LinkedIn Photos Deemed Too Good to Be Real. Sexism or Honest Mistake?

Is Florencia Antara too pretty to be an engineer? Photo: ToptalYou can now add LinkedIn to the list of social networking sites facing accusations of sexism. On Monday, the career site was criticized for a decision it had made to remove ads with photos of women it had apparently thought were too sexy to be actual web engineers.

The ads, placed by developer network Toptal, have since been reinstated by LinkedIn, which has called the whole dust-up the result of an “error.” But the situation has left some prominent members of the web-development industry with concerns.

“Today was a disappointing day at Toptal,” began a weekend blog by company CEO Taso Du Val. “We saw extreme sexism within the tech community, from an industry leader and advertising partner that we work with quite extensively: LinkedIn.” In the post, he goes on to recount the sequence of events relating to the company’s ads on LinkedIn, which began a month ago, when the ads were mysteriously disabled and a customer service representative told him that “we had to reject the ads on the Toptal business ads account as many LinkedIn members complained about the women in images you were using.”

Though it was never explicitly stated that the women in the photos were too beautiful to believably be web engineers, Du Val thought the message was clear. “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,” he wrote on the blog. “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. It’s sick.”

He added that, while some of the company’s ads did indeed include some stock photos, other photos were of actual engineers, such as the attractive Florencia Antara of Buenos Aires. But stock photos or not, Du Val said, it shouldn’t matter. “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.”

He soon updated his post with news that LinkedIn had corrected the situation and permitted the original ads to run.

LinkedIn told Yahoo! Shine in an email, “ You should know that while our Customer Service was going through a standard process of reviewing LinkedIn Ads, TopTal’s ads were rejected in error.  We've since taken the necessary measures to approve the previously rejected ads, and TopTal can now run them on our platform as intended.”

Public response to the whole thing was swift, with Toptal’s blog post inspiring even more sexist ire right in its commenter section. “Florencia is a lovely lady and both pictures are flattering, but …the ad headshot looks more like she's headed to a cocktail party,” wrote one reader.

Another, calling himself macman851, added, “I can somewhat see why they were rejected. What's with the bra strap showing? How does that help emphasize her abilities as a developer? Why is she staring at the camera as if she is about to make love to it? The images are a bit suggestive and I would like to kindly turn the tables and ask you why you felt you needed to portray these women in such a sexually suggestive light than a professional light. I don't think they should be wearing large winter coats, but a simple blazer or just a dress shirt would have been much more appropriate.” That inspired a slew of backlash, including someone pointing out that there was no bra strap, plus this pointed question posed by a female commenter: “Honestly, I'd like to know why your line of questioning is entirely focused on what the female developer has done to provoke the problem, rather than asking what it says about the tech industry and those who flagged the photos?”

On the other side were folks agreeing that LinkedIn had been offensive. “LinkedIn appears to be engaging in slut-shaming, and nerd oppression because no female engineer could look good. Engineers must be slide rule nerds!” noted a reader.

Twitter anger was palpable, too. “Unbelievably tone deaf,” tweeted Penny Herscher, a “techie” and CEO of FirstRain. Illustrator Kiri Yu was similarly flabbergasted, tweeting a link to Toptal blog with, “Wait, what. This is actually a thing that happens?”

Unfortunately, women being judged by their looks is totally a thing that happens.

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