Programmed Inequality

Marie Hicks

Published by

MIT Press


RRP £32.95
Reviewed by Dr Mick Phythian MBCS CITP

7.5 out of 10

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.

Further information: MIT Press

November 2017