Where are the female engineers in Volkswagen's Super Bowl ad? Playing with GoldieBlox

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 01/31/2014, 07:41pm

The only woman featured prominently in Volkswagen’s Super Bowl ad doesn’t sprout wings. But the male engineer in the elevator with her does, prompting her to smack him on the face when she mistakenly thinks he’s getting fresh.

The commercial from San Francisco creative agency Argonaut attempts to drive home the auto maker’s reliability. A father tells his young daughter that every time a Volkswagen hits 100,000 miles, a German engineer gets his wings. And that’s what we see: One engineer after another, getting his wings.

The lone female just thinks she’s getting goosed.

“I was anticipating that I would really like [the ad], but I was just disappointed,” said Stacey DelVecchio, president of the Society of Women Engineers, an international group headquartered in Chicago. “They could have promoted more diversity.”

Volkswagen’s slight to engineers with two X chromosomes isn’t likely to cause an uproar, nor should it. Surely it won’t raise as many eyebrows as last year’s spot that featured a white man speaking in a Jamaican accent, prompting one critic to call it “blackface with voices.”

But for people like DelVecchio, a long-time engineer at Peoria-based Caterpillar, the male-centric Volkswagen ad is a “missed opportunity” to show that engineering doesn’t have to be an all-boys club.

One thing you can’t criticize the commercial for is being wildly inaccurate when it comes to gender distribution in the workplace. Federal data say that only 14 percent of U.S. engineers are female — a statistic DelVecchio’s organization is working to change. That’s why she’s excited about another Super Bowl commercial, this one for GoldieBlox.

Formed a couple years ago with the help of a Kickstarter campaign by female engineer Debbie Sterling, GoldieBlox produces a line of innovative toys aimed at getting girls interested in engineering. The small company recently won a big prize: a 30-second commercial to air during the Super Bowl. It snagged the free advertising through a contest put on by Intuit QuickBooks.

“A win for GoldieBlox is a win for what we do at the Society of Women Engineers,” DelVecchio said. “To see it get this sort of visibility — I feel as if we’ve made it one step farther in having more women engineers.”

Here’s a teaser for Sunday’s GoldieBlox spot:

Check out our evolving blog post for more on the latest touchdowns and fumbles in Super Bowl ads.