Abstract: Programming Enterprise: Women Entrepreneurs in Computer Services, 1965-1985

Jeffrey Yost

Abstract

This paper begins by briefly exploring potential factors behind the relative dearth of historical studies of twentieth-century women entrepreneurs and the complete absence of historical literature on women entrepreneurs in computing and software. Drawing from and summarizing elements of four detailed case studies of women computer entrepreneurs—three from the computer services industry and one from the software products trade—the core of the paper seeks to characterize both the substantial hurdles women faced working for large computer and software organizations from the 1960s through the 1980s, as well as the entrepreneurial vision of a small number of women who helped pioneer the hitherto unstudied information technology (IT) independent contractor (IC) brokerage segment of the computer services industry. In contrast to the computer and software products trades, IT IC brokerages had very low financial barriers to entry. In addition to Grace Gentry, who launched the first IT IC brokerage, women founded and ran an estimated 20 percent of early businesses in this segment—a percentage that dwarfs other areas of the IT industry. Finally, the cases demonstrate that women had a disproportionate role in providing leadership to the primary trade association of the IT IC industry, the NACCB.