In honor of International Women’s Day yesterday, m:united crafted a spot for Microsoft entitled “Girls Do Science.”
“Girls Do Science” opens with portraits of several young girls who are interested in science and technology, including one who built a garage door opener and is currently working on her own website, along with text informing viewers that “7 out of 10 girls are interested in science.” Then the girls share some familiar issues involving the perception that science is “more of a boy’s thing,” such as one girl who explains that “There used to girl in the robotics class but she quit, and so I’m the only girl left.” Text informs viewers that “only 2 out of 10 girls will go on to pursue science.” So Microsoft sent each of these girls encouraging letters, and end the ad by sharing the email firstname.lastname@example.org, presumably for girls with an interest in pursuing a career with the company.
While the opening part of the ad does a credible job giving voice to several girls interested in tech or science careers and does a good job communicating the alienation girls face when they show interest in a male-dominated subject, the rest of the ad falters from being far too self-congratulatory. It’s a particularly powerful moment when one of the girls describes being the only girl in her robotics class, but it feels empty when another says that it was great that Microsoft sent her a letter (and it’s easy to get the impression she was spoon-fed the line). The email@example.com gesture feels equally meaningless, and more than a little self-serving. Plus, as Adweek points out, this is a company that is more than a little responsible for the problem of women being underrepresented in tech; employing only 17 percent women in tech roles as of an October report, compared to 20 percent at Apple, in addition to its CEO’s controversial (and often perceived as sexist) remark about women asking for raises. You could see “Girls Do Science” as a step toward reconciliation for past mistakes, but it could just as easily be perceived as exploitative, manipulative and hypocritical.