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Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing by Thomas J. Misa

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Masculinity and the Machine Man

Gender in the History of Data Processing

THOMAS HAIGH

Historian David Noble has characterized science as “A World Without Women,” arguing that this is a result of the patterning of universities on a medieval monastic model [1]. While this phrase may describe academic computer science, it was never true of data processing, as the administrative use of computers and punched card machines was known until the 1980s. Corporate computing departments were full of women from the very beginning, but men and women were clustered in different occupations. My aim here is to explain why this occurred and how this sexual segregation has evolved over time.

I chart the role of gender in the history of data processing from the 1950s to the 1970s, with an epilogue exploring census data evidence to the present day. The chapter begins with a look at the gendering of work in the punched card installations and the influence this exerted on early administrative computing work. It explores the status of women as data-entry workers and looks at the relationship between this form of feminized labor and the emerging professionalization agenda of data processing supervisors. Efforts by the Data Processing Management Association, a professional association of data processing managers and supervisors, to upgrade the standing of its members reflected aspirations toward a particular vision of masculinity, called here the “masculinity of the organization man,” and an equally important ...

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