To draw more talent, OneLogin recently came up with an innocuous campaign: a series of print ads featuring a few engineers, flanked by short testimonials about their working environments.
Featured engineers were mostly men, but one was a woman. Her name is Isis Wenger. And she had no idea the impact her image would end up having.
The ads were spread in BART and MUNI stations at Embarcadero in San Francisco. But Wenger's ad was also sprinkled throughout the city to better highlight women in the tech industry.
In a post about the campaign on Medium, Wenger explained how her ad quickly began sparking some unexpected reactions:
"This is some weird haphazard branding. I think they want to appeal to women but are probably just appealing to dudes," wrote one commenter on social media. "Perhaps that's the intention all along. But I'm curious people with brains find this quote remotely plausible if women in particular buy this image of what a female software engineer looks like. Idk. Weird."
Another commenter was less ambiguous in his perceptions of her role in the campaign: "If their intention is to attract more women then it would have been better to choose a picture with a warm, friendly smile rather than a sexy smirk."
Wenger is an actual engineer who works for OneLogin and not a stock art model, so the criticisms left her frustrated.
"At the end of the day, this is just an ad campaign and it is targeted at engineers," Wenger wrote. "This is not intended to be marketed towards any specific gender — segregated thoughts like that continue to perpetuate sexist thought-patterns in this industry."
She said the experience is only the most recent among many frustrating experiences related to being a woman in the tech industry.
"I've had men throw dollar bills at me in a professional office (by an employee who works at that company, during work hours)," she wrote. "I've had an engineer on salary at a bootcamp message me to explicitly 'be friends with benefits' while I was in the interview process at the school he worked for."
To support other women in the sector, she launched ilooklikeanengineer.com, which encourages women to share their stories and help redefine the expectations of what an engineer looks like.
#ILookLikeAnEngineer is already trending in San Francisco and has crossed the Atlantic. Tech News Today reports that the movement has garnered 7.8 million impressions as of Tuesday, buttressed by blogs picking up her Medium post and related tweets.
"I didn't want or ask for any of this attention, but if I can use this to put a spotlight on gender issues in tech, I consider that to be at least one win," Wenger wrote. "The reality is that most people are well intentioned but genuinely blind to a lot of the crap that those who do not identify as male have to deal with."
In addition to a wide range of female engineers around the world adopting the hashtag, organizations like GM, MIT and NASA—along with many lesser-known startups—have also jumped on board to show their solidarity with women and minorities who often aren't associated with science.