From the second world war to the 1960s, women were a critical part of the computing sector. Would tech culture today be less sexist if they hadn’t been sidelined?
Sadie the typist and Susie her computer: sophisticated but cheap. That’s how the duo are billed when they appear in 1960s adverts to promote a now defunct UK computer company. Using young, attractive women to advertise computers was a common ploy in Britain at the time, when male managers, uninitiated in the complexities of this new technology, viewed the machines as intimidating and opaque.
“Computers were expensive and using women to advertise them gave the appearance to managers that jobs involving computers are easy and can be done with a cheap labour force,” explains technology historian Marie Hicks. They might have been on a typist’s salary, but women like Sadie were not typists – they were skilled computer programmers, minus the prestige or pay the modern equivalent might command.