‘Career Girl Who Likes Clothes And Computers’

‘Career Girl Who Likes Clothes And Computers’

A few weeks ago, we mentioned an Australian Women’s Weekly piece detailing how 1970’s programmers could make $5000 a year. Here’s another vintage article highlighting one area where we still need to improve: employing more women in IT.

In its 26 August 1970 issue, the Weekly (which back then actually came out weekly) profiled Lee Hlavaty, the general manager for IT firm Data Preparations. Hlavaty had worked with computers for 18 years at that point, but reflecting the attitudes of the time and the magazine, the emphasis in the coverage was on the clothing she chose for work and how she had laid out her office. The caption for the picture above read:

EXECUTIVE DESK — but Mrs. Hlavaty has added feminine touches, including an eye-catching quill pen. She is always well-groomed.

We also get a picture of Hlavaty “at work in the computer room”, but even then the emphasis is on her clothing choices:

AT WORK in the computer room (above). Mrs. Hlavaty is wearing a pale wool dress, trimmed with elaborate applique imported from Mexico. Her shoes pick up the tonings in the embroidery. BELOW: She is off duty and relaxes in trendy, cherry-colored crepe culottes.

‘Career Girl Who Likes Clothes And Computers’

And why do these details matter? “”Like any woman I love clothes and colors, and don’t see why I should dress differently just because I am constantly in a man’s domain. Anyway, working with men all the time is an incentive for any woman to look her best.” Oh dear.

It’s easy to snipe (and to laugh at the fashion choices), but we should give the Weekly credit for covering what is still a relatively unusual situation: a woman running a major computer operation. (And on page 3, no less.) And while it might have focused on the culottes, the magazine didn’t automatically presume that computing was strictly a man’s domain:

For many women, the word computers conjures up images of complicated mathematics, but for Mrs. Hlavaty it is all very easy.

We learn that Hlavaty moved to Australia from Czechoslovakia after a successful opera-singing career. Just imagine: a country where female migrants were welcomed and could advance in the computing field. Forty-plus years later, would that be any easier?

Here’s the full text of the article, via Trove:

CAREER GIRL WHO LIKES CLOTHES AND COMPUTERS By ROSLYN ROSS, Pictures by John Stevens IF suffragettes were in fashion, Mrs. Lee Hlavaty would be out with the best of them, proving that women can have brains as well as beauty, and business ability as well as femininity. A successful Melbourne businesswoman, Mrs. Hlavaty is the Australian general manager for Data Preparations, a computer firm which she herself founded some years ago. Mrs. Hlavaty has been in the computer game for 18 years and is a formidable match for any of her male counterparts. She does, however, bring a flash of color and femininity into the legions of her dark-suited associates, for she makes a point of being always beautifully groomed and impeccably dressed. “Like any woman I love clothes and colors, and don’t see why I should dress differently just because I am constantly in a man’s domain,” said Mrs. Hlavaty. “Anyway, working with men all the time is an incentive for any woman to look her best. “I have some of my clothes made by Paula Stafford, a favorite designer of mine, and the others I pick up in boutiques. “I have a feminine weakness for browsing in dress shops and for buying clothes.” For many women, the word computers conjures up images of complicated mathematics, but for Mrs. Hlavaty it is all very easy. “I fell into this business really,” she said. “I first became interested in computers in 1952, when I joined an office which had just installed a very large, mechanised, data-processing centre. “From then on I was fascinated. Once you get into this field it becomes a continuous challenge, full of interest, and this is what I like.” Mrs. Hlavaty knew nothing about data processing except what she learned in a two-week course in elementary key punching. But once her interest was aroused she decided to devote all her time to study of this new subject. She sent to Germany for manuals, translated them, and by virtue of trial and error worked out how to utilise the machine to its best advantage. MEN CO-OPERATE She was ultimately appointed supervisor of the mechanised division, responsible directly to the manager. After this initiation, Mrs. Hlavaty worked for some time as a “trouble shooter,” helping to solve problems that had arisen at various companies with computer installations. Finally she began her own company, and is now believed to be the only woman in Australia holding such a prominent position in this field. She finds that men accept her without question. Being a woman has not proved a handicap. “As long as they get the results they want, they have no reason to find fault with me,” she said. Mrs. Hlavaty’s past mirrors the same drive and determination which has enabled her to attain her goal in the world of big business. Czechoslovakian by birth, her first aim was a diplomatic career, and so she began to study law. She was diverted at the age of 16 by a talent for music and a deep interest in the theatre, and was recruited into the Czech State Opera Company. As understudy for the company’s prima donna, she was called on to take up the prima donna role on one occasion, and on the strength of her performance won a “leading singer” contract with the company. “I’m afraid my time was rather full,” she said, smiling. “In the daytime I had lectures and rehearsals, and each night performances and study. We also made several European tours. “But everything worked out and I managed to get my degree. “I’ve still got some old records which I listen to, but I’m afraid my days as a coloratura soprano are over. “I had to sacrifice my singing for a career, and it was worth it. “I still take a great interest in the theatre, but any spare time I get is usually spent listening to good music or reading. “Although now most of my reading consists of the financial pages,” she said with a laugh. Mrs. Hlavaty hopes for a future in the diplomatic services “A FLUKE” Her husband, who came to Australia with her, died two years ago, she has no children, and is therefore able to devote the necessary time and energy to such a demanding career. “As for my present position – well, it was a fluke in life,” she said thoughtfully. “I didn’t plan it, but it has given me great satisfaction — anything you do well is satisfying. “I’m very ambitious and would strive for perfection in any field I tackled. “But I am a great supporter of women’s rights, and I suppose this gives me greater incentive to strive for something in a male dominated field, and greater satisfaction when I achieve my goal. “I have always wanted to be in the diplomatic services, and this is my aim for the future. “I don’t care what the job is, just so long as I can sell Australia. “I’ve been here for 20 years, and now look on Australia as my country.”


  • I don’t mind this – the bulk of the article paints her abilities in high regard and shows that men don’t have a problem with her authority because she gets results. Sure there’s talk about clothes in it but it’s a weekly magazine from the 60’s – I’m not expecting them to cover Fortran and linear algebra. But I do get the sense that Lee Hlavaty was a remarkable and accomplished woman, and in the end, that’s what matters. Good to see more Grace Hopper-like figures.

  • have no problem with woman being in IT but why does everything need to have equal woman and man %? Why aren’t people up in arms about wanting more woman taxi drivers.

  • Lee (Libusa) Hlavaty was our family friend. She and her husband Bob (Bohumil) emigrated to Australia in the early 1950s and settled in Melbourne. They were from Czechoslovakia. She had been a soprano in light opera before the war, but the war changed all that. They had a rag business in Melbourne for a while and were totally in love. No children. Bob died very suddenly in 1966 or so and the shock threw Lee whole-heartedly into their fledgling business. She told me years later that she worked constantly to cope with her loss. Eventually, she sold the business and re-married and last I heard, they’d moved to Hawajii. Our family lost touch and no doubt, she has long since passed away. As kids, we really adored her, but living in Sydney, hardly ever saw them. She was always a woman with style.
    I still miss her.

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