Mary Lee Berners-Lee: equal pay for women programmers

Mary Lee Berners-Lee tells the story of how women programmers at 1950s Ferranti appealed for equal pay.

Miss Graham, who was the Personnel Manager for women, she was a wonderful character, actually, very good at organising, and very fair in the end, and looking after her little flock. But she didn’t approve of some of our modern attitudes. Well, one of the things that happened fairly early on was that we, the women, discovered that the men were being paid more. And we were none of us married with family responsibilities, and of course we though this was most unjust. And Miss Graham was shocked that we were professional people and we discussed our salaries. It wasn’t done. And she pointed out that Ferranti was a very paternal firm, and if they knew that somebody was having a problem because his wife was sick, and one thing and another, they could quietly give him slightly more in his pay, but not if he talked with his mates. So it was really important that you didn’t, you see, it wasn’t done. However, we won the battle of equal pay. I was sent along at the spokesperson, and I really am not very good at legal arguments, didn’t know quite what to say, and went along to Bernard Swann. He was relatively old, he was forty. And at first he started to argue with me, and I said, ‘No, no, no, no, I understand all that, what I want to know is what do I say?’ And then he told me what to say, well to the personnel department about the pay. [Laughs] That was very helpful. And we won, of course. Oh they accepted it, they did, oh yes, they accepted it. But it was new to them, it was new to them. It was an engineering firm, and most of the women were the typists and the people working on the radio belt and like that. They didn’t have professional women, except Miss Graham herself of course, and her assistant. So it hadn’t arisen before, but it did then.

  • Interviewee Mary Lee Berners-Lee
  • Duration 00:02:06
  • Copyright British Library Board
  • Interviewer Thomas Lean
  • Date of interview 9/21/2010
  • Shelfmark C1379/23

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