Goldman Sachs hands out nail files and mirrors to recruit female programmers

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Candice Chung

From Instagram user @yuqz: "#goldmansachs brought nail files and mirrors to the women's coding event. Not sure if this ...

From Instagram user @yuqz: "#goldmansachs brought nail files and mirrors to the women's coding event. Not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping."

As Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs found out last weekend, wooing potential new talent with 'freebies' can be awkward business sometimes.

At a Harvard University conference aimed at female graduates interested in computer science, the bank handed out goodie bags featuring a number of arguably sexist 'swags'.

On top of the usual pen and notepads, attendees were given pocket mirrors and nail files with the Goldman Sachs logo, presumably as part of the company's strategy to lure more female programmers into the fold. 

At least one attendee found this curious, and posted a picture of the branded freebies on Instagram with the caption, “Not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping.”

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Yuqi Hou's instagram was picked up by various news outlets, including the New York Times, which clarified that in addition to the vanity items, Goldman Sachs also provided T-shirts and key chains to hold headphone cords. 

According to an annonymous spokesperson, the company was apparently 'encouraged' by organisers to "bring goodies that would appeal to a female audience". 

While it's tempting to dismiss Goldman's faux pas as an 'innocent mistake', the incident is also a clear reflection of how far the finance and tech industries still have to go in their effort to understand and attract female employees.

As New York Magazine's Kevin Rose points out, gender inequality is very much still entrenched on Wall Street. "As of today, Goldman's 12-person board has two women on it, and its 30-person management committee counts three female executives among its members." 

And even though any effort to rectify the gender split should be encouraged, if companies are serious about attracting the right talent, they have to start projecting the right message about their company culture to potential employees. 

To Goldman's credit, a swift apology was issued: “We are strong supporters of efforts to recruit and retain women in technology. We apologise if the gifts gave anyone offense."

But if the less-than-encouraging comments on Hou's Instagram post is anything to go by, it seems like there will always be backlash in pointing out everyday sexism like this. 

In Hou's own words, "I personally think the big problem is how girls now (including myself) find themselves constantly encouraged to fight gender biases but also punished for over thinking when we point it out." 

Sources: NY Mag, New York Times