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December 7, 2015

IBM draws Twitter wrath over ‘sexist’ #HackAHairDryer

News: An initiative to encourage women in engineering has been derided as patronising.

By Alexander Sword

IBM is facing criticism as a campaign to encourage more women to participate in engineering was dubbed as sexist and patronising.

The #HackaHairDryer campaign, launched by the technology company to address gender stereotypes, created controversy by inviting women to re-engineer a hair dryer for non-beauty purposes.

"Girls don’t like science? Women can’t code? Only men wear lab coats? It’s hair-raising misperceptions like these that keep bright minds out of research labs, scrum teams and engineering tracks — leaving untold innovations on the shelf," said the explanation on the company’s website.

"It’s time to blast away the barriers that women confront on a daily basis. Help us make a statement that it’s not what people think of you that matters, it’s how you think!"

A promotional video explained that the initiative aimed to tackle the disproportionately small number of science and engineering jobs held by women, apparently three in ten.

However, IBM’s initiative drew criticism from notable technologist Asher Wolf, the founder of Cryptoparty, amongst others.

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"My $240 piece of electronics dedicated to making me look socially acceptable – sure, why not, I’ll take a screw-driver to it and turn it into a glorified cheese-melter, or a maybe a starter mechanism for a Rube Goldberg machine. Because we’re hacking gender stereotypes," wrote Wolf on her blog.

"This isn’t just some ‘moar wimmin in STEM plox’ gimmick from IBM’s human resources, right?" Wolf wrote.

"Well, IBM clearly didn’t run the #HackaHairDryer campaign by @IBMWatson," quipped one Twitter user, referencing the analytics programme that informs many of the company’s products.

"I’ve pivoted from my hairdryer hacking to blowing up things in my microwave. Disrupt the radiation! #HackAHairDryer," wrote another.

"Imagine if you could #HackAHairDryer so it automatically turned on like a thousand at the same time whenever someone said dumb sexist sh*t," read another contribution.

However, some responses were more positive.

"TBH, I think the #HackAHairDryer idea isn’t a bad one; it’s an electrical item all of us have around the house but the marketing: *facepalm*" one user wrote.

IBM contacted CBR with the following statement:

"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."

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