Kaspersky suggests women don't know anything about computers, is roundly shamed

Kaspersky lab flag

Photo via David Orban/Flickr (CC-BY)

Proof that just because you have an idea doesn't mean you should share it.

There has historically been a deficit of women involved in the tech industry—a problem that is caused by and results in things like the advertisement from security firm Kaspersky that appeared in one of its products on Friday.

The cartoon image that could be found in one of Kaspersky's security programs depicted a line of women with computers waiting to be helped by a man sitting on a bench. The ad featured a banner that read "Want to be the MAN?" and additional text that asked, "Want to show the ladies your smarts?" before suggesting "Bring them to the CyberSecurity world and get rewarded." 

The insinuation of the advertisement appeared to many that women were incapable of taking care of themselves or understanding how computers work and would therefore flock to any man who could help them out—including a random guy sitting on a park bench with a longsleeve shirt on and sweater tied around his neck even though it's clearly summer time.

It didn't take long for Kasperksky to retract the ad and apologized for the considerable backlash that it generated. "Earlier today an inappropriate image appeared in our product. It has been removed and we deeply regret this mistake and sincerely apologize for the offense we caused with this image," the company said in a statement.

Despite the relatively expedient attempt to remove the offending image, the issue runs much deeper than a single slip up. The tech industry as a whole has struggled to fill roles within their companies with women. 

Even with considerable efforts in recent years to make up for lost time, even the most progressive policy-holding companies continue to fall well short. Last month, Facebook released its diversity report that found it was only able to increase the number of women in its workforce by just one percent while the share of Hispanic and Black employees in the U.S. stayed stagnant at four percent and two percent respectively. 

Even when companies do make an effort to reach out specifically to women in an effort to diversify their workforce, the motivation can be misplaced. Evan Thornley, the co-founder of online advertising company LookSmart, suggested in a presentation at a technology startup conference that companies begin hiring women because they could be paid less—a point he illustrated wit a slide that read "Women: Like Men, Only Cheaper."

The problem runs even deeper in Russia, where Kaspersky is headquartered. According to Quartz, many Russian tech firms—including Kaspersky—lacked any sort of program to encourage and support women employees. 

Meanwhile, just 8 percent of the companies backed by Russia's Internet Initiatives Development Fund (IIDF)—a government body that funds startups—are run by women, and technology-related universities in the country have similarly abysmal percentages of female students. 

While some may see that disparity as a failure to provide women interested in technology-related fields with the same opportunity as men, Maria Podlesnova–the female founder of Rusbase, a Russian publication about startups—offered a different theory earlier this year, when she said, “In my opinion, all women are idiots. It may strike you as ironic, but I’m absolutely sure that women are stupider than men.”

Never mind that belief lacks any actual evidence to suggest that it's true in general; there's not even an inkling that would prove it true specifically in tech. 

According to a study conducted earlier this year, it was found that code written by women has a higher approval rating on the social coding site GitHub than code written by men—but only when the coder's gender was unknown. When the gender was explicitly available, the acceptance rate dropped significantly for female users.

Until there are more women in the workplace, companies are likely to make mistakes like the one Kaspersky made. And until they stop making those mistakes, they're going to have a hard time attracting more women to join the workplace.

H/T Adam Hay/Twitter

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