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Programmed Inequality: The consequences of gender-bias in the British computer industry.

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A Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy webinar exploring the consequences of gender-bias in the British computer industry.

About this event

In 1944, Britain led the world in electronic computing, but thirty years later the British computer industry was all but extinct. How did this happen?

Four years ago a young historian of technology, Mar Hicks, provided the first deeply-researched answer in a study of how the British industry changed by redefining computer-related employment in gendered terms.

Women had played a major role in computing in the wartime and post-war eras.

But as the technology advanced, and successive governments began to perceive its industrial significance, they were consistently excluded from high-level computing jobs in the public sector because of their supposed lack of “leadership potential”, and computing-related work was correspondingly undervalued.

One of the consequences of this gender bias was the eventual obliteration of the domestic mainframe industry.

Now that the consequences of gender-bias and imbalance in the modern tech industry are becoming striking, the Minderoo Centre is holding a Webinar to look back on this pathbreaking study.

Join us online to hear Mar Hicks, Dame Wendy Hall FRS and other scholars in conversation.

Date: 27 May at 17:30 BST

About the speakers

Mar Hicks (they/them) is an historian of technology, gender, and labour, specialising in the history of computing. Hicks’s book, Programmed Inequality (MIT Press, 2017) investigates how Britain lost its early lead in computing by discarding the majority of their computer workers and experts—simply because they were women. Their current project looks at transgender citizens’ interactions with the computerised systems of the British welfare state in the 20th century, and how these computerised systems determined whose bodies and identities were allowed to exist. This work studies how collective understandings of progress are defined by competing discourses of social value and economic productivity, and how technologies often hide regressive ideals while espousing “revolutionary” or “disruptive” goals. Hicks has also co-edited a new book on computing history — Your Computer Is On Fire (MIT Press, 2020) and runs the Digital History Lab at Illinois Tech.

Dame Wendy Hall, DBE , FRS, FREng (she/hers) is Regius Professor of Computer Science, Associate Vice President (International Engagement), and is an Executive Director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton.

With Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Sir Nigel Shadbolt she co-founded the Web Science Re-search Initiative in 2006 and is the Managing Director of the Web Science Trust, which has a global mission to support the development of research, education and thought leadership in Web Science.

She became a Dame Commander of the British Empire in the 2009 UK New Year’s Honours list and is a Fellow of the Royal Society.

She has previously been President of the ACM , President of BCS , Senior Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, a member of the UK Prime Minister’s Council for Science and Technology, was a founding member of the European Research Council and Chair of the European Commission’s ISTAG , was a member of the Global Commission on Internet Governance, and was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Futures Council on the Digital Economy.

Dame Wendy was co-Chair of the UK government’s Artificial Intelligence Review, which was published in October 2017, is the UK government’s first Skills Champion for AI and is a member of the newly formed AI Council. In May 2020, she was appointed Chair of the Ada Lovelace Institute.

This talk is part of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy, University of Cambridge series.

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