Microsoft on Friday apologized for promoting its cloud-computing service, Windows Azure, with a marketing campaign that implied: “So easy, even an older woman can do it.”
An earlier tweet on its @WindowsAzure Twitter account showed a picture of a woman with the words: “What do you do when your 68-year-old secretary needs Active Directory Multi-Factor Authentication? Ask Dear Azure.”
By the way, despite the geeky term, “Multi-Factor Authentication” isn’t all that complicated. It simply means using two kinds of passwords to log in, like typing in a password and also swiping a keycard.
The tweet caused backlash, as people pointed out the wrongness of the so-simple-your-mother-can-do-it concept.
And that prompted Microsoft to apologise.
The happy ending is that people liked Microsoft’s apology. As James Arlen, who goes by the handle @myrcurial, noted in a reply tweet:
Saying “I screwed up” is much > than saying “It is unfortunate that you were offended”
It’s fair to note, however, that as far as corporate culture goes, Microsoft is about average in the tech industry; about 24% of Microsoft employees are women, or about 23,800 people, the company says. The Census Bureau says that nationwide, women make up about 27% of the science and technology workforce.
But the incident showed how hard it is to shake this stereotype. There’s even a website dedicated to outing the times tech companies use it, called Geek Feminism. It explains:
Female computer users (particularly middle-aged or elderly ones) are often used as a hypothetical or even actual test of ease of use, on the assumption that if such a person can use a program, anyone can. No phrase expresses the meme of female technical ineptitude more neatly than “So simple, even your [grand]mother could do it.” This is a very commonly encountered form of condescension.
On top of that, this is the second time this week we noticed Microsoft tweeting something that could be interpreted as sexist. Earlier this week, its BizSpark Twitter account promoted a new Russian online beauty contest called “MissWeb.”
MissWeb is a part of Microsoft’s BizSpark program for startups. Some impressive companies got their start as BizSpark members, like Yammer and Huddle.
In this case, MissWeb is a site that asks men to vote for women based on their looks.
But as Microsoft spokesperson explained:
With more than 75,000 startups participating in the BizSpark program, we are here to support the entrepreneurial community. We have a robust review process to ensure that startups accepted into the program meet our requirements. We do not judge business plans of applicants and instead let the market decide the viability of their company. If a startup is involved in unlawful activities, we revoke their membership.
Are you a woman over 40 working in the tech industry with a story to tell about what that’s like? We want to hear it. We are discreet. [email protected] or @Julie188 on Twitter.
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