Millie Dresselhaus has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, was the first women to win the U.S. National Medal of Science in Engineering, and at 86 years old, still works at MIT as a physics and engineering professor. And now she's starring in a new GE ad that imagines if she was the Kim Kardashian of science and technology.
The ad, by longtime GE agency BBDO New York, launches a huge initiative for the company that includes boosting its roster of female employees in technology roles to 20,000 by 2020, and getting to an even gender ratio for all its technical entry-level programs. Right now that number sits just under 15,000, so the goal is to jump that by about 36%.
In a whitepaper released today, GE aims to shine a spotlight on the economic opportunity of addressing gender imbalance across the tech and engineering sector. The paper's findings include women are still under-represented in the technology sector with 13-24% represented in IT and engineering positions globally, and just 17-30% ascending to senior leadership positions. Nearly 40% of women with engineering degrees either leave the profession or never enter the field. According to the OECD, closing the gender gap could increase GDP by up to 10% by 2030. One study showed that more gender-diverse companies performed 53% better than lesser ones, including a 35% increase in return on investment, and a 34% increase in total returns, and MIT economists found that a gender shift could increase revenue by 41%.
While the company has had internal goals and policies in place to encourage gender diversity in STEM roles, chief marketing officer Linda Boff (2015 Fast Company Most Creative People) says that putting numbers to it—20,000 by 2020—adds some much-needed urgency to the cause. The brief for the campaign to launch the initiative was simple. "We went to BBDO and basically said, how do we tell a story of great women in STEM?" says Boff.
The role of marketing in a company project like this is to both communicate it to the world, but also potential employees. "While the role of marketing is many things—humanizing the company, bringing the brand to life, telling stories—I'd say that partnering around key audience segments, making sure the talent of the future understands GE in a way that is culturally relevant, is quite important," says Boff. "We've been collaborating more and more (with GE's university relations department), and doing things on campus that bring the GE experience to life in a fun way. The last couple of years, we've brought a giant super smoker to college campuses, as a way to show how we use data to make the perfect BBQ."
GE also says it is re-examining where to recruit, ensuring that the schools it recruits from have a strong mix of talented men and women that align with the company’s focus on digital industrial capabilities and priorities.
"Proud as we are about the ad, it's able to shine a light on what is a larger company initiative and priority, which is to really make sure that a company like GE with goals of innovation and making the world a better place, is reflected in who we hire," says Boff. "I love that at the very end of the ad, there are 10 real GE women. So it's not only about the women who came before us, but those in and amongst us, too."