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Only the Clothes Changed: Women Operators in British Computing and Advertising, 1950-1970
October-December 2010 (vol. 32 no. 4)
pp. 5-17
Marie Hicks, Duke University

The use of women workers in early computing and advertising ironically may have hurt their long-term professional position in the field because it reflected, and helped shape, their role as low-cost, unskilled workers. This article traces the relationship between advertising images of women used to sell data processing equipment and the early, feminized, data processing labor force in Great Britain.

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10. For instance, see S. Hacker,, "Sex Stratification, Technology and Organizational Change: A Longitudinal Case Study of AT&T," Social Problems, vol. 26, no. 5, 1979, pp. 539–557; C. Cockburn, "Women and Technology: Opportunity Is Not Enough," The Changing Experience of Employment, Kate Purcell et al., ed., Macmillan, 1986; and L. Lee Downs, "Industrial Decline, Rationalization and Equal Pay: The Bedaux Strike at Rover Automobile Company," Social History, vol. 15, no. 1, 1990, pp. 45–73.
11. For instance, following R. Milkman, J. Light shows how "sex-typing", affected ENIAC workers, arguing that postwar culture effectively closed off career options for women in computing and even tended to dismiss or obscure work they had done in computing during the war. N. Ensmenger shows how gendered ideals formed a critical part of the professionalization process of computer workers in The Computer Boys Take Over, MIT Press, 2010.
12. For a fuller discussion of the material aspects of this change, see M. Hicks,, "Compiling Inequalities: Computerization in the British Civil Service and Nationalized Industries, 1940–1979," doctoral dissertation, History Dept., Duke Univ., 2009.
13. For instance, J. Wosk ( Women and the Machine: Representations from the Spinning Wheel to the Electronic Age, Johns Hopkins Press, 2003) points out the formative role that wartime photographs and advertisements had in constructing a perception of women as helpers, trainees, and temporary stand-ins whose true roles were outside of the paid labor force. For more on the material effects of discourse, see R. Schwartz Cowan, "The 'Industrial Revolution' in the Home: Household Technology and Social Change in the 20th Century," Technology and Culture, vol. 17, no. 1, 1976, pp. 1–23, and R. Oldenziel, Making Technology Masculine: Men, Women and Modern Machines in America, 1870–1945, Amsterdam Univ. Press, 1999.
14. I.J. Good, D. Michie, and G. Timms, "General Report on Tunny With Emphasis on Statistical Methods," 1945, HW 25/5, The Nat'l Archives of the UK (TNA), p. 276, and G. Ferry, A Computer Called LEO: Lyons Teashop and the World's First Office Computer, Fourth Estate, 2003. In the case of the Colossi, wartime labor exigencies also played a role, although work was still often sex-typed; for instance, only young men were sent for engineering training during the war, while only women did food service work.
15. The central government alone (not including the nationalized industries or the National Health Service used 5 percent of all the nation's computers in 1970. "Down Among the Datacrats," Civil Service Opinion, vol. 48, no. 557, 1970, p. 54, HN 1/67, TNA. A snapshot of the government's gendered hiring practices can be found in the files of the Central Computing Bureau; other departments mirrored these practices. See "STAT Series: Records of the Stationery Office," particularly STAT 14/2727, STAT 14/2765, STAT 14/2972, STAT 14/3093, STAT 14/3093, STAT 14/3303, STAT 14/3484, and STAT 14/632, TNA.
16. This was the case in both government and industry. For the government case, see M. Hicks's, "Compiling Inequalities," and for an industry example, see I. Martin, "Britain's First Computer Centre for Banking: What Did this Building Do?" to be published in Technological Innovation in Retail Finance, B. Batiz-Lazo et al., ed., Routledge, 2011, pp. 53–54.
17. , "Duplicator Operators and Machine Operators (Clerical) 1943–1956," OS 1/656, TNA.
18. The machine grades' feminization excluded them from the Equal Pay Act of 1954. The government reasoned that the women's rate in this case (not the men's) was the fair market price for the work. This meant 54 percent of women in the civil service were unaffected by equal pay. "Royal Commission on Equal Pay, 1944–46," report, HMSO, 1946, p. 9.
19. D.W.G. Wass Treasury, confidential letter to P.W. Buckerfield, HMSO, 14 Jun. 1963, STAT 14/2765, and "ADP Staffing and Projects," Jul. 1968, HN 1/67, TNA.
20. For instance, ICT, "Progress in the North," advertising brochure, 1962, NAHC/ICT/C96 ICL Advertisements, Nat'l Archive for the History of Computing, Manchester, UK (NAHCM), or "EE-LEO brochure for LECTOR System," NAHC/LEO/D2, NAHCM. ICT's advertising showed women workers operating machines and described the labor in the same terms as before; advertising for other companies was similar. See also Powers advertisements held at the Vickers Archive in Cambridge, UK, and the LEO and ICT/ICL brochure collections at the NAHCM.
21. Most women working in computing at this time did punching and verifying work. Although they also powerfully constructed the feminized image of early computing work, I have focused on computer operators here to address the twin issues of professionalization and masculinization.
22. "The Powers Girl," Vickers News, Jan. 1951, front cover, pp. 2–4. During the 1960s, ICT absorbed EMI, GEC, and Ferranti's data processing divisions, with government encouragement. The only other principal player in British computing by 1967 was English Electric, itself a merged company comprised of the former Leo Computer Company and the original English Electric, with Marconi and Elliott Automation's data processing interests absorbed in the 1960s. In 1968, the government's Ministry of Technology helped merge ICT and English Electric to create ICL (International Computers Limited), ostensibly to compete with IBM.
23. C.H. Angell, "Practical Economics of the EMP," Powers Magazine, May 1955, p. 7.
24. Women made up 60 percent of all clerical workers in the 1950s and more than 70 percent by the 1970s. J.E. Lewis, "Women Clerical Workers in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," The White-Blouse Revolution: Female Office Workers since 1870, G. Anderson ed., Manchester Univ. Press, 1988, p. 34.
25. , The Electronic Multiplying Punch (Emp), an electronic calculator with more than 700 vacuum tubes, multiplied information on one punched card, adding the results onto the card. This saved a calculating department of women working with desktop calculating machines and a punching department from doing this work. The Emp, marketed for payroll calculations and currency conversions, could do 120,000 calculations in its 17-hour work "week." C.H. Angell, "Practical Economics of the 'Emp,'" Powers-Samas Magazine, May 1955, p. 7.
26. Both images had wider traction beyond the Powers' magazine: one was reprinted from an accounting conference paper, while the other came from another company's house magazine.
27. Many photos of workers were similar. For example, "The Emp at BOAC," Powers-Samas Magazine, Aug. 1954, inside front cover; "Reed Paper Group," Powers-Samas Magazine, Dec. 1956, p. 10; "Emp for Australian Newspaper," Powers-Samas Magazine, Nov./Dec. 1958, p. 8.
28. "The Emp in Production," Powers-Samas Magazine, Apr. 1954, inside back cover. Through the 1960s, IBM UK measured production times for computer internals in "girl hours" to highlight their low-cost assembly and testing workforce. "Interdepartmental Study Group on Application of Computer Techniques to Clerical Work: 1956–1957," T 222/1314, TNA.
29. Meta Zimmeck, "Jobs for the Girls: The Expansion of Clerical Work for Women, 1850–1914," Unequal Opportunities: Women's Employment in England 1800–1918, A.V. John ed., Basil Blackwell, 1986.
30. Laporte Industries news reprint, "Mechanical Accounting at 'The Rock,'" Powers-Samas Magazine, Jun./Jul. 1957, pp. 10–11.
31. "Single-Demand Billing for Gas, Water, Electricity, and Refuse Collection," Powers-Samas Magazine, Mar./Apr. 1957, p. 11.
32. High turnover kept costs low both by depressing salaries and obviating the need for employer pension contributions.
33. In 1960 only a quarter of all trade union members nationwide were women. By 1970, this figure had risen to roughly a third. Equality for Women, Command Paper 5724, Sept. 1974, p. 2.
34. Computing companies tended to hire men as operators. C. Hobson (employee of Leo Computers), author correspondence, 18 Dec. 2005, London.
35. Aeronautical Research Council, "Training and Careers For Computers," DSIR 23/23112, TNA, 1955, p. 2.
36. Women's Trade Union Congress, Proc. 1960 Women Workers Meeting at Hastings, GB0152 MSS.292/4/12/pieces 1–17, Modern Records Center, Coventry, pp. 21–22.
37. Government reports and memoranda, later enacted through job calls and hiring rubrics, show this change from the 1950s through 1970s. For example, "Shift Working of Computer Operators: Applications for Vacancies and Other Papers 1966–1969," LAB 12/1553, and the STAT 14, HN 1, T 162, T 215, and T 222 series, TNA.
38. Times (London), "The World of Management, Computers: For the Want of a Man…," 29 Jan. 1968, clipping, STAT 14/3484, TNA, and Observer Weekend Rev., "The Computer As Bureaucrat,"18 Feb. 1962, clipping, T 216/710, TNA.
39. See STAT 14, HN 1, T 162, T 215, and T 222 series, TNA.
40. Minutes, 20 Apr. 1959, STAT 14/2320, TNA.
41. The idea that women could not effectively manage mixed personnel remained a major stumbling block for women for decades. T. Rees, Skill Shortages, Women and the New Information Technologies, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1992, and A. Hunt, Management Attitudes and Practices Towards Women at Work, HMSO, 1975.
42. ICT House Magazine, Sept. 1964, p. 8.
43. ICL News, Nov. 1970, front page.
44. Treasury, "Machine Grades: Notes of an Interdepartmental Meeting,"8 May 1964, STAT 14/2765, TNA.
45. "ADP Staffing and Projects," Jul. 1968, HN 1/67, TNA.
46. J.D.W. Janes Treasury Organization and Methods Dept., "Electronic Computers 'Oil' the Wheels of Government," Jun. 1962, T 216/710, TNA.
47. Internal government job advertisements, 1966–1969, LAB 12/1553, TNA.
48. In 1970, women were roughly 8 percent of the executive class. "Career Prospects for Women Civil Servants," Civil Service Opinion, vol. 48, no. 557, 1970, HN 1/67, TNA, p. 52.
49. Treasury, "Notes,"28 May 1962, T 216/710, and "Minutes,"30 Jun. 1965, LAB 12/1471, TNA.
50. NICOL was a subset of PL/1, an imperative computer programming language designed for business, scientific, and engineering applications.
51. Central Computing Bureau (CCB), "Steering Committee Meeting Report,"8 Jun. 1967 and 5 Jun. 1968, STAT 14/3303, TNA.
52. "Losses of ADP Staff," 1971, HN 1/62, TNA.
53. P.R. Bixby chief scientist, Royal Air Force, "Recruitment and Retention of Machine Operators," Nov. 1967, AIR 77/384, TNA, p. 5.
54. "ADP Staff Return," 1970-71, sections E and F, HN 1/62, TNA.
55. Letters from Transport Salaried Staffs Association to the Secretary of the British Transport Commission, 18 July 1961 and 15 July 1963, AN 171/398, TNA.
56. J.B. Archer, "The Office Manager's Guide to Greater Efficiency at Lower Cost, Part 6: Staff Problems, Interviews, Wages," Office Magazine, Dec. 1965, p. 1020.
57. Advertisement for Susie, Office Methods and Machines Magazine, Sept. 1967, p. 33.
58. ICL Computers Int'l, Sept. 1970, p. 3.
59. C.W. Blundell HMSO Norwich Computing Installation, to F.G. Burrett CSD, 25 Feb. 1969, STAT 14/2765, TNA.
60. R. Mortensen, "Economic Nightmare," letter to ed., Civil Service Opinion, vol. 48, no. 557, 1970, HN 1/67, TNA, p. 54.
61. , The Clerical and Professional Civil Servants Association objected, but the plans moved ahead unchanged. "Computers In Government Ten Years Ahead: Notes of an Informal Meeting with the National Staff Side,"21 Sept. 1970, HN 1/22, TNA.
62. B. Reskin and P. Roos show how even economic best interest can lose out when employers perceive certain workers as more valuable. Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women's Inroads into Male Occupations, Temple Univ. Press, 1990, pp. 108–109.
63. , As contemporary scholarship on underrepresentation in computing has discussed, the popular image of a field can powerfully impact both practitioners and potential entrants. See Margolis and Fisher's Unlocking the Clubhouse, and J. Margolis, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, MIT Press, 2010.
64. In The Government Machine: A Revolutionary History of the Computer, MIT Press, 2003, J. Agar discusses the tight relationship between managerial and technological systems within the government.
65. T. Jones, Remaking the Labour Party: From Gaitskell to Blair, Routledge, 1996, pp. 77–80.

Index Terms:
History of computing, labor, gender, Britain, women, advertising, training, computers and society, organizational impacts
Marie Hicks, "Only the Clothes Changed: Women Operators in British Computing and Advertising, 1950-1970," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 5-17, Oct.-Dec. 2010, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2010.55
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