Is the Acer ad sexist?

The ADgenda: this week's most offensive advert.

Ad execs think in statements. Preferably four word punchy sentences, all in capitals. This thought process often leaves subtlety out in the cold, and tricksy terms like gender stereotyping are gleefully discarded, no doubt because they dilute the message and block that crucial blue sky thinking. So, having ditched those pesky complexities of real life at the way side, the execs set about planning the new Acer ad. A point-by-point summary of the strategy meeting follows:

1) Laptops are functional, practical and useful

2) Therefore, laptops are for men. Women don't like laptops

3) How can we make women like laptops?

4) By giving laptops a really feminine and pretty image

5) How?

6) By getting that Megan Fox lass, you know, the one famed for her acting talent the world over showcased inTransformers 1,2,3, etc

6) Yeah! But wait, isn't she mostly popular with drooling young men?

7) True, but she is really really girly, so let's get her to appeal to girls even more and pretend she can speak to dolphins

8) Eeeeeeeeeee! That is SO sweet!

If you thought the end result was crass enough, Fujitsu  Japan clearly didn't agree and decided to go one step further by unveiling the Floral Kiss - a laptop designed specifically for women. The Floral Kiss has a specially designed lid so there's no danger of chipping your perfectly manicured nails, a 'Feminine pink' colour scheme and most importantly - your daily horoscope loaded and ready to be accessed at the touch of a no doubt perfume-scented button. What's that I hear? Ah, it's the dull thump of palms smacking foreheads across the nation.

An Acer laptop. Photograph: Getty Images
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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.