Three years ago, Microsoft launched a spring campaign to encourage girls to join STEM fields. Girls Do Science, the first of their ads, was inspirational. They gave girls hope – in the form of letters – that they could one day be the inventor, the maker. Year two (2016) gave them women to aspire to be. Inventors who made their mark in history.
This year, they released multiple advertisements in a row. The first two were great, again following the inspirational nature of the original campaign. The girls featured in the ad got to play with awesome technology (proving it is in fact still an advertisement for Microsoft products). They are even named inspirationally: Find the Cure and Be the Solution.
The third 2017 advertisement, however, dangerously misses the mark. Why dangerously? Because it follows the same common theme we teach girls and women (and honestly all minorities). It tells them the burden of fixing a systematic issue falls on them. It disheartens the girls (the same ones from Find the Cure and Be the Solution) by telling them they most likely won’t solve the problems about which they are passionate and then challenges them to stay in STEM. As if less than 10% of women graduate with STEM degrees because girls just aren’t motivated to stay. As if those who do have the degrees don’t leave the field because they face overwhelming sexism and abuse. As if Microsoft itself doesn’t add to the problem by hosting parties that objective women.
We should provide girls with role models and encourage them to explore the possibilities of science and technology. But we should not make it their responsibility to fix the depressing numbers of the industry. We need allies who will challenge decisions that alienate everyone besides (white) males. We need people who will step up and stop harassment (obviously not Travis Kalanick). Where is the advertisement teaching boys not to make fun of nerdier girls? Where is the advertisement showing boys who look up to female inventors? Where is the advertisement with someone recognizing they keep talking over the women in the room and stopping the behavior?
The burden of change is not on women alone. Don’t make it the burden of young girls, Microsoft. Change your culture to make a great place for them in the future.