Marie Hicks - "Programmed Inequality" - Melissa Pierce

Thursday, February 9, 2017 - 6:00pm - 7:30pm

Marie Hicks discusses Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing. She will be joined in conversation by Melissa Pierce.

At the Co-op


About the book: 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. With over 30 images–including period photographs and cartoons–the reader gets a feel not only for what happened, but the cultural texture of the time. Hicks explains why, even today, possessing technical skill is not enough to ensure 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.  For additional information about the book, please visit her book website at

About the author: Marie Hicks is an assistant professor of history of technology at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, Illinois. Her research looks at how gender and sexuality help us better understand the hidden dynamics of pervasive technologies. Her first book, Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing investigates how women's experiences change core assumptions in the history of computing and alter what we think we know about the technological progress. Hicks teaches courses on the history of computing, disasters, and gender and sexuality studies. She received her BA from Harvard University and her MA and Ph.D. from Duke University.

About the interlocutor: Melissa Pierce is a feminist loving, poetry writing, coding, start up founding, documentary film director. Currently she is making a film about the complex life and times of computer pioneer, and Navy Rear Admiral, Grace Murray Hopper.



Event Location: 
Seminary Co-op Bookstore
5751 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637