This past week, AWIS attended a conference in New York to collaborate with nearly 40 other organizations to address women’s economic security. The general idea was to identify ways to attract more women to the STEM fields because the pay disparity is lower in these jobs and the earning potential is higher than most other industries. As there are a lot of opportunities in high skill labor and manufacturing and emerging green technologies it seems like a logical fit. It was a fascinating discussion with passionate women from a wide range of backgrounds. Much of the dialogue revolved around identifying the biggest barriers and thus potential solutions to attract more women to STEM careers. Access to childcare? Education? Networking? Lack of supportive and encouragement? Lack of awareness of job opportunities? A sense of isolation?
Then I see things like the ads currently being run by Shoals Technologies Group featuring nearly naked women and print reading “Nice Rack” in big bold letters. We as would-be problem solvers are often so focused on what we can, within our groups, do to raise up women we sometimes forget that the problem isn’t just “with us.” But no matter how hard we work to try to improve conditions to make life better for everyone in the work force (dads do work around the house too these days, we know), it’s hard to fix one of the big unspoken problems: sexism. And sexist advertising makes women feel like they don’t belong in that space, that industry, that line of work. And why would you want to go work for a company that acts as though women are just around to be objectified? I understand that people have been using sex to sell products probably since the inception of commerce. Sure, they wound up getting a broader bandwidth using this type of campaign and I appreciate a good pun. (Shoals sell racks for solar panels, get it? Deep, I know.) But they don’t have to objectify women to sell their product because, from what I could tell based on online reviews, their products are already regarded as some of the best on the market. Apparently it’s not as much fun to advertise using your own “assets”.
Part of me is loath to even acknowledge this kind of catering to the lowest common denominator. Negative reinforcement is still reinforcement because it shows they achieved their goal of getting your attention, but somebody’s got to call out this kind of atrocious behavior. While the ads are offensive, the company’s response to the criticism has been appalling. The Miss Representation blog has been tracking the story complete with screen shots of the magically appearing and disappearing commentary and apologies on Twitter and their Facebook page. The only part that makes it funny is they can’t seem to decide exactly what type of Neanderthal (not to knock them either but I don’t think you’d approve of the vocabulary that first comes to my mind) they wish to be perceived as because they post apologies and retractions, only to take them down hours later. On Twitter men and women commented on how offensive the ads are and proposed hitting Shoals where it really hurts: their sales. Tweeters shared the company handle with the accompanying hashtag of #NotBuyingIt. The company responded with comments about how they were flattered by being called out on their misogyny. They then took it a step further and continued to post deliberately chauvinistic commentary. Earlier this week they hosted a “Nice Rack” launch party and many attendees including men didn’t find the scantily clad women present amusing, they found it embarrassing. Apparently, many men believe they have opinions to offer on topics beyond the range of T&A.
Any success from this advertising campaign may just encourage other groups to get on the bandwagon to increase their “exposure.” It’s a shame because it only hurts companies and women. They will continue to miss out on the creative potential of everyone coming to the table which has been shown to increase the success of corporations. And women continue to see images that suggest that even though working for companies like that would provide opportunity to solve neat engineering and design problems that are intellectually fulfilling, it would probably be in a hostile work environment. If you’re a smart woman, you don’t need to waste your time with frat boys. Far worse than their tacky advertising and chauvinist posts, as leaders in an industry where women are consistently underrepresented, they are sending the message that green technology is still really only for men and THAT is an outrage.