General Electric is Industry and Technology and Empowering Women
Like many people worldwide, I spent most of August binge-watching the Olympics, mostly during primetime, but sometimes planning my day around proximity to a TV when the US women’s basketball team was playing in the middle of the afternoon (what the heck, Olympic organizers?).
But as interested as I was in the athletes, I found the commercials to be just as captivating, mostly because they were actually funny – I never failed to smirk at the BMW commercial of the frat brother-like, overly superstitious men headed to some competition, and my mom has a soft spot for the Geico ad with Marco Polo.
But the one commercial that really stuck out for me was part of a series done by General Electric, specially aired during the Olympics. GE is an American corporation that services various fields, including power and gas, aviation, transportation, and computing. Basically, they do a little bit (okay, a lot) of everything! The group of six commercials they aired features Sarah, who cheerfully explains to various individuals that GE is both a digital company, and an industrial one, and she happens to work on the industrial side of things. She is often seen building a jet engine, or talking about her latest project with her husband.
So why do I love these commercials? Part of it is because I am a woman in STEM, and I’m fed up with explaining my major (applied mathematics with a concentration in computer science, if you were curious) to everybody who inquires, especially since most of them wouldn’t know an invertible matrix if it sauntered over and insulted their new Jimmy Choos. So yeah, it’s sort of personal. But more than that, the real reason is because Sarah is such an afterthought.
Let me elaborate: a few years back, Verizon, an American telecommunications provider, had a recurring ad that showed Samantha, who from the time she was little was exclusively referred to by her parents as pretty, and often told to leave difficult science and engineering related projects to her older brother. By the time she reached middle school, she was only concerned with her lip gloss, and not the upcoming science fair, despite her natural love for and talent in science-related fields. The commercial was very well-received when it debuted, and for good reason – it was well done. It wasn’t subtle in the slightest; it was a direct call to encourage girls to enter STEM fields, a message that deserves to be shouted from rooftops worldwide.
Enter Sarah and her GE commercials. The point of these commercials was to tell the world that there are two sides to GE: the technological side, which tells machines what to do, and the industrial side, which builds said machines. The message is well-conveyed, so in that respect, kudos, GE. But there’s a secondary, far subtler implication as well: women can build machines, too. When we see a woman who works for GE, we can’t automatically assume that she works in the digital field. And this makes me so happy because it implies that women working in technological fields is commonplace.
For instance, here is the first commercial I saw, which is also my favorite of the lot: Sarah gets onto the bus and sits down next to an Asian-American woman, who comments on the GE employee ID tag dangling from Sarah’s backpack. She immediately begins to bombard Sarah with tech questions, asking about coding and new developments in software, and when Sarah calmly responds that she works on the industrial side of things, the woman is sure that Sarah is playing dumb in attempt to protect company secrets. The ad ends with the woman tossing various complicated-sounding programming buzzwords to Sarah as she exits the bus.
Humans, this is great! Firstly because it once again shows Sarah, a total rockstar who goes to work in a sweatshirt and ponytail because oh, yeah, she’s building planes. And secondly, we have women of color! Who code! And it isn’t the punch line! GE could have easily chosen white male actors to build the planes and answer the questions. But they didn’t. They chose Sarah.
And what’s even better is that the company actually does empower women in their workforce. After doing a bit of research, I found out that GE has a women’s network, a forum where female employees can talk and share information and experiences. (The company also has similar pages for African-American, Asian-American, LGBT, and Hispanic employees, as well as a space for veterans.) Additionally, they are #3 in Top 50 Companies by Woman Engineer Magazine, The Times Top Employer for Women, and part of Working Mother 100 Best Companies, and Top 5 Great Places to Work in the UAE for Women.
GE is doing its part to create equality in its workforce, on the industrial side and on the digital one, and that’s a job well done.
Caroline lives in New York and is a junior in college. She enjoys, among other pursuits, (American) football, music, and learning new things. You can find her on tumblr at thinking-pretendingtoread, where you can talk to her about such things as space, singing in the shower, and everyone’s favorite dead fictional characters.