The woman at left is beautiful. She’s also an engineer. And as LinkedIn recently learned the hard way, those two things are not, in fact, mutually exclusive.
Toptal, a small developer networking platform, had featured this image in its ads for engineers, which appeared on LinkedIn. After “many LinkedIn members complained” about the image, the tech giant pulled the ads, telling Toptal that the promos could be run again once the picture in question had been replaced by “different images, related to the product.”
In other words, LinkedIn assumed an inherent disconnect between the image of a beautiful woman and a tech career like engineering.
Outraged by LinkedIn’s decision, CEO of Toptal, Taso Du Val (who I am proud to call a former classmate), wrote a scathing blog post, titled: “In Defense of Female Engineers.” In the original post, Du Val wrote, in part:
“Today was a disappointing day at Toptal. We saw extreme sexism within the tech community, from an industry leader and advertising partner that we work with quite extensively: LinkedIn…Are they seriously siding with people who complained to LinkedIn that our female software engineers are offensive?…these (and others) are our real engineers that we have signed contracts with. And even if they were only stock photography, who cares? The point is, they’re perfectly fine and represent normal professional people. Our male versions are no different. They’re male engineers, smiling, some with glasses, some without; the whole idea LinkedIn had was just ridiculous.
The fact of the matter is: members of the tech community (LinkedIn users) saw it as impossible that our female engineers could actually be engineers, and a leader of the tech community (LinkedIn) agreed with them. Unfortunately we’re banned from showing anything except 100%, all male software advertisements from now on and so, that’s what you’ll be getting. I’m disappointed both on a personal and professional level. I expect better.”
Du Val and his team then tried to re-enable the ads, which led to Toptal’s account being banned from LinkedIn entirely.
LinkedIn, in the face of the controversy, has since reversed its decision, and has restored TopTal’s ads to its website. A spokesperson for the company admitted fault in the incident, explaining to Business Insider, “While our customer Service was going through a standard process of reviewing LinkedIn Ads, TopTal’s ads were rejected in error. We have since taken the necessary measures to approve the previously rejected ads, and TopTal can now run them on our platform as intended.”
On August 3, Du Val updated his blog post to reflect LinkedIn’s change in attitude, saying, “LinkedIn has responded stating that after careful consideration and careful review of all ads, landing pages and the nature of our business, they will re-enable all of our ads and we may continue to run all previous ads that were ran prior. This is fantastic news for everyone and we’re thrilled this decision was made.”