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

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  143 ratings  ·  28 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 27th 2017 by MIT Press (first published 2017)
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Start your review of Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing
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
Aug 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Sep 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
"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
Mar 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
"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.
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: technical, history
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 ...more
Warren Benton
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
Jun 24, 2018 rated it liked it
good read, the timeline in the back is a nice summary of the highlights of the book.
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
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
Henry Cooksley
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'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 ...more
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 ...more
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 22, 2018 rated it liked it
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
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Franzen Vive
May 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Feb 11, 2019 rated it liked it
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
Apr 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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
Hannah Calcutt
Jul 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
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.
Feb 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
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!
Larry Schwartz
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: european-history
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.
Kim Z
Mar 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Fascinating info, but the book's dense, academic style makes it a challenging read.
Oct 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very thoroughly researched. This book will piss you off, and shed a lot of light on the current circumstances of women in tech.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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!
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Jun 24, 2019
Marla Stromponsky
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Aug 11, 2018
Charnell Long
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Aug 19, 2019
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Marie Hicks is Associate Professor of History at Illinois Institute of Technology.

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11 likes · 4 comments
“The Treasury had brought into being an underclass of information workers who were functionaries of the state without having full civil rights, and a sphere of work whose importance was rapidly increasing out of all proportion with the value accorded to the workers who performed it.” 1 likes
“Nathan Ensmenger has shown how management’s understanding of labor is the necessary connective tissue between the political, economic, and technical elements of computing history. “Who has the power to set certain technical and economic priorities,” Ensmenger points out, is “fundamentally [a] social consideration that deeply influences the technological development process.” 0 likes
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