It's no secret that Silicon Valley has a gender balance problem—both in terms of employee numbers and attitude—so when a group of female tech executives pose for an underwear brand's lookbook it raises a few more issues than comfort and style.
Underwear company Dear Kate enlisted such a group of models for its Ada Collection, named for tech pioneer Ada Lovelace, and immediately the campaign was being discussed through the lens of Silicon Valley's larger gender issues. Glimpse Labs CEO Elissa Shevinsky told Time.com, “Posing in your underwear undermines the message that you aim to be taken seriously as a technologist."
And it probably does, to some degree. Just as picturing an audience naked is a cliched tool for any nervous public speaker about to face an intimidating audience. The argument between empowerment and embarrassment is longstanding when it comes to successful women posing in various states of undress, whether for charity or sport.
The interesting thing here is, take away Silicon Valley's baggage, and you have an underwear ad featuring women of different shapes and sizes posing in a non-sexualized workplace environment (Dear Kate also has a history of using "real" women in its ads). Something that would be otherwise universally high-fived for its progressive tone and realistic vision. Does the fact these models happen to be successful in business actually make this ad worse than one that features models who are simply successful at modelling? If an ad company showed a bunch of tech men in their underwear would it be unanimous bro hugs?
As an ad then, it's really no different than the celebrated (and much less controversial) efforts that have provided the waterfalls of goodwill brands like Dove and Aerie have been basking in. Dear Kate just made the choice to use women from the Valley, as opposed to a more gender-friendly industry.