LinkedIn Deletes Ads Featuring Women and Engages in Sexism Debate

LinkedIn Banner Photo:www.flickr.com/photos/tychay

LinkedIn Banner
Photo:www.flickr.com/photos/tychay

Toptal, a start-up based in Palo Alto, California, accused professional network giant LinkedIn of “extreme sexism within the tech community.” LinkedIn disabled ads featuring female engineers and later deleted Toptal’s account.

The chain of events began in late July when Toptal’s chief operating officer discovered many of its female developer ads were blocked on LinkedIn’s site. Toptal is a growing networking platform designed to connect tech companies around the world with engineers.  Thus, its advertising account with LinkedIn provides a critical outlet to scores of potential clients. After Toptal inquired into the disappearance of the ads, the online networker discovered that LinkedIn had responded to users’ complaints about the attractive female engineers featured in Toptal’s advertisements. LinkedIn requested Toptal to utilize “different images, related to the product” for ads to be re-enabled.

Toptal chose to disregard LinkedIn’s instructions, as its CEO Taso Du Val said Toptal’s officers were “greatly offended” by LinkedIn’s demands. Toptal reposted the ads and, according to Du Val, LinkedIn shut down Toptal’s account three days later.

Du Val responded by writing an enraged blog post titled “In Defense of Female Engineers” in which he expressed his disgust at LinkedIn’s demands and decisions. Toptal’s statement recounts the sequence of events and reveals the correspondence with LinkedIn, calling for the female ads to be reinstated online.

In the blog post Du Val presents an example of one of Toptal’s female developer ads. The ad displays an attractive Argentinian web developer, Florencia Antara, and reads “We recruit top engineers and bring them to you fast! $1800-$2800/wk. Try for 2 weeks, risk-free.”

LinkedIn users made comments on the ads that diverged greatly: some believed it to be unrealistic because the women looked too glamorous, while others responded to the commentators’ unfair judgments. Users believed the ads were spam since the women appeared too suggestive to be “real engineers.” For Antara’s ad, one wrote that she’s staring at the camera “as if she is about to make love to it.” People held qualms over Toptal’s standing as a networking site for tech engineers.

After other users responded to the skepticism over the female ads, macman851 asked Toptal “why you felt you needed to portray these women in such a sexually suggestive light than a professional light,” writing that a blazer or button up shirt and less make-up would be “more appropriate.”

The CEO’s blog post prompted a tide of commentary, convincing many that LinkedIn’s actions against Toptal’s ads upheld the sexist assumptions of others. On August 3, LinkedIn re-installed Toptal’s account along with all of its original advertisements, stating that “Toptal’s ads were rejected in error” while going through “a standard process of reviewing LinkedIn Ads.”

Toptal saw the rapid turnaround as “fantastic news” stating that the networking site was “thrilled” in an update to DU Val’s original blog post.  Others across the world believed LinkedIn’s final statement further confounded the situation. If LinkedIn’s actions were a technical “error” rather than a response, then why were only Toptal’s ads with women removed?

The issue was further complicated by Toptal’s own actions. Some of its ads used stock photos and depicted images of actresses — one of which featured Amanda Schull who regularly appears on USA Network’s TV drama “Suits.” The ads were not in fact true to the engineering marketing mantra. CEO Du Val boldly contends that this piece of information is irrelevant because the fake photos still “represent normal professional people. Our male versions are no different.”

Although female images are a topic of contention across many fields — from former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to technology developer Florencia Antara — this particular incident has reignited the conversation over a woman’s place in the technology industry. According to Forbes, women compose nine percent of chief information officers in the U.S., and the number is on the decline. In 2011, women were 11 percent of the officers and 12 percent in 2010.

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  1. […] Toptal, a start-up based in Palo Alto, California, accused professional network giant LinkedIn of “extreme sexism within the tech community.” LinkedIn disabled ads featuring female engineers and later deleted Toptal’s account. The chain of events began in late July when Toptal’s chief operating officer… […]

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