Dear Microsoft: Absolutely Not.

by
EducationGenderSTEM 43 Comments

And it has nothing to do with your software. It has to do with your new ad campaign, which I happened to see while I was at the gym last week. Here’s the gist: brilliant young girls express their ambitions to cure cancer and explore outer space and play with the latest in virtual reality tech. Then—gotcha!—they’re shown a statistic that only 6.7% of women graduate with STEM degrees. They look crushed. The tagline? “Change the world. Stay in STEM.”

Are you fucking kidding me?

Microsoft, where’s your ad campaign telling adult male scientists not to rape their colleagues in the field? Where’s the campaign telling them not to steal or take credit for women’s work? Or not to serially sexually harass their students? Not to discriminate against them? Not to ignoredismiss, or fail to promote them at the same rate as men? Not to publish their work at a statistically significant lower rate? Not to refuse to take women on field expeditions, as did my graduate advisor, now tenured at University of Washington? Where’s your ad campaign telling institutions not to hire, shelter, or give tenure to serial harassers or known sexists, as UW and countless others have done? Where’s your ad campaign encouraging scientific journals to switch to blind submissions and blind peer reviewers? Or to pay women at the same rate as men? I could keep linking articles all day. But I’m tired. Everyones’ noses have been pushed in these same data for decades and nothing changes.

There’s a reason women and girls leave STEM. It is because STEM is so hostile to women that leaving the field is an act of survival. It was for me.

Microsoft, do not dump this shit on the shoulders of young girls. It’s not their responsibility; it’s the responsibility of those in power. That means you.

Get it right.


About the author

Monica Byrne is a writer, playwright, artist, and futurist based in Durham, North Carolina. Her first novel, The Girl in the Road, won the 2015 Tiptree Award. Her work is funded entirely by patrons on Patreon, and she can also be found on Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, and Facebook. (photo credit: Marion Ettlinger)

  • Nicole Maron

    You nailed it. Every bit of it. My hero of the day, you are.

  • Donny

    Here, here!

  • Frax

    But the campaign points out a more early problem, “society works to discourage girls to drop STEM and apply for other careers”. Are there other problem within STEM? yes there are, but that was not the point of the campaign. So Attacking the campaign itself doesn’t bring anything to the topic because the campaign is not about that. Little girls are not discourage because a man will steal their findings, or because they may get raped… the truth is they are discourage way before all that, by other things like seeing that STEM is a man dominated area, or that STEM is not cool for females to mention a pair of reasons.

    The campaign covers the social discourage of girls in STEM only. Problems within STEM are little to none related to the social discourage of girls, which is a pretty specific topic.

  • Doug Burger

    My wife forwarded this article to me and asked what I thought. Full disclosure: am a senior Microsoft employee. All of the points the authors makes are correct, it all needs to be done. The question is how. From inside the company, you need to (a) make sure that the environment is not hostile, (b) that women are paid commensurately to men, and (c) that their careers advance at comparable rates. That is indeed our responsibility. The other thing you need is more women (and other diverse employees); it is really challenging to turn the culture if women are 5-20% of the workforce. And widening the pipeline into STEM is very hard for a company to do effectively. This ad is one small attempt to broaden the pipeline, and I’m delighted that we are doing it. That doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to do the rest as well (with higher priority). But it’s an AND, not an XOR.

    • Andrea Price

      I don’t disagree, but you’re assuming MS needed (for some reason) to launch an ad campaign about this in the first place. If anything this makes me want to work for a company like this LESS, because I don’t have any faith that upper management would have my back if something went sideways. This ad is not enticing for most women, it’s quite the opposite, given women’s experiences in the workplace.

    • Thanks Doug this is a great response, whilst women are such a small minority equality is tough. However, let’s ensure that men demonstrating the characteristics are not promoted but fired!

    • Nicole Maron

      I’m with Andrea on this. The effort is appreciated, but not effective communication, hence the negative response. It’s like they didn’t research messaging with any women in tech or younger women.

  • xWidget

    So uh, sure, those are all reasons that STEM jobs suck for girls, but Microsoft is only focusing on education here. Maybe your school was different but the creep factor in my computer science program was huge. The only CS friend I had was because we played on the same sports team, and not through our classes. The few girls I saw stick with it were clearly disgusted but persevered, or were so antisocial that guys couldn’t effectively talk to them long enough to harass them. Personally I recommend the career (although you *will* have to be selective about where you work) because of the great return in terms of benefits, work culture at most places, and income, but wow is that degree going to suck.

    FWIW, where I work managed to scale up “startup culture” to around 200 people so far successfully, and I haven’t seen a single gender issue come up yet. We’re rather diverse as far as tech companies go though, and while we won’t (and can’t) force people to hold certain opinions on sexism and other issues like LGBTQ, etc., we absolutely would not tolerate any actions that result in abuse or discrimination. If you can contribute your intelligence, get along well enough with everyone, and shower often, then you’ll be pretty successful.

    • J.B.

      I hate to hit like this because I don’t like it at all, but I get it.

  • Andrea Price

    APPLAUSE!!!

  • S3r3nity

    And that’s without even starting on the financial barriers — smart girls are more likely to be responsible for siblings; they’re more likely to be routed into babysitting than into running a lawn care business; they’re less likely to be put in charge of technology at school or an after school job. This aggregates to having a less attractive resume for scholarships and loans. Engineering school is more expensive than other colleges at my university, but there’s no extra money in student loans for it. So I ended up dropping out and going back to work when I ran out of money.

  • Zizi Roberts

    I am so very sorry to hear these kinds of personal stories. Hang in there. Inside it may hurt, but on the outside, you must carry yourself in IGNORE mode. Continue with your studies. What you are learning will help many people with illnesses and disabilities who might otherwise end their life in a wheelchair like actor Christopher Reeves, or in a tiny coffin because no one could cure a helpless, blameless child. #resist #NeverGiveUp

  • Carolyn Morton

    I feel like this is an overreaction in a lot of ways. Elements of the ad are definitely problematic. The way the statistic was introduced as a dream crusher and not a motivator wasn’t great. The issues with women in STEM that you pointed out are super valid, but they also don’t invalidate the message of this ad, in my opinion. An advocacy article calling for concurrent advertising campaigns that address discrimination, harassment, cultural issues, structural inequality – in short the reasons women are leaving STEM would have been much more productive, though the clickbait probably wouldn’t have been as good. As a kid, I was socialized away from math and science. If I had seen an add from an industry giant actively encouraging girls to participate it might have allowed me to think of a career in STEM as more salient option. Our individual experiences and hardships are an important means of connecting with an issue, but in this case your personal experience and the bias/anger (TOTALLY valid) that has resulted could be applied with a little more finesse.

  • Brian4000

    This is an over-reaction. They are just trying to get more women to get into the field (which is legitimately one part of the equation). Frankly I kind of like a message of being tougher and sticking with it over one that says its impossible because you are a victim. Also this is a message that can apply to anyone. The world is a tough and difficult place sometimes. I think these kinds of messages are much more empowering in getting people to tackle those challenges.

    • Are you quite sure it is an over-reaction? Over 50% of women experience sexual harassment and discrimination.

      • Brian4000

        Yes, because this ad isn’t saying that life is fair to women, or that things shouldn’t improve for them. It is just trying to encourage young women and girls to continue in a field they are under represented in.

        • Nicole Maron

          No, it’s saying that tech world sucks for us but we should stick it out without expecting any support from our male leadership.

          • Brian4000

            No, that isn’t what it is saying. Life is complicated. There are multiple problems at work here and you can’t tackle all of them in each message. And you have to deal with the reality that exists even while working to change it. You need to focus. We’ve heard a lot about the problems in the tech industry and those certainly ought to be addressed. But one thing that will also help eliminate those problems is more women in important positions. For that to happen you need more women to get into the field. I for one think a message of empowerment is going to be a lot more effective than the message we’ve been sending to people which is you are always the victim (not that people are not victims but people need to understand they have the power to change things; they are not helpless).

          • Nicole Maron

            Tell me more about my life and how I have to experience it. This is fascinating stuff. #eyeroll

            I’m not talking about the issue of needing more women in tech and tech leadership, which you and I completely agree on. I’m talking about how ineffective this messaging is.

            You may think it is empowering, but you are not the target audience. As the target audience’s older sister, I (and other women) are telling you this message is discouraging, not encouraging. The impact is the opposite of the intention.

            So you can listen to us, or you can continue to lecture us on our own reality. Your choice.

          • Brian4000

            I am listening to women. I am listening to my sister right now, who believes this is an empowering message. If you think I come from too much of position of privilege or that I can’t understand because I am a man, then you don’t have to listen to me. You can ignore my opinions. I still think messages of empowerment are so much more effective than one’s that tell people they are always the victim. I use to buy into that kind of messaging myself, and it only led me deeper and deeper into despair. When I realized, regardless of how the world currently is, I have it in my power to do something, to stick with things and overcome those very real challenges, things got way better for me.

          • Nicole Maron

            You’re *not* listening to me or anyone here. You can’t even see that I’m agreeing with you on everything except the effectiveness of this specific messaging. You aren’t listening at all, you are scanning my responses, ignoring every point, then continuing with your own monologue.

            You are part of the problem because you are more invested in seeing yourself as a good guy who cares than in hearing and incorporating information from outside your personal experience. All you are doing is telling me my experience and the experience of other women here do not matter, that what I see and feel are wrong.

            You think you support women. You do not. You only support women who think like you and agree with your perspective. You are not doing your sister any favors, either.

            Now go ahead and rebut, because you clearly need to have the last word. I’m out.

          • Brian4000

            Since when do you speak for all women. I just showed eleven women this article and only three of them agreed with you. At a certain point I have to make a judgment based on what I think is effective, not based on what one person in the comments sections tells me women believe. If you think there is a strong case for why this kind of messaging is ineffective, feel free to prove it. Otherwise you are just voicing an opinion the same as I am doing. Your opinion about how you feel about the ad is something I can’t say is wrong, but you absolutely could be wrong about the effectiveness of the message with most women. And you being a women doesn’t make you more or less right on that front than me.

          • Jule

            Brian400 – the world is tough. The issue is not that it’s tough. The issue is do we really *need* to make it astronomically harder on ourselves for our entire lives? Or should we only have to deal with the same level of “tough” you deal with?

            I could’ve been anything, but I chose programming. I would not wish my experiences on my worst enemy. Is that the type of life women have to endure because “life’s unfair, boo hoo”. Or, should the environment change so women only have to deal with the typical difficulties of life.
            Like the stuff YOU deal with.

            Btw, I am a former Marine, and have faced more harrassment, discrimination, and disrespect in programming then i ever have in the military’s toughest branch. Give me a salty group of LCpls any day over the brogrammers.

          • J.B.

            Being a woman in a technical field can blow. Not always and not in every firm. Next time you’re at a conference though pay attention to the men and women you meet. I meet a ton of entry level women, a few midlevel women on the scut projects and lots of midlevel men given advancement opportunities, and white male upper ranks. That’s why I’m leaving my field . I am very good at technical challenges but tired of crap.

          • notasimpatientasyou

            Yes, listen to this stranger on the internet, not your own sister. She may THINK she finds that message empowering, but she’s wrong and clearly other women know better than she does. She’s probably only telling you she thinks the message is empowering because she doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. All women feel the SAME, and if your sister doesn’t realize that, Brian, then maybe she’s actually a man.

          • homasapiens

            Thing is, this op piece doesn’t tell women they are always the victim. It asks Microsoft to start telling men not to victimise women. There is a crucial difference there.

          • Ceri Cat

            It stinks worse than you perhaps realised, in IT during the 70s the situation was far different the rise of the microcomputers accompanied a decrease in an industry that was previously well represented by women to the abominable situation we have now where in over 20 years I’ve only met _three_ women working in the field.

  • Microsoft, tellingly, was also one of the few advertisers on Bill O’Reilly that didn’t pull their ads out of his show (even when everyone else was.) You’re totally justified to call b.s. on their grandstanding.

  • Tina

    Message to Microsoft (and anyone else) – don’t try and help, you will be held accountable for all the injustices of the world

    • homasapiens

      Message to Microsoft (and anyone else) – If you want to help, do something that actually helps.

      Message to George– just because you call yourself “Tina’ doesn’t hide the fact that you talk like an MRA.

  • Maria

    Darling, this “article” is a blind rant crying over your own inabilities to complete a degree. I’m laughing, but it is genuinely sad. All you can do is blame men and cite misleading statistics and single examples. There is no substance here, and your selection of emotion over objectivity is probably why you utterly failed in STEM

  • Bruce Burger

    US News reported 2 years ago that “Overall, 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by men and 29 percent earned by women are now in STEM fields” and cites the source. I see several references online to the 6.7% figure (accompanied by 17% for men), but none cite the source, so I can’t begin to figure out which might be more accurate.

  • Jule

    I got written up for being “rude” when i mimicked the behaviors of my male colleagues. I wasn’t rude. I was assertive. That doesn’t go over well if you’re a woman in tech.

  • John R Fleming

    I graduated in 1974 from Stetson University. My best buddy at the time graduated six months later- top in her overall class, top in her accounting class, raked in top tem college debaters nationally. Went on to become a senior manager at Kaiser Health care in California-She would bypass stuff and people who got in her way.I wonder why the author of this article cites so many examples of systemic discrimination.It is stupid of mangement to not hire and develop the best people- and the free market says the stupid loose their place.

    • Benjamin Wolfe

      The free market doesn’t always take care of it, or the world would be a much better place. Also, one anecdote doth not data make. Just because one smoker didn’t get lung cancer doesn’t mean they’re unrelated, right?

      • John R Fleming

        The world tends to find ways to cotrol the marketplace, protecting the inefficiencies like discrimination.True fascism is few competitors, cooperative organised labour, and someone(The State )restricting entry. sort of unofficially granting a market share and assured slice of the market and returns

        • Connie KittyBlog

          it is insulting to say that because that one woman got through all of that crap to be where she is, that all women everywhere should have to put up with that crap. Men do not have to put up with it.

          This is not a free market issue, and for you to blindly state that it is shows you have no idea what women face… either because you are part of the problem or you choose to be blind to it, and I don’t know what is worse.

          • John R Fleming

            so, you want more laws?

          • J.B.

            The employment laws on the books are at this point more a psychological deterrent than a real force. Who would really want to go through the h3ll that is litigation? I myself can be a hard nosed b!tch, that isn’t really a plus to many bosses. (See my boss who got promoted because he was someone’s protoge, his sponsor now hammers him for lack of results, except for the results I get! I have anecdata too!) As a woman in a professional field advancing is a matter of threading the needle between being nice and being thought too soft.

            Just because you have not personally experienced something doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. I bet you’re not afraid to walk down a street at night alone either.

          • John R Fleming

            get out of the corporate stream. Go into sales or self-employment where you are judged directly by your production and not by what someone says you produce;I am not afraid to walk down the dtreet even though I have severe disabilities.If someone gets close to me and attacks, I would probably subject him to roadside liver surgery

          • stelae

            I hope you can at least see the irony of telling a woman (who’s actually getting results and carrying her pathetic male colleague) that she should move into sales or self employment, rather than being allowed to do her goddamned job.

    • Leslie Havens

      Some athletes, despite serious disabilities, compete in the Olympics … No one is using them as evidence that we shouldn’t help amputees (they just need to endure and try harder! Look at the blade runner!). How dare you use one anecdote of a woman who persisted to belittle the hurdles she did overcome and dismiss the obstacles that often defeat others, ones have been thoroughly proven with research.

  • youji

    She makes an important point. Women are not discouraged to start liking STEM (at least not in the USA). The female to male ratio in STEM is almost equal in undergrad (although still low in Physics). The significant imbalance happens in grad schools and even more significant drop in female ratio occurs in the transition from grad school to post doc. You cannot always impose the oppressed to carry the burden to make the changes. It makes sense for the society to change so the minority can thrive/ feel welcomed.

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