A mildly unsettling ad campaign out of Brazil raises an intriguing, if not entirely productive, question: Would the world have heard of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Larry Page, were they born Ellen, Jenny, and Lara?
With the help of photoshop, the three founders and CEOs all appear as women in a spot for Forbes Brazil. Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is given a long, shiny mane, his superhero jaw dramatically softened. Bezos, who started Amazon, is feminized with the addition of lush brown hair to his bald pate.
And Google co-founder and Alphabet CEO Page is … well, much like himself, only with longer hair and women’s clothing.
The images, slightly disturbing in an uncanny valley sense, are the showcase of a gimmicky project. But Forbes Brazil and its ad partner on the campaign, Ogilvy Brazil, are trying to be serious. “The insight is that if some billionaires were women, their respective companies wouldn’t exist and they would be clients of their competitors,” the companies said in a press statement. “The reality is, this has anything to do with women’s capabilities. It’s due to the lack of incentives, a reflection of the sexism seen in the workforce.”
If you want a message about unequal pay between genders to feel irrelevant, just feature famous billionaires. And yet the larger point remains: there is an opportunity crisis for women.
As the ads inform readers, in Brazil, startups led by women receive 7% of total venture capital, and only 5% of government grants go to businesses owned by women. (In the US, less than 3% of VC money invested in US startups in 2017 went to those with female-only founders, according to Pitchbook, a financial data company.) And yet it’s still believed that entrepreneurs operate in a meritocracy, and that anyone with a bright idea and a strong enough ego should be able to get a company off the ground—even though we also know the barriers to women, and even more so, women of color, and founders who are LGBTQ, are entrenched.
This is the second installation of Forbes Women, a project that began last year, bringing us Marcia Zuckerberg, Carla Slim, and Billie Gates.