Banking giant Goldman Sachs is apparently making an attempt to bring more female programmers aboard. Which is awesome, considering the persistent lack of women in the field, except that someone in charge there apparently had the bright idea that beauty accessories — tiny mirrors and nail files, to be exact—would provide savvy bait.
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“Not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping,” wrote Instagram user Yuqi Hou. Her photo of the mirrors, posted Saturday from the Goldman-sponsored Women Engineers Code conference at Harvard, where she’s a sociology student, has since spawned a sustained, offended buzz online — as well as an official apology from Goldman Sachs.
“We are strong supporters of efforts to recruit and retain women in technology. We apologize if the gifts gave anyone offense,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to the New York Times.
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Hou drew criticism of her own for even raising the question of sexism. “Gender stereotyping?? Oh goodness. It's just a gift bag. Why do people make an issue out of everything??” noted one female Instagram commenter. A male commenter, meanwhile, slammed her photo with expletives, suggesting that the gift was no biggie and meant nothing.
To which Hou smartly responded with her own comment: “I personally think the big problem is how girls now (including myself) find themselves constantly encouraged to fight gender biases but also punished for over thinking when we point it out.” Further, she tells Shine via Twitter messaging, "People who think I'm accusing GS of gender stereotyping are overlooking the part when I wonder if this could be #sexyfeminism. It's not a slam piece against GS by any means." Hou also good-naturedly adds, "I'm also guilty of gender stereotyping because I assumed nail files and mirrors are just for women, which is not true! I think the best way to remedy this is for [Goldman Sachs] to bring nail files and mirrors to the next conference they sponsor, so men can get them, too."
Twitter users were on board with Hou raising the stereotype issue, though, calling Goldman’s swag “tone deaf,” a way to “alienate female programmers” and a “shame,” while Kevin Roose at New York magazine called the recruitment effort “ham-fisted.”
“To Goldman,” Roose wrote, “it may have seemed uncontroversial to provide feminine swag at an event for female coders … But the legacy of gender-based exclusion in finance has made even these seemingly anodyne gestures loaded with meaning.”
Jezebel chided the company with “Almost, guys. Almost,” while Business Insider stated that the company “may have missed the mark.”
Event organizers for the Goldman-sponsored conference did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Shine but told the New York Times that they were not offended. “Goldman Sachs is our partner and we knew that the nail files were coming,” they noted in a statement. “We chose to present them to our conference attendees as an option, not a requirement, for swag (stuff we all get) from our sponsors. We gladly accept any and all (free) nail files, nail polish, game consoles, food and/or anything else our wonderful sponsors want to send our way! We promise we’ll put it to a good cause.” Maybe next year there'll even be lipstick.
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