Underwear company Dear Kate is speaking out against the discrimination women face in the tech industry. In its controversial new ad, real-world tech execs model underwear while showing off their coding skills.

The underwear is part of Dear Kate's Ada collection, which is named for the world's first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace. The women include founders and CEOs of tech companies who have laptops on their knees, wearing little clothes and big smiles.

Dear Kate ads focus on empowering real women. Women earn only 18% of the computer science degrees, and 20% of software developers are women. According to the research from the Harvard Business School, 56% of women who work in the tech industry leave mid-career.

Many feminists believe that the controversial ad is highlighting the struggle women have of not being taken seriously in the workplace, especially by using women in tech—an industry that is surrounded by misogyny complaints.

"Posing in your underwear undermines the message that you aim to be taken seriously as a technologist," says Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of the startup Glimpse Labs and author of the article "That's It-I'm Finished Defending Sexism in Tech."

Women in tech commonly complain about sexual harassment. SnapChat, Tinder and Rap Genius were all involved in sexual harassment scandals this year. If women are not facing misogyny in the tech world, many leave because they believe they cannot become successful in a male-dominated field.

The controversial ad does bring attention to the fact that women can succeed in the tech industry and be happy at work. Along with the photo, the women were quoted giving advice on becoming successful in the male-dominated industry. Some might think giving business advice while the women are in intimates is just silly. "This ad is like a parody," Shevinsky says. "I'm struggling to believe it's real."

Julie Sygiel, founder and CEO of Dear Kate, used tech execs to model the underwear to show that these women are in power and control. She wanted to have them code in a real tech workplace, while showing off the comfortable and functional underwear.

"In our photo shoots it's important to portray women who are active and ambitious. They're not just standing around waiting for things to happen" says Sygiel.  

"The example that I set and the work that I do speaks for who I am. So taking a tasteful pictures in underwear which is the same as being in a bathing suit, to me, didn't make a difference," one of the models, Quiessence Phillips says.  Philips is head of development at Black Girls Code, a company with a goal to increase the number of women of color in technology. "I thought it was showing a positive image."

Another model in the ad, Adda Birnir had reservations about the ad, but believes the message is a feminist one. "I run a company and you're trying to have gravitas when you're a CEO. I was a little bit like, 'Is it a bad idea to participate in an underwear modeling shoot?'" asks Birnir, the founder and CEO of Skillcrush, a website that emphases teaching women and girls tech skills. "But it's a feminist company...and I think it's so important to support companies that are doing work like that. That overshadowed any of my concerns."

The ad does highlight how being feminine and successful in the tech industry are not mutually exclusive but there are many ways to show femininity. Perhaps showing women in their underwear wasn't the smartest or most nuanced way to show the strength and success that comes with having women in power.

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