There’s a beauty contest for women in tech called IT Princess

No, we're not doing April Fools early

We’ve seen some misguided attempts to improve the involvement and representation of women in tech. In the relatively short time Gadgette has been running, we’ve seen clangers like IBM’s Hack A Hairdryer campaign and EDF Energy‘s Pretty Curious competition. Although these campaigns were right in acknowledging that we need to attract more women to the fields of science, tech, and engineering, neither of them were well received which is unsurprising considering they were so patronising towards women. Not to mention that the second one gave first prize to a boy.

If there was an award for misguided, counterproductive, and downright backwards attempts to draw women into STEM fields, though, it would absolutely have to go to Russian internet company Mail.ru’s contest, IT Princess. Yes, you read that right. IT Princess. Join us in our speechlessness.

It’s essentially a beauty contest which asks women in tech, or women who aspire to work in tech, to send in their “best” photo of themselves alongside a “short” personal statement. After this Mail.ru users will be able to vote for their “favourite girl” between the 28th of March and the 13th of April. This will leave ten finalists who will then be interviewed by a panel of judges at the end of April and a winner will be selected. First place will receive an internship at Mail.ru as well as an interview with Marie Claire magazine, whilst second and third place will receive a spa break and a brunch respectively. All of the winners will, of course, receive a basket full of beauty products. A veritable feast of tech-related prizes there.

Incredibly, the panel of judges includes four women and one man. The women all have high-profile roles and include Elena Volodina and Elena Hossain of Mail.ru as well as Anna Burashova, chief editor of Marie Claire in Russia, and Anna Chokina, Director General of L’Oreal Paris in Russia.

In case you’re wondering why Marie Claire and L’Oreal are so involved in the judging process, it’s because they are two of the main sponsors of the competition. We asked L’Oreal UK for comment on the competition and they seemed less than inclined to associate themselves with it:

“This is a Russian competition organised and run by Mail.ru Group and L’Oréal Paris in Russia is a partner. This is not an approach we follow in the UK. In the UK, L’Oréal supports STEM careers through programmes such as L’Oréal UK & Ireland and UNESCO ‘Fellowships For Women In Science’ and the L’Oréal Young Scientist Centre at the Royal Institution.”

We don’t blame you for cutting ties to this one, L’Oreal UK. We also reached out to Mail.ru back in February when we first heard rumours of the contest as well as Marie Claire for comment but haven’t received a reply from either. We’ll update if we do.

Just when you think representations of women in tech are moving forward and we might one day have a campaign that tells women that gender doesn’t mean shit when it comes to enjoying technology, competitions like this reach out of the murky depths and pull everything back. You only have to look at the fact that the page asks for the entrants’ “best” photo and a “short” personal statement about the role IT plays in their lives to know where the priority for choosing a winner lies. There’s no way anyone with any understanding of the stigma, stereotypes, and prejudices women in tech face could sit down to brainstorm ideas of how to overcome them and come away with this omnishambles.

Women have not been working for generations in STEM fields and fighting tooth and nail for recognition of this work to have an internet company turn around and ask the public to select a woman for an internship based on her looks. We think it’s safe to say an all-male version or even a mixed-sex version of IT Princess would never happen and the fact that this competition was ever dreamed up says more than we ever could about the problematic and sexist views women are still subject to in the world of tech.

Step off, Mail.ru – your IT ‘Princesses’ can rescue themselves.