The sun shines on men and women alike, and though polls that sort out renewable energy support by gender are hard to find, women may well be more likely to evangelize on behalf of solar power than men. But one Tennessee-based solar products company seemed not to have gotten the memo -- until a small social media storm rained down upon it.
Shoals Technologies, a manufacturer of junction boxes and other support equipment for photovoltaic panels, really ought to have known they had stepped in it when solar marketing and PR person Carter Lavin called them on their choice of branding for a new PV rack mounting system:
Shoals tech group speaker said they have a racking solution called "nice rack" i know this is a male-dominated industry but oy vey #gtmss12— Carter Lavin (@CarterLavin) May 2, 2012
That pointed comment failed to sink in: at last week's Solar Power International 2012 trade show in Orlando, Florida, Shoals promoted its new product by hosting a "Nice Rack party." Stung by criticism from feminists, marketing experts and their colleagues in the solar trade, Shoals responded in the fashion we've come to expect from companies who find themselves floundering ineptly in the social media universe. The company has since scrubbed offending tweets from its Twitter stream, but blogger Imran Siddiquee at the site Miss Representation, which works to better portrayals of women in the media, compiled a rather damning collection of screenshots, including this response to a few critical correspondents:
Miss Representation also posted examples of Shoals' promotional material for their party at Solar Power International 2012:
You can see more of Shoals ill-advised taunting of potential customers at Siddiquee's post, but you get the idea.
The resulting storm wasn't on the scale of last year's debacle by Susan G. Komen, but it was apparently bad enough to prompt some internal discussion at Shoals; after the offending tweets came down, the company posted a not-particularly persuasive apology on its Facebook page:
"In light of the response our recent ads have had, we at Shoals Technologies Group would like to sincerely apologize. Our corporate culture is one of lighthearted fun and sarcasm, but our frat boys, as they've been aptly called, can sometimes go too far. The Green Tech Industry is progressive and innovative, and we are proud to be a part of it. We are leading the way in revolutionizing the solar industry with our products, and have long left behind stuffy corporate attitudes. We have great respect for the women in our industry, and encourage more women to get into solar. Our mama's [sic] raised us right, so please accept our apology."
That apology, along with Shoal's Facebook page, have since been taken down.
The tech world has long been a bastion of sexism, and so it's not surprising to find a solar company that perpetuates the patterns found in the larger tech world. But even if Shoals has trouble seeing that demeaning women is wrong because of ethics, they might consider that members of the demographic they seem to be targeting with their sexist ads, single men, are less likely to own a home than their single female cohort, and thus less likely to own a rooftop on which those Nice Racks® might get installed to hold solar panels. Not only was their joke unfunny, but it might end up costing them money.