The culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, has condemned a “crass” advertising campaign which suggested a ballet dancer could “reboot” their career by moving into cyber security.
The advert, part of the government’s Cyber First campaign, featured a young dancer tying up her ballet pumps alongside the caption: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet).”
It adds the slogan: “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.”
The poster, one of a series which featured people from a variety of other professions, was heavily criticised on social media, prompting the intervention from Dowden.
The government has been approached for more information about when the campaign launched.
Among the critics was the singer Darren Hayes, who posted on Twitter: “Stick with your dreams, don’t listen to this shit campaign written by people who, when not working, turn to the arts – music, tv, film, theatre, dance, photography, etc etc for joy. Making joy is our job. Reboot your terrible advertisement.”
Author Caitlin Moran responded: “I don’t know if the government know they appear to have recently created a ‘Hopes & Dreams Crushing Department’, but for a country already depressed and anxious, I would suggest it’s a bit of a ‘Not now, dudes’ moment?”
The shadow mental health minister, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, tweeted: “Fatima, you be you. Don’t let anyone else tell you that you aren’t good enough because you don’t conform to their preconceived social norms.”
Shortly after “Fatima” began trending on Twitter, Dowden responded: “To those tweeting re #Fatima. This is not something from DCMS & I agree it was crass. This was a partner campaign encouraging people from all walks of life to think about a career in cyber security.”
He added: “I want to save jobs in the arts”, pointing to the government’s culture recovery fund, which announced its first recipients on Monday.
The controversy came after the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, denied encouraging workers in the struggling arts industry to retrain.
Sunak insisted he was talking generally about the need for some workers to “adapt” and suggested there would be “fresh and new opportunities” available for those who could not do their old jobs.
According to Arts Council England, the arts and culture industry contributes more than £10bn a year to the UK economy, with £3 spent on food, drink, accommodation and travel for every £1 spent on theatre tickets.