OnePlus got stung with a nasty public backlash yesterday, following a poorly-thought out contest that encouraged “beautiful female fans” to submit promotional selfies. The company is now seeking real ways to empower females. We offer suggestions.
As a company, you’re always looking for your marketing content to go viral, but the virality achieved by Chinese “startup” OnePlus got exactly the opposite viral publicity it was hoping for. In announcing its so-called “Ladies First” contest, wherein the ticket to entry was a selfie with the 1+ logo visible in frame, the company noted that the top winner would be chosen not by random drawing, but by a slate of unnamed, but surely male-heavy marketing and PR teams. I guess they were trying to appeal to the predominately male user base of the forum, engaging male fans by promising posted shots of scantily-clad women (but, “No Nudity Please!”).
But the contest ended (was pulled really) due mostly to the fact that nearly every major publication took a shot at their insensitivity, and the sort of untowardly message that it sends to women and men alike. A few women seemed salty that their hard-earned poses were almost immediately purged by OnePlus, but the general consensus seems to have been: “Kudos to them for finally doing the right thing, but how could it have gotten this far to begin with?”
In today’s mea culpa, Marketing Director Carl Pei offered up a brief apology that actually seemed to paint the company as a gender sensitive organization looking to get more women involved in the tech industry. Of course, that sentiment is usually employed in the context of preparing more women for tech-focused careers, not giving them prizes for for happening to be tech fans already, and attractive ones at that. Still, it’s a noble enough goal, and we’d like to offer the company a list of things they could do which would really help shrink the gender gap, and without all the publications you rely on for publicity (and the consumers you rely on for sales) turning against you in a single day.
Suggestions for Female Tech Empowerment
1. Hire more women. Charitable activity starts at home, and what better way to engage more female technologists than to hire them at your own salary-paying firm. Targeted, affirmative action for women: it’s a term that’s not very popular when used generally, but when applied to the gender chasm that currently exists at all levels and branches of the tech industry, it seems like a fair and appropriate solution to have a meaningful impact on the numbers.
2. Offer internal incentives to buoy the tech skills of existing female employees, either through education reimbursements, or actual in-house training programs.
3. Donate a percentage of profits (I know, I know: OnePlus? Profits? Saywha?) to establishing a female-only scholarship fund at a tech-heavy university, the local equivalent of an MIT, Stanford, or RIT. That would ensure real, albeit slow, growth in the number of women who graduate university prepared and excited for high tech careers.
4. Work with local elementary schools to instill a math/science interest in girls at a young age, encouraging them to pursue more tech-heavy careers as they mature and begin planning out college and post-college paths.
5. Sponsor or partner with female-centric technology initiatives like Black Girls Code, Women Who Code, etc.
It’s like, you guys already make a widely well-received and well-reviewed product. You don’t need gimmicky, sexualized contests to grab a bigger chunk of organic audience, Forum readers come for interesting news, thoughtful insights, and spirited discussion about your products, not to drool over the one hot teacher who would win a phone regardless of the social costs.
Basically, attack the problem of the gender gap with meaningful initiatives, not thinly-veiled giveaways that benefit the men involved much more so than the women.