Women make up more than half of the United States workforce, but there’s still a disparity in the types of jobs they fill.
A report by the Center for Women in Business reveals that females occupy only one-quarter of U.S. science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) positions. IBM seeks to raise this number with a campaign encouraging women to alter the mechanics of a hairdryer to create something new.
Twitter users have criticized IBM’s effort, saying the company used a sexist stereotype to correct gender imbalance in STEM fields. Several women working in STEM fields responded with snark:
— Jessica V (@ThatAstroKitten) December 7, 2015
I leave hairdryer fixing to the men, I’m too busy making nanotech and treating cancer. https://t.co/fX7tDPsJXr
— Upulie Divisekera (@upulie) December 7, 2015
— Stephanie Evans (@StephEvz43) December 7, 2015
— Carly Ziter (@carlyziter) December 7, 2015
— Judy Melinek M.D. (@drjudymelinek) December 7, 2015
— Jo Alabaster (@joalabaster) December 7, 2015
So you can #hackahairdryer and do some really cool stuff. You’ve missed the point tho IBM. Gender is bollocks. You are reinforcing it.
— NurtureMyBaby (@NurtureMyBaby) December 7, 2015
— Clare Lissaman (@ClareLissaman) December 7, 2015
— Dr Mel Thomson (@DrMel_T) December 7, 2015
Others said though the goal was good, IBM’s marketing and PR teams missed the mark with its messaging:
Dear campaigns to get women interested in STEM. The problem isn’t us. #HackAHairDryer is a great example of that. Hair dryers? really?
— SCG (@apiary) December 6, 2015
— Lói (@embloi) December 7, 2015
— Laura (@uisgebeatha) December 7, 2015
— Stilgherrian (@stilgherrian) December 7, 2015
— RebeccaDV (@della_rebecca) December 7, 2015
It’s clear there are great intentions in the #HackAHairDryer campaign… but I have serious qualms about both the message and the project.
— annmarie thomas (@amptMN) December 6, 2015
Though the campaign was launched in October, the online firestorm came after IBM shared the campaign again with recent tweets:
— IBM (@IBM) December 1, 2015
— IBM (@IBM) December 4, 2015
However, not all feedback for the campaign has been negative. Prior to the backlash, several users applauded IBM’s efforts with tweets.
— E is for Enrichment (@eforenrichment) November 19, 2015
Three female IBM employees—user experience design lead Kathryn McElroy, engineer and inventor Kimberly Greene Starks and polymer chemist Nancy Zhang—also shared positive thoughts on the campaign in another IBM YouTube video.
“I think this project can really inspire girls to become engineers because they’ll see that we transformed this hairdryer into something more useful,” Starks says in the video. “We created something from nothing, and they’ll see that we look just like them. All ideas and perspectives drive innovation, and without representation from women and minorities, we only see a small bit of what is possible.”
What do you think of the criticism, Ragan readers? Is there a better way for organizations to approach women in STEM efforts, or are some people overreacting?
UPDATE: On Monday evening, IBM pulled its campaign and deleted the tweets, Webpage and YouTube videos promoting it. The company reached out to several publications on Twitter and issued a mea culpa in with the following tweet:
Thanks for the feedback on our campaign. We heard you and we apologize for missing the mark. We promise to do better in the future.
— IBM (@IBM) December 7, 2015