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The Day IBM Let Married Women Work

It's hard to imagine not being able to work at IBM if you're a woman who happens to be married, but  Gizmodo has published a memo from January 10, 1951  that discusses a "temporary modification" of IBM's personnel policy—yes, it finally allowed female employees to continue working once they were married. It says: 

Effective immediately and until further notice:

1. A female employee will not be required to resign from the company upon marriage

2. The Company will consider for employment a married female.


William Hugh Murray remembers:

Prior to WWII, IBM did not employee women at all. I do not remember whether that was IBM-only or more common in business. Even secretaries were men.

During the war, many IBM managers and professionals went in the armed services. As a matter of policy, IBM put them on "military leave of absence," paid them the difference between their IBM salary and their service salary, and promised them their jobs when the war ended.

To back-fill behind these managers and professionals, they hired women. I seem to recall that they were called "system service girls."  My father hired a whole covey of them.

One of these was Ruth Leach. In recognition of the importance of women to the IBM war effort, Thomas Watson, Sr. named Ruth as a vice  president of IBM. She may well have been the first woman executive in American business.

It is well recorded that at the end of the war, women, particularly married women went home and service men came back to their jobs. In many cases, this was a matter of policy as well as practice. At IBM, there were few married women to start with.  Many of the single left and many married, but many of the single ones remained. Though I was only ten when the war ended, I was destined to manage a woman hired by my Father during the war.

Looking back on it, this memo makes IBM look conservative and sexist, when in fact they were the leaders in hiring and promoting women. While pay disparity continued for a generation, it was in spite of policy to the contrary.

At my 50th birthday party, I introduced my manager, Sandra Rocke, to someone as "my boss." She said, "Well, we work together." My Dad, Ruth Leach, and Thomas Watson, Sr. would be pleased to know that IBM is now led by a woman.


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