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Social Media Fail: IBM Demos How Not To Market To Women

A video and hashtag created by IBM earlier this fall is garnering some unwanted attention from women in science and the Internet at large this week.

#HackAHairDryer was a social campaign and video meant to “reengineer misperceptions about women in tech and to focus on what really matters in science,” according to the BBC. However, instead of women in tech and science sharing their work on the IBM website, they shared their opinions on social media — and they were not pleased.

Although the posts, which IBM contends were “part of a larger campaign to promote STEM careers,” were made in October and went largely unnoticed at the time, this week, female scientists started responding. In just a few hours, the hashtag had gone from virtually unknown to racking up nearly 5,000 mentions.

Some notable posts included those from engineer and rocket scientist Stephanie Evans (@StephEvz43), who tweeted: “That’s ok @IBM, I’d rather build satellites instead, but good luck with that whole #HackAHairDryer thing.” Meanwhile, Upulie Divisekera (@upulie) tweeted: “I leave hairdryer fixing to the men, I’m too busy making nanotech and treating cancer.”

When asked to comment, Evans told the BBC: “The #HackAHairdryer campaign is a poorly designed attempt to inspire women to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] careers due to the fact that it reinforces gender stereotypes. Getting women interested in STEM is as simple as making educational resources readily available for them to freely pursue their interests without being placed in a glittery, pink box.”

Although the American computing monolith has since removed the offending video and posts and apologized for the campaign — saying “It missed the mark, and we apologize. It is being discontinued” — the damage had already been done.

The London Fire Brigade, who got in on the hashtag action on Twitter, may have put it most clearly when it tweeted: “We’re staying out of the sexism debate, however we’d suggest that it’s generally a bad idea, & possibly a bit dangerous to #HackAHairDryer.”

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