Women Scientists Burn IBM Over ‘Hack a Hair Dryer’ Campaign

A campaign from the company suggested that women should get into tech by innovating with the hairstyling tool.
(Photo: Twitter)
Dec 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Websites, servers, networks, even KKK Twitter accounts—these days folks with significant technological chops seem to be able to hack just about anything. And the rest of us who barely know how to code can hack too. The word has turned into a generic, catchall term for change, to the point that some homeschooling parents say they are hacking education.

Well, according to IBM’s “Hack a Hair Dryer” campaign, ladies who might be interested in STEM fields should warm up to the idea of doing science experiments by coming up with new ways to use the beauty tool. The social-media-based effort began in October, but a now-deleted tweet with a link to a video about it was reposted on IBM’s Twitter account on Friday. That brought renewed attention to the campaign and sparked a significant backlash—particularly from women working in STEM fields.

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The clip starts off with the sobering stat that fewer than three in 10 science and engineering jobs are occupied by women. But instead of suggesting that men in STEM fields come up with some hacks that could help squash gender discrimination and inequality in the workplace, “Hack a Hair Dryer” puts the onus for boosting the number of female engineers on women.

“You, a wind blaster, and an idea, repurposed for a larger purpose, to support those who believe that it’s not what covers your cranium that counts but what’s in it,” says the video’s narrator, apparently talking to women. “So hack heat, reroute airflow, reinvent sound, and imagine a future where the most brilliant minds are solving the world’s biggest problems regardless of your gender.”

Twitter user Lienka seemed to wonder if this was a campaign crafted back in the 1960s by Don Draper.

Australian scientist Jo Alabaster gave a mocking thanks to IBM for making science accessible to the ladies.

Plenty of other women took to Twitter to have a little fun pointing out that they have plenty of hacking expertise. Sacramento, California–based engineer and rocket scientist Stephanie Evans tweeted that she’s well beyond the hair dryer stage.

Astronomer Jessica V. wondered if she should give up her astrophysics doctoral studies because she doesn’t use a hair dryer.

Some men called out IBM as well, with Twitter user Trepanning for Gold pointing out that a woman, Margaret Hamilton, wrote the code that helped launch NASA into outer space.

Australian Paul Fenwick satirically encouraged women who use the hashtag #WomenInTech to use #HackingAHairDryer.

IBM seems to have gotten the message loud and clear. The company pulled the offensive video from YouTube on Monday. It did not respond to a request for comment but released a statement on Twitter. “The videos were part of a larger campaign to promote STEM careers. It missed the mark for some and we apologize. It is being discontinued,” tweeted IBM Communications Manager Laurie Friedman.