conservative one. Hicks presents her research chronologically. It does occassionally read as dry and somewhat academic, but I've read far worse in that sense. The evidence is overwhelming. The stories are often enraging, but far from cherry-picked. Just as often than not, it reads as a history of computing. I'd forget I was reading about gender, because the two were so intertwined. I enjoyed some of the little facts I learned, as well as the big lessons. I'd, of course heard about Tim Berners-Lee (I think I follow him on Twitter). But now I can say I've heard about his Mom too. The Father of the WWW wasn't the first computer nerd in his family. But the emphasis in this book is, rightly, on women as a class. The sexism they experienced was so deliberate and all-encompassing, that it's almost impossible to separate out individual women "superstars." To say that women just "aren't interested" in technology and computing feels like a slap in the face after reading this book. That's simply not how it went down. This book remind us to examine the systems in place, and to remember that technology revolutions rarely exist to shift power. It makes me wonder about things like, why are so many women concentrated into the QA tester jobs, rather than developers? From the last chapter: "Technological change alone could not modernize Britain because technology is constituted from economic and social patterns. The deeply conservative, class-bound, and gender-stratified nature of the British economy meant that its technological institutions followed and strengthened particular forms of hierarchy. In the end, this made computer technology a highly conservative, rather than revolutionary, force. Technological change cannot be revolutionary if it fails to change the social and political structures of a society and instead heightens inequalities and divisions that are already present. Strictly speaking, there never was a computer revolution..." Emphasis mine. Going forward, I would love to explore these history lessons more. I find them so relevant to modern-day considerations. This book concentrates on Britain, but it once and a while mentions something that Chile tried: Allende's Cybersyn. France also had a centralized computing industry. I'd love to read more about these things, if anyone has any suggestions on things to read. I think I'm going to start with one of the blurb writers on the back of the book, Eden Medina. Side note: I finished this book on Labor day weekend, which I find fitting.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    "Yet this image of incompetence [of women in programming] is a recent historical construction. It is not rooted in some sort of natural evolution of the field, nor is it a reflection of women's demonstrated skills, aptitudes, and interests." This book is definitely not a light read, even though it gets a bit better after the first chapter. It's more like 200 pages of continuing scientific papers. Which also means you learn a lot. If you are interested in history you might already know, that women "Yet this image of incompetence [of women in programming] is a recent historical construction. It is not rooted in some sort of natural evolution of the field, nor is it a reflection of women's demonstrated skills, aptitudes, and interests." This book is definitely not a light read, even though it gets a bit better after the first chapter. It's more like 200 pages of continuing scientific papers. Which also means you learn a lot. If you are interested in history you might already know, that women had to work in "male" jobs during 2nd world war. However, I related this to building weapons, aeroplanes and other things that are directly needed for enemy interaction. During some reads in the last years, I already learned that women also held jobs I didn't think of first. Some are more direct combat-related like the women in "The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America's Shining Women" who painted the cockpits and watches of pilots so they would glow in the dark and be, therefore, easily readable during nighttime. Others had a more direct impact like the women in "Hidden Figures" who helped developing new aircrafts for direct combat or for transporting goods or troops to new locations. Or there are women like in "The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America's Enemies" who developed methods to decipher messages by the nazis. This book is about women who are working with computers during the 2nd world war in Britain. It describes the development of their work (and pay) during war times and, later, during peace until the 1980s. You learn that programming is, historically speaking not a male territory. In the beginning, it was a more female job to develop the punch card and feed them into machines. However, the (female) workers who did the coding for deciphering messages during the 2nd world war were not allowed to talk about their work until 2000. Which means that their work is (still) highly undervalued. A big part of the book is about equal pay. But also about the fact, that women were not able to switch to other, better-paid departments. This was avoided by the government itself. Later, when computers came more into focus the government was also actively looking for men instead of educating the women who already had experience in working with the predecessors of computers. Even when government internal research already found out that these women only would need a short amount of time to be able to work with computers. And even when there was a major shortage of suited (men) candidates, the government refused to promote women who were already working in the area. Because, you know, they might actually be in a position above men. Image that! (I am not kidding. I wish I was) You definitely learn in this book, that computers and programming are HISTORICALLY speaking, a woman's job.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marks54

    This book is a history of the British Computing industry from WW2 through the 1980s that focuses on how the industry workforce became feminized. Wartime demands during the war provided opportunities for women to learn early computing, prosper at it, and contribute to the war effort in doing so. At the end of the war, returning male veterans rejoined the workforce while women tended to leave it. This is not an unusual result and similar developments happened across the British economy and in the This book is a history of the British Computing industry from WW2 through the 1980s that focuses on how the industry workforce became feminized. Wartime demands during the war provided opportunities for women to learn early computing, prosper at it, and contribute to the war effort in doing so. At the end of the war, returning male veterans rejoined the workforce while women tended to leave it. This is not an unusual result and similar developments happened across the British economy and in the US as well. “Rosie the riveter” was sent packing. The nascent computer industry was a bit different, however. It was a newly created and knowledge intensive business that required a large and capable workforce - and at the time women by far had the knowledge and experience needed to prosper there. The problem is that the social definition of the business matters and Britain had a long established social order based on many factors including class and gender. As computing developed into an important business, the occupational structure in the business was made to cohere with the commonly accepted social norms around gender. Women worked in the “lower skill” tasks that men would not want. Women were barred from promotion into the higher level jobs or management jobs because they were seen as less likely to remain in the workforce and it was thought that valued men would not tolerate being managed by women. These presumptions were built into occupational structures despite the lack of evidence grounding their factual claims. As a result, while women were crucial to the early development of the field, they were progressively barred from it in any meaningful capacity because of gender rather than because of their abilities or performance. This led to a profound and lasting waste of capabilities and interests of half of Britain’s population that continues in its effects today. Professor Marie Hicks details this history for computing in the British government - and by implication according to the rules of the British civil service. She extends this analysis by implication to the broader British economy and later by implication to the rest of the computer business including the US. What to think about this? Hicks seems to be very much on target regarding the details of what happened. She has examined a huge set of archival accounts from people involved, as well as the representative documentary evidence of regulations, journals, in-house publications, and the like. From what I can tell, she also has considerable experience with computers directly. Overall, this rings true to me. (I grew up in an IBM household and paid attention to social organization of company clusters that we moved among.). There is a huge and growing literature on the culture of Silicon Valley and “big tech”, including the FAANG firms that supports this as well. Tech and especially coding and software development is a “guy thing”. I also think Hicks is right regarding the consequences of technological feminization (despite the high syllable counts on encounters in the text). The history that keeps young women from getting more involved in science and math continues to haunt our higher education system today. Professor Hicks is to be congratulated for telling this story. Having said this, I have to balk just a little. Most of my concerns pertain to the implied causal story in the book’s narrative. First, the focus in on the British Civil Service. Ok, but is it really surprising that a civil service could get things very wrong and then persist at them, due to bureaucratic inertia? That is what bureaucracies do! Margaret Rung’s study of the questionable management of diversity in the US Federal civil service (2002) provides numerous of examples of how this can develop independently of computers. So is this a study of bureaucrats behaving badly or is there more? A second issue involves the implication (never made too explicit - to be fair) that had the British not feminized their data processing workforce and kept women low paid and at the bottom, then things might have turned out differently for the British computer industry. This seems to suggest that the failure of the industry stems from the cumulative misuse of female human capital. I have to doubt this. IBM ruled the industry at the time to the point where there were open call to break up the monster. Baldwin and Clark (2000) date the dawn of the modern computer business and Silicon Valley in part to IBMs loss of some key antitrust based lawsuits in the late 1970s that enabled independent component and peripheral businesses to develop and prosper. My point is that even had women been fully included in the occupational structure the same as men, it is unclear how that would have dislodged IBM from its position of industry dominance. A third and related issue is the role of a particularly bad British Government policy of sponsoring the growth of the British Computer industry in sinking the industry. Up until the Japanese economy tanked in the 1990s, debates about “industrial policy” were common in the US, Britain, and Europe. How did it work out? Thatcher got Britain out of the business of running industries after 1979 and while an analysis of that is itself a huge topic, many admit that she had a point. Not to be totally negative, the relationship between the organization of the workforce and the strategic direction of an industry and its firms is a really good questions and one that remains understudied today. If Professor Hicks had more to say about that, I will eagerly read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    amy

    "Deployed as a centralizing technology designed to concentrate power, computing was necessarily antithetical to equal opportunity." Such a good history of tech, gender, labor, colonialism.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David

    The fascinating story of how computing came to be gendered male. It fills in one of those historical gaps that are so obvious that they're easy to overlook: Most of us know that computing in the early 20th century was seen as menial women's work -- or, in the common parlance, "girls'" work -- and by the end of the 20th century the high-status computing jobs were quintessentially male. What happened in between? This book focuses not on the few high-status pioneers, who are "rediscovered" in more The fascinating story of how computing came to be gendered male. It fills in one of those historical gaps that are so obvious that they're easy to overlook: Most of us know that computing in the early 20th century was seen as menial women's work -- or, in the common parlance, "girls'" work -- and by the end of the 20th century the high-status computing jobs were quintessentially male. What happened in between? This book focuses not on the few high-status pioneers, who are "rediscovered" in more conventional books, but on the sociological history of the ordinary workers. Women didn't drift out of computing because of some nebulous psychological factors. They were driven out, as it became clear that the rising status and power of computing experts was incompatible with the gender hierarchies that the British state was committed to preserving. And the maintenance of gender hierarchy was seen as more important than meeting Britains growing computing needs and nurturing British technological development.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Warren Benton

    What are women good for? They should be wives and mothers and their pay in Britain was held down so they would rely on a husband. This book could for some be viewed as dry. But the problem is this was a huge problem and required lots of explanation. The women not only programmed the computing machines but also repaired them. Then they were forced to train the men who would be their managers. This was a pathetic system that shows how men do not always know best.

  8. 5 out of 5

    meli

    good read, the timeline in the back is a nice summary of the highlights of the book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Frank

    I was really excited about this book. The subtitle of the book is "how Britain discarded women technologists and lost its edge in computing." So I was hoping for some serious evidence to prove this statement. The book did highlight many horrid gender issues in the British Civil Service (the focus of almost the entire book). There were roles created only for women to apply to and other roles for men. The roles for women did not have career progression beyond about 30 years of age as it was assumed I was really excited about this book. The subtitle of the book is "how Britain discarded women technologists and lost its edge in computing." So I was hoping for some serious evidence to prove this statement. The book did highlight many horrid gender issues in the British Civil Service (the focus of almost the entire book). There were roles created only for women to apply to and other roles for men. The roles for women did not have career progression beyond about 30 years of age as it was assumed that they would "marry out" of work. Women were explicitly not given equal pay, as it was expected that their salary was just a supplement to their husband's income, and this led to Britain being rejected from the European Economic Community for several years/attempts to join. Clearly there was some f'ed up stuff happening at the government level here - not just in computing but across all areas of the economy when it came to women who wanted to work. However, this doesn't explain why "Britain lost its edge in computing." Much of the book discusses horrible technical decisions made in British technology companies and in the government. The fact that the government heavily subsidized (or downright demanded use of) British-made computers, left little necessity to innovate or stay ahead of IBM. British companies also didn't provide the support and workforce that companies like IBM did alongside the hardware. Britain made a government-backed monopoly for building computers, further limiting competition. And Britain failed to move to mini-computers and focused on mainframes far too late into the game. These seem to be much more critical reasons on why Britain lost its computing edge. The main focus of the book, on mostly uneducated women (O-level, not A-level, high school graduates with no college education) who got manual labor jobs punching cards, mostly for data entry, in the government Civil Service seems odd. If you're looking at why the industry lost out, why not focus on the practices of the largest companies, their research labs, the people deciding whether to go mainframe or minicomputer, or deciding to use paper tape that was likely to need lots of hands-on care, etc.? The focus on the lowest tier of government worker seems to miss the point. Did Britian lose its computing edge because it couldn't process the government payroll or NHS bills fast enough? Unlikely. Overall, it was a good book to learn about many of the structural issues in the British government when it came to gendered work roles and deliberately unequal pay for roles explicitly assigned to different genders. But I think it did little to explore why Britain lost its edge in computing.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Henry Cooksley

    An enlightening book. Mar Hicks argues that observed British decline in the twentieth century can be partly explained by bad, discriminatory political decisions made over the course of decades relating to British computer industry, and specifically, by the anti-women policies that turned British computing from a female-dominated field to a male-dominated one. The chapters are well-cited, the writing is clear, and the argument makes sense. This should be recommended reading for all those with an i An enlightening book. Mar Hicks argues that observed British decline in the twentieth century can be partly explained by bad, discriminatory political decisions made over the course of decades relating to British computer industry, and specifically, by the anti-women policies that turned British computing from a female-dominated field to a male-dominated one. The chapters are well-cited, the writing is clear, and the argument makes sense. This should be recommended reading for all those with an interest in British history, women's history, or the history of computing. “An analysis like this invites a different perspective on computerization and the shift to an “information” economy by explaining the material effects of gendered labor discrimination. Underlying this change were powerful ideas about women’s sexuality. Assumptions that women’s lives would be defined by heterosexuality in ways that required them to leave the work force made work outside the home secondary to the dictates of marriage, procreation, and family. This study is not only an example of how gender has molded computer technology but also an example of how sexuality plays a silent but critical role in the history of computing. Expectations about women’s lives based on a nearly compulsory form of midcentury heteronormativity stranded most women with limited career prospects. Many women worked throughout their lives in addition to raising families, but society organized itself around a male breadwinner wage meant to support a nuclear family. The result was that sexuality, the organization of labor markets, and the functioning of the economy as a whole became inextricably linked.” “Defined by its wartime origins, electronic computing was arguably Britain’s most critical twentieth-century project. Hidden, wartime computer operators had a growing analogue in peacetime: the “broad base” of the Civil Service’s data-processing establishment, which rested on feminized and largely ignored classes of machine workers. As a tool in times of stability and peace, not just in times of war, computerization’s history is largely a narrative of the expanding reach and power of the data-intensive state. The peacetime organization and deployment of electronic computers within the government’s Civil Service and the nationalized industries would soon become a microcosm of the nation’s attempts to grapple with large-scale technological change. Although the groundbreaking deployment of electronic machines by the British government remained secret for decades after the war, the labor patterns that allowed those systems to function persisted. The same gendered labor assumptions that helped Bletchley Park maximize its wartime codebreaking also strongly impacted how the national government organized automation and large-scale information-processing projects after the war. Although the war helped women gain greater opportunities and a springboard to argue for greater work equality, these benefits soon collided with the structural discrimination of the government’s large-scale data projects.” “While ICL struggled in the 1970s, the government increasingly turned to the cheaper solutions offered by IBM. Seeing his company’s business sliding away, the managing director of ICL, Arthur Humphreys, quipped: “There is no problem in the computer business which could not be solved by the demise of IBM.” ICL could no longer compete with IBM’s prices or service when it came to mainframes, and as minicomputer technology increased in use and importance, computer experts in government and industry began to criticize ICL for its mainframe-centric product line and research agenda. The Select Committee on Science and Technology, convened to study the prospects of the British computing industry, took ICL to task, even though it was government technology specialists who had strongly encouraged the computer giant to focus on advanced mainframe systems. ICL had spent the seventies planning ever-larger mainframes rather than smaller computers that lent themselves to decentralized control. Despite this, ICL’s most successful lines in fact were comprised of smaller, less technologically robust systems. By the early 1980s, ICL’s mainframe division soaked up two-thirds of the company’s R & D budget but constituted less than a third of its profits.” “For decades, the British government saw undoing the long-standing feminization of their data-processing workforce as critical to the success of British computing and to the governance of the nation itself. Meanwhile, the actual solution to British computerization problems got lost in the divide that the government constructed between the technical and the technocratic. In order to leverage computing technology most effectively, the British would have had to adopt management and governance philosophies that did not encourage a systematic squandering of the vast majority of its own technically minded labor force. The government’s failure to do so was not actually a technical problem, and the larger political and economic effects of that failure could not be solved by a technological fix. At its root, gender inequality shaped and enabled one of the most important technological changes in Britain’s history. In this way, a social problem became a technological one that hastened British decline in the twentieth century.”

  11. 4 out of 5

    BCS

    With the subtitle of ‘How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost its Edge in Computing’ and the current debate around misogyny this has to be a ‘must read’, especially coming from an Assistant Professor of History in America! Hicks downplays the role of Alan Turing at the expense of promoting Tommy Flowers, which might upset a few readers, especially fans of the film! As we are in the midst of Brexit the role of the EEC, following membership in 1973, in combatting sexism, must not be forgo With the subtitle of ‘How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost its Edge in Computing’ and the current debate around misogyny this has to be a ‘must read’, especially coming from an Assistant Professor of History in America! Hicks downplays the role of Alan Turing at the expense of promoting Tommy Flowers, which might upset a few readers, especially fans of the film! As we are in the midst of Brexit the role of the EEC, following membership in 1973, in combatting sexism, must not be forgotten, and them forcing the UK to bring in equalities legislation - although the Equal Pay Act took five years to kick in, or really be forced in by the EEC. Hicks highlights the continued perception of government ministers of computing as a money-saving technology, and that with the technology costing more, the cost-savings were made at the expense of women employees. She also points to the controlling role of the Treasury in all matters governmental which is argued by many to continue to cause problems in the UK to this day. However, whilst demonstrating the secondary role women were forced to play in wartime and post-war computing she also admits that the government’s secrecy surrounding the Colossus machines wasn’t helpful in the development of a post-war commercial computer industry. Areas that aren’t really touched on are the increased complexity of welfare, including welfare conditionality in the general rise of computing, and the parallel rise of neo-liberal thought that has held down the rise of women following the earlier post-war improvements in equality. Intersectionality should have a role to play in the analysis that a primarily feminist, historical interpretation, especially one from the United States, may fail to pick up on. The author fails to identify the 1944 Education Act which started the process of opening secondary education to girls and also the working class who would, with a few exceptions, have left school at 14 prior to the war, although education stayed heavily gendered and class-based unlike that of many of our European neighbours. The British Computer Society is unfortunately renamed the British Computing Society on page 157. The 342 pages include 100 pages of references and the index, so not quite such a long read. Review by Dr Mick Phythian MBCS CITP Originally posted: http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kingsley

    'Programmed Inequality' covers the history of computers in Britain, from Bletchley Park in World War Two through to the 1970's. It focuses strongly on British Tabulating Machine Company (BTM) and International Computers and Tabulators (ICT). It's main premise is that women did a large amount of the programming and computing work throughout many of those decades, but have effectively been ignored and forgotten by history, or 'downgraded' to just data entry type work rather than true programming a 'Programmed Inequality' covers the history of computers in Britain, from Bletchley Park in World War Two through to the 1970's. It focuses strongly on British Tabulating Machine Company (BTM) and International Computers and Tabulators (ICT). It's main premise is that women did a large amount of the programming and computing work throughout many of those decades, but have effectively been ignored and forgotten by history, or 'downgraded' to just data entry type work rather than true programming and development. The women were also regularly passed over for promotion, or forced to train their male replacement, due to an expectation that once they marry they will leave the workforce and thus they shouldn't be invested in. The book also looks at gender relations in relation to the workplace in general, covering the union movements and fight for equal pay and recognition. It touches on the wider events of the time, but mainly focuses in the impacts on hte computing industry. For the book subtitle of "How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing" it very much proves the first half. The second half is harder to prove and somewhere that I felt the book didn't over as well. It is true that the British computing industry suffered, and that ICT has issues - this is presented well and clearly. It is likely very true that if BTM and ICT has capitalised on their female workforce, rather than overlooking them, they would have been much stronger. What is missing from the equation is showing a nation or company that did capitalise on that and thus got ahead. To say the British lost out by discarding women is true, but so did everyone else. Britain didn't lose to the Americans etc because America used women but Britain didn't. The focus on the scope of Britain only means that there is no wider view of looking at places that did it better and succeeded because of it. That means that while it is likely that not discarding women might have saved the British computer industry, it is hard to prove as we don't have a counter case to actually compare against. The writing itself was okay, although rather academic and dry. I've read (listened to) may university Press books and they range from very academic in writing to some very free flowing and conversational books. This is very much on the dry academic end of writing. Narration by Becky White was good. Well paced and easy to listening to. She took a text that was rather dry in style and made it engaging and interesting. I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook by the author, narrator, or publisher.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lance Eaton

    This is a fascinating read on so many levels. On one, it captures the ways in which institutions (named the British government) perpetuates inequalities (namely, sexism) in explicit and implicit ways and then tracks the ways in which that structural inequality results in the lose of opportunity and resources for the nation. Hicks also unpeels a deeply problematic history of erasure of the prominent and important roles that women played in the rise of the computer and digital age, as the original This is a fascinating read on so many levels. On one, it captures the ways in which institutions (named the British government) perpetuates inequalities (namely, sexism) in explicit and implicit ways and then tracks the ways in which that structural inequality results in the lose of opportunity and resources for the nation. Hicks also unpeels a deeply problematic history of erasure of the prominent and important roles that women played in the rise of the computer and digital age, as the original and dominant group of programmers throughout the UK from the 1940s to the 1970s. Through her analysis, interviews, and archival recovery, she shows the ways in which women were muted, perceived as (and undermined as) threats by men for their abilities with computers. She shows how for many years Britain tried to conceptualize programming as a skill-less and feminine role to which women would be suited (temporarily--just until marriage) but to which men should be managing. This created many situations where men were trying to direct people with no real sense of what it is that they did, resulting in women needing to train the men who would replace them as leaders on teams. While reading this book, I was continually surprised (maybe I shouldn't have been) of the various examples and quotes that Hicks pulled from that showed how much of a conscious effort was in place to keep women moving upwards within organizations and how their work (work we consider the cutting edge) was so undermined by Britain. I definitely recommend it as a read for anyone interested in women's history, equal rights, and technology.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    This one has been a bit of a slog for me, a long and hard read. It's not hard to forget that this is an academic paper in book form! However, it has also been eye opening! I've learnt quite a lot about the history of computing in the UK, and the history of gendered labour. The feminisation of computer work when it was seen as drudgery, and the later attempts to exclude women when it became perceived as both important and highly skilled, are on the one hand shocking and on the other hardly surprisi This one has been a bit of a slog for me, a long and hard read. It's not hard to forget that this is an academic paper in book form! However, it has also been eye opening! I've learnt quite a lot about the history of computing in the UK, and the history of gendered labour. The feminisation of computer work when it was seen as drudgery, and the later attempts to exclude women when it became perceived as both important and highly skilled, are on the one hand shocking and on the other hardly surprising. It does make you wonder what could have happened if that workforce hadn't been disregarded both by the government and industry. Could the UK have been the leaders in the computer industry? Could silicon valley have been here, instead of America? What about the Microsofts and Apples of this imaginary world? It's been a hard read, yes, but an enlightening one. I'm glad I've read it and perhaps I'll read it again in a few years to see what else I can get out of it!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mv

    This book seems to have lots of info and historical references but either the writing or my inability at the time to take in the info has caused me to put this book on hold. I got two hours into the book and still felt that the point had not been expressed fully or substantiated. I listen to a lot of books and even have the ability to listen at work, I rarely have difficulty following a book like I did this one. I will revisited this book later and then amend my review accordingly. This is the f This book seems to have lots of info and historical references but either the writing or my inability at the time to take in the info has caused me to put this book on hold. I got two hours into the book and still felt that the point had not been expressed fully or substantiated. I listen to a lot of books and even have the ability to listen at work, I rarely have difficulty following a book like I did this one. I will revisited this book later and then amend my review accordingly. This is the first book I’ve read/listened to by this author. This is the first book I’ve listened to by this narrator (Becky White) and I would listen to another. She read the content well. I was given this free review copy audiobook at my request and voluntarily left this unbiased review

  16. 5 out of 5

    Grace

    A fascinating and well-researched history. It was enlightening and traumatizing to read what men in power said in private and in public to motivate their actions. Misogyny and class prejudice killed an industry. This time, women are the cannon fodder. Looking at recent elections and tech failures, I wonder if this would have happened if tech had women in power to say, "Wait a minute..." Do we really want to allow wide-scale surveillance for the micro-targeting of ads? Should wife-batterers be all A fascinating and well-researched history. It was enlightening and traumatizing to read what men in power said in private and in public to motivate their actions. Misogyny and class prejudice killed an industry. This time, women are the cannon fodder. Looking at recent elections and tech failures, I wonder if this would have happened if tech had women in power to say, "Wait a minute..." Do we really want to allow wide-scale surveillance for the micro-targeting of ads? Should wife-batterers be allowed to control the internet of things? https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/23/te...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Franzen Vive

    An excellent and erudite book. I am full of praise of authors who do an amazing job of analyzing and synthesizing mounds of sources and reading their books is a pleasure as well as a learning experience of which this book is a prime example. The demise of British computing in the 20th century is lamentable and would not have been preventable. The plight of women in computing jobs in 20th century Britain reverberated into the present century. For much of the world's countries, more effort is to b An excellent and erudite book. I am full of praise of authors who do an amazing job of analyzing and synthesizing mounds of sources and reading their books is a pleasure as well as a learning experience of which this book is a prime example. The demise of British computing in the 20th century is lamentable and would not have been preventable. The plight of women in computing jobs in 20th century Britain reverberated into the present century. For much of the world's countries, more effort is to be done to wean them of gender discrimination. If one has to learn the lessons of the past, then this book is a clarion call for them to take action.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Hannah

    I learned a lot and I am generally glad I read this book. Hicks has interesting insights and impressive research Programmed Inequality was well-written and thought-provoking. The fact that, just a generation or so ago, women were perceived as having the hard technical skills to be leaders in computing—but not the soft leadership skills—was just one piece of information that really stuck out for me. I was disappointed, though, that racial dynamics in the UK’s civil service were never so much as men I learned a lot and I am generally glad I read this book. Hicks has interesting insights and impressive research Programmed Inequality was well-written and thought-provoking. The fact that, just a generation or so ago, women were perceived as having the hard technical skills to be leaders in computing—but not the soft leadership skills—was just one piece of information that really stuck out for me. I was disappointed, though, that racial dynamics in the UK’s civil service were never so much as mentioned in passing. In a book about gendered labour dynamics in computing—especially one that acknowledged the intervening effect of social class—ignoring race felt like a glaring oversight.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    If you want to know why IBM ruled the computer world, this is the book to read. What a great story of government officials trying to control a free market economy. Britain could have had the whole computer industry early on, and through mismanagement and turf wars lost it. This book also explores women working in the computer industry early on and how they trained men and then were replaced by men. Again the Labor Party in Britain did not understand they could not control an industry as fast moving If you want to know why IBM ruled the computer world, this is the book to read. What a great story of government officials trying to control a free market economy. Britain could have had the whole computer industry early on, and through mismanagement and turf wars lost it. This book also explores women working in the computer industry early on and how they trained men and then were replaced by men. Again the Labor Party in Britain did not understand they could not control an industry as fast moving as the computer industry and was not listening to their government customers.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike Gunderloy

    I quite enjoyed this, but keep in mind that history of computing used to be my academic field - so if you're looking for a polemic, you should look elsewhere. This is a serious case study of how Britain went from a 1944 with lots of women programming computers and world-leading technology to a 1970s where their advantage had evaporated, women has been prevented from advancing, and things were generally screwed up. The British Civil Service gets lots of the blame, but if you think this is an isol I quite enjoyed this, but keep in mind that history of computing used to be my academic field - so if you're looking for a polemic, you should look elsewhere. This is a serious case study of how Britain went from a 1944 with lots of women programming computers and world-leading technology to a 1970s where their advantage had evaporated, women has been prevented from advancing, and things were generally screwed up. The British Civil Service gets lots of the blame, but if you think this is an isolated occurrence, you haven't really been paying attention.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Calcutt

    A deconstruction of why a lack of women in computing and stem fields still proliferates to this day not because of individual choices of women but because of a system of discrimination and marginalisation. It is interesting to explore the historical context of women in computing and how the sexist practices in Britain massively undermined its economic success and attempts to become a technologically leading nation after the war. Overall a good book but I didn't like the audiobook voice.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Camilo

    If you've heard in the past or from other books that women used to dominate computing and then were forced out, but you aren't clear about the specifics of how such a process could happen, then Programmed Inequality is a great book about the intersections of labor, sexism, new technology, and governance. I highly recommend it to programmers and other people working in IT who want to understand how we got to now. The book does not assume any familiarity with modern British history, and thoroughly e If you've heard in the past or from other books that women used to dominate computing and then were forced out, but you aren't clear about the specifics of how such a process could happen, then Programmed Inequality is a great book about the intersections of labor, sexism, new technology, and governance. I highly recommend it to programmers and other people working in IT who want to understand how we got to now. The book does not assume any familiarity with modern British history, and thoroughly explains the government figures and departments involved. The book is also pretty dense, with copious examples to support its interpretations.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I came away thoroughly convinced that societal assumptions (patriarchy, class, etc) absolutely get baked into the culture everywhere, including tech and the world of jobs, careers, etc. I have such a reading list now, thanks to the chapter bibliographies!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Larry Schwartz

    I don't think I've read another book that is so bloody infuriating. Each page contains a new outrage. It is a marvel of research in the archives and of the discovery of the literature. If you are business prof or a women's/gender studies prof or a public policy scholar, you need to read this book.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kim Z

    Fascinating info, but the book's dense, academic style makes it a challenging read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Very thoroughly researched. This book will piss you off, and shed a lot of light on the current circumstances of women in tech.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Blanca

    This booked tells the story of how Britain adopted computers and how the government drove that adoption. It opened my eyes seeing how new computer models and how the machine operator work was perceived and how it evolved over time. I liked that the book has photos of computer ads and how operators were being portrayed (also this changed over time). I thought the book had some parts I found them a bit dry... Could be a result of me not being a native English speaker, but still an amazing book!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Pippa

  29. 4 out of 5

    Marla Stromponsky

  30. 5 out of 5

    Charnell Long

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