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Tech Industry

Ad suggests men do engineering things, women are in the garden

Commentary: After the diversity controversy at Google, an ad for Koch Industries offers an interesting picture of how some enterprises still see gender roles traditionally.

 Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Men doing manly engineering things.

Koch Industries/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

This weekend saw the return of the English Premier League.

Which means I was up early on Sunday, ready to watch soccer players from all over the world play much better than most English players.

During one of the NBC Sports ad breaks, however, I heard a boy's voice.

"I wanna make cars fly," he said.

I listened on. Ads interfere with sports, so I rarely look at the screen as I watch. 

The ad continued with another boy's voice. "I love turning old stuff into something amazing." 

I assumed this was an ad for some tech or engineering company. I should, therefore, have been fascinated. I still didn't look up.

The next voice was a little girl's: "I want to plant a garden for the whole world." 

Wait, so little boys build things and make them fly, while little girls potter about the garden and make sure everyone's fed? 

I finally looked up. "We grow up, but we never stop dreaming," says a female voiceover. Oh, it seems the sexes have very different dreams.

"Here at Koch," continued the voiceover, "we challenge ourselves and the status quo to produce innovations like renewable fuel, more energy-efficient vehicles and food for all."

Yet, looking at the ad, it's the men who do everything but the food part. They smile as they perform brain-sapping engineering tasks. They wear hard hats as they go into vast factories. 

While the women are in the garden. 

Koch Industries didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. And this is not to besmirch the alleged political leanings of its owners. 

Instead, it's to consider that as the controversy over a Google engineer's memo about gender roles and diversity grinds on -- with Google seeming entirely unsure how to handle it -- gender roles continue to be reinforced along traditionalist lines. 

This ad could at least have shown one woman engineer working with men. It could have presented a woman engineer being the boss of men. It could have shown men in the garden.

Instead, for every Verizon and Girls Who Code that tries to advance the notion that women have a place everywhere in tech, there still roams the opposite.

It may be that the makers of this ad behaved with complete unconsciousness in the writing and the casting. Which doesn't, of course, make it any better. 

It merely shows that this isn't going to disappear any time soon. Men are more interested in things and systems, claimed former Google employee James Damore. Women are, he said, more interested in people and feelings. 

How many women will look at this ad and have negative feelings toward the people and the system that made it? And how many will stop dreaming that creating flying cars is for them?

Koch itself entreats us to "challenge ourselves and the status quo." 

Now that's a very good idea.