This last week, a company called OneLogin launched a recruiting campaign in the bay area, placing large advertisements in Bart stations. One of these ads featured a woman, Isis Anchalee Wenger, and a quote from her in which she says, basically, that she’s a software engineer and she likes her job and co-workers. It’s a pretty standard “People like working here, and you would too” recruiting pitch.
The ad caused an internet uproar, however, after comments in response to the ad suggested that she didn’t “look” like a software engineer and that the ad was a scheme to appeal to men while giving the appearance of trying to appeal to women.
Here’s the “controversial” ad.
Isis wrote on Medium.com “I’m just a human and I prefer to keep my life simple/reserved, but it blows my mind that my fully-clothed smiling face with unbrushed hair and minimal makeup on a white wall is seemingly more controversial … simply because of my gender.”
For comparison, here’s an example of another ad that’s been on billboards, visible from the freeway, all over the bay area lately.
These ads haven’t caused nearly as much of a stir as the OneLogin ad. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the astonishment?
Both of these ads are hoping to appeal to young people who have certain in-demand skills. The first one suddenly became controversial, however, because it features a woman. She’s young, attractive, and has a job in a heavily male-dominated industry. If her job title were listed as “Human Resources” or “Marketing”, there would have been no controversy.
The fact that such a new industry has created a culture that’s hostile to women is disturbing in many ways.
When you look at people, do you evaluate their qualifications for a job based on their appearance or whether they’re women? Any software engineer would tell you that your appearance and gender have no bearing on whether you can write code. Yet, whether it’s through self-exclusion (I don’t look like the engineers) or discrimination by others (she doesn’t look like us), the net effect is the same: women are being kept out of software development jobs. In an industry where qualified candidates are in such high demand and innovation is the key for success, this failure to be inclusive of half of the potential labor force is a major problem.
Solving the problem needs to start with education, and there are a lot of people and organizations working on it from that angle. But, it also requires everyone, especially those who have jobs in technology and software, to stop thinking and looking at people through the lens of outdated biases and stereotypes. Let’s all engage in higher modes of thinking. We need to be vigilant in our fight to include everyone. Only then will software companies stop looking like misogynists, and start looking like engineers.