A modern-day Rosie the Riveter campaign: Women in technology
© The History Channel

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief marketing officer, recently took aim at the advertising industry, citing a study showing that only 2 percent of ads show women as intelligent and just 3 percent in positions of power.

Marketing has always been a mighty tool with the power to shape public opinion to incite action. So what if we could use it to create a long lasting positive influence on women?


Last fall, I asked an audience of women leaders in technology to help me think about how we can bring about a modern-day Rosie the Riveter campaign, akin to that used during World War II, to inspire and influence positive change for girls studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and women working in technology.


The original Rosie the Riveter campaign motivated 19 million American women to either join the workforce for the first time or shift careers towards higher-paying roles that were traditionally reserved for men. Thanks to Rosie’s “We can do it!” attitude, they built aircrafts, munitions, and other goods of immediate importance towards the war effort.

Women are missing out

Innovations such as self-driving cars, drones, artificial intelligence, cryptocurrencies, high-quality online education, and computerized medicine are opening up an abundance of new opportunities that require skilled technologists to develop and operate them.

Unfortunately, we have not marketed technology to girls, and in turn, the numbers of women in technology is too small for an increasingly important driver of our economy.

It means women will miss out on the 1.4 million new jobs in computer science-related fields by 2020 predicted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of jobs is increasing while the trend for women’s participation is declining.  

In 1984, 37 percent of computer science graduates were women, compared to only 18 percent today. It means available high-paying jobs that would benefit from skills and diversity of thought will be denied to women due to lack of early enrollment of girls in Technology.

I’m proposing that a campaign on the scale of Rosie the Riveter—in whatever form it takes—could be the key to creating equal opportunity for women to make the money, assert influence, and gain the independence that these job opportunities offer.

What would this advertising or marketing campaign look like? Who would fund it?

We must all build bridges

Many organizations support girls’ technology education, including Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Girl Scouts of America, and Girls Make Games. They’re doing a great job, and a mega advertising or marketing campaign would underpin their work to give girls the skills they need to make the first step towards a future in a technology career.

Universities are recognizing the significant opportunity they can create for young women, and even set them apart for unique and powerful programs. For the first time, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California had more women graduate from its computer science program than men in 2016 by actively rethinking the curriculum.

Corporations are beginning to take gender parity seriously, and not just in technology. Twenty-seven chief executive officers from corporations like Bank of America, LinkedIn, and Coca-Cola have joined Paradigm for Parity pledging to achieve gender parity at the top of their corporations by 2030. They have committed programs to attack unconscious bias, achieve 30 percent women in top roles in the nearer term, and hold one another accountable through regular progress reports.

With all this groundswell and the research showing major opportunities for countries investing to fill these jobs, why are we still not advancing our efforts collectively?

We need to build bridges that connect all of these pieces together. We need to create a powerful marketing movement that combats our current stereotyping of women and focuses on early education and messages that appeal to girls’ sensibilities when it comes to technology. We need a pipeline of top female talent to enter and succeed in these roles.

"We can do it!"

Let’s bring back Rosie and let her modern-day version inspire children, parents, educators, corporations, and governments around the world to make a positive contribution to society.

Women need to fill an equivalent of the open jobs that will drive the new “techoconomy” not just because they’re women, and not just because it is where the money will be, but because women use and buy technology, and the user experience has to suit both genders.

The Rosie the Riveter campaign’s brilliance lay in seeking to fill necessary jobs to build national strength and eventual prosperity. Going one layer deeper, it also embedded a confidence and educational support for women to thrive and deliver.

We’ve seen that advertising doesn’t need to patronize women or show them in unpowerful positions. In fact, by bringing minds together and pooling our resources, we might just be able to prove the opposite.

Learning from history might just mean “We can do it!”

Katherine Manuel is senior vice president of innovation at Thomson Reuters. She sits on the advisory board of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and on the advisory board of Soar Triangle, a nonprofit organization that supports women-led startups in the Raleigh-Durham area North Carolina.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.