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Techweek Chicago sorry about offensive promo; Microsoft still a sponsor

This image, which was part of an invitation for a kickoff party before Techweek starts, caused an uproar in the tech community. Techweek has apologized.

Techweek Chicago says a controversial ad promoting a charity event was “an oversight on our part” and was not previewed by Techweek sponsor Microsoft, whose name appears on the promotion.

A Techweek spokeswoman issued the statement Wednesday after the Chicago tech community and others took to social media in an uproar over the ad showing women in top hats and form-fitting outfits, which was viewed as sexist and demeaning.

Among the fallout was Crain’s Chicago Business withdrawing its official media partnership with Techweek. Crain’s will be doing no promotions during the event, a spokeswoman said.

“Techweek’s response to their highly offensive promotion for their black-tie ‘Rave’ (event) was not sufficient, so we have decided to reconsider our involvement in this year’s event,” said David Snyder, Crain’s publisher, in a statement issued Wednesday.

In the fall, Techweek Chicago was blasted for bringing women in bikinis to the event and posting a photo online (later removed).

Techweek apologized on Wednesday and posted a list of actions it will take to make amends. It plans to hold a round-table discussion with members of the tech community at 7 p.m. Wednesday at its offices, 222 W. Hubbard.

“We’ll be discussing the current issue at hand, as well as these previous ones, but the focus will be on conducting a very open and honest conversation about real solutions to enable change,” said Sara Davine, a spokeswoman for Techweek.

Microsoft later Wednesday issued a statement saying it doesn’t condone the “objectification of people for any reason, least of all a charity event,” and clarified that Microsoft is a sponsor of Techweek but not of the charity event. The company said it will remain a Techweek sponsor.

“Techweek has taken full responsibility for the image selection and has taken steps to resolve the situation, including an open dialogue on the issue,” according to the Microsoft statement.

Several tech notables have gone on Twitter to ask to be removed from Techweek’s “Tech 100” list of big names as a result of the invitation, including Lightbank general partner Paul Lee, former Obama re-election campaign chief tech officer Harper Reed and Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Director Dan Sinker.

Jimmy Odom, one of Chicago’s few African-American tech-startup founders, wasn’t on Techweek’s “Tech 100” list of influencers, but he retweeted others’ objections because he said the ad clearly doesn’t promote women in technology

He said Wednesday that his immediate reaction was that Techweek doesn’t know its audience.

“We’re in a community where we’re really looking at diversity and trying to build amazing workplaces and comfortable environments for all kinds of people,” said Odom, a South Side native and founder of WeDeliver, a same-day delivery service. “That’s not the community.”

Besides, Odom said that as a father of two daughters, “There is no way I want my daughters to be looked at like that.”

It would be par for the course for Playboy, he said.

It’s an especially touchy issue as the tech industry tries to attract more women to the male-dominated industry that’s often derided for a frat-house mentality.

Mana Ionescu, founder and president of Lightspan Digital, a Chicago digital marketing firm, said she is no longer interested in putting a booth at Techweek’s job fair, since the controversy “is making a lot of people who share values with us step away from Techweek.”

Ionescu, a social-media expert, said the Techweek promotion “is just bad marketing.”

Lightspan Digital, which employs 10, is looking to hire two to three employees in the next six months. Ionescu said she has had a difficult time finding qualified project managers, but she now doubts that she and her company representatives will meet the right potential hires at the job fair. Among Lightspan Digital’s values are “healthy and direct communication” and behaving with trust, respect and truthfulness toward others, she said.