IBM's #HackAHairDryer: A lesson in turning STEM women away from your company

Personally, I would like to see #HackAHairClipper next.


When a company like IBM unintentionally reinforces stereotypes which compartmentalize women into a species which only cares about looking good and domestic chores, the backlash is going to be something stunning to see.

Let's talk about #HackAHairDryer, the latest campaign designed to lure more women into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields by. Big Blue's latest scheme -- dating back from October but receiving little attention -- was recently re-advertized over Twitter using the #HackAHairDryer hashtag.

This time, people took notice. A number of female engineers, scientists, coders and the like are not too happy, and you can no doubt guess why if you watch the video. (IBM later took down the video.)

Twitter did not receive the promotion well. Below is a cross-section of some of the responses:


An IBM spokeswoman told ZDNet:

"The videos were part of a larger campaign to promote STEM careers. It missed the mark for some and we apologise. It is being discontinued."

Let's be frank. How anyone in this day and age can think such a campaign is a good idea -- especially for a company with the reputation and reach of IBM -- is outrageous. Any women in these fields, working alongside their often excellent male counterparts, can be equally competent and should be treated as such.

The video talks of innovation "not caring what you look like," while at the same time, uses a woman, hairdryer and scattered cosmetics to, what, not enforce stereotypes? If IBM has a shortage of male coders in the future shall we see an accompanying campaign dubbed #HackAHairClipper?

If you compare this promotional content to another video posted by IBM seeking new recruits for digital technology -- will both men and women discussing such careers -- the #HackAHairDryer campaign comes out even worse. The Digital IBMer video is actually professional, showing both genders to be equal in terms of passion and potential and does not leave a bad taste in the mouth.

The technology industry is stiff with competition and it is not a walk in the park to work within it, whether you are male or female. However, in any industry, women still have to put up with these ridiculous stereotypes across all walks of life, and it will take the gradual adjustment of attitudes in the West -- which many companies and individuals are trying to promote -- before this changes.

So no, IBM -- I don't want to play with a hairdryer on your behalf. I'm happier cracking connected home appliances and poking servers, thank you.

That's why it's so frustrating when companies like IBM mess up, albeit with the best intentions. Not only can this campaign be interpreted as derogatory when it comes to the place of women in tech -- and that's certainly the way I took it -- but the video is meant to represent IBM's business culture.

A wonderful representation, hm?

Bad form, IBM. If you want to promote gender equality and engage more female STEM recruits, leave talk of hair dryers, cosmetics, kitschy music and a terrible voice-over at the door next time.