IBM's Plea for Gender Parity ... in an Ad From 1985

By Megan Garber

The January 1985 issue of The Atlantic Monthly offered its readers an assortment of wonders. A cover story on "Theaterphobia"—a moviegoer's experience on Broadway—penned by one David Denby. A humor piece by Patricia Marx titled, cheekily, "Getting Along With Russians." A literary take on the complexities of E.M. Forster, and of Degas, and of Matisse.

And that was just the journalism. There were also the ads. Oh, such ads! Ads for cars ("there is a special feel in an Oldsmobile"). Ads for cigarettes (Marlboro/ Merit/Carlton) featuring horses and bold claims regarding tar levels and, in one particularly awesome instance, a surly-looking sea captain. Ads for delights both physical (NordicTrak cross-country ski machine!) and intellectual (Book of the Month Club!). 

And then there's the ad above, unearthed and de-archived by our own Chris Heller, which stands out from the others in one particularly notable way: It isn't, actually, terribly dated. It feels, actually, quite contemporary. It's for IBM, one of those pitching-products-without-actually-pitching-products kinds of ads, and it complains about a problem that is just as relevant today as it was in 1985: the dearth of women in engineering jobs. 

As the ad puts it: 

Only 4 percent of all engineers are women. 

Only 13.6 percent of all math and science Ph.D's are women. 

And an encouraging, but still low, 31.3 percent of all professional computer programmers are women. 

In the past ten years, IBM has supported more than 90 programs designed to strengthen women's skills in these and other areas. This support includes small grants for pre-college programs in engineering, major grants for science programs at leading women's colleges, and grants for doctoral fellowships in physics, computer science, mathematics, chemistry, engineering, and materials science. 

We intend to keep supporting programs like these. 

Because we all have a lot to gain with men and women on equal footing.

In other words: 1985 called. It wants its cause back. 

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/ibms-plea-for-gender-parity-in-an-ad-from-1985/280443/