Update 1, August 3rd, 1:05pm PST: 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.

Update 2, August 4th, 12:03pm PST: We have received a number of inquiries about the other photos posted in this article when it was first released. When the post was first released, we saught examples of the advertisments to display. However, not having access to LinkedIn since our account was banned, we could only pull up results from a PowerPoint presentation dating back to May 2013 (the first month we launched our LinkedIn advertising) and one other screenshot dating back approximately a week ago which was referenced in a Skype conversation. In May, we used mostly stock photography (for both male and female) as we did not have images that were high enough resolution to put on LinkedIn. I used two of the images in this article from that presentation as an example by mistake. They were deleted because they were not relevant to this post after I discovered that, and they were also not the ones to get us banned. As of mid-July we had enough images where we switched nearly all male and female images to real Toptal developers.

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.

As many companies, we run LinkedIn advertisements to acquire new companies, clients, developers and internal employees. We run a mixture of male and female advertisements. We’ve taken extremely professional photos of both men and women who are part of the Toptal network and made sure they looked sharp, well dressed and happy; however, LinkedIn’s internal advertising’s staff completely disagrees that they both look sharp, well dressed and happy. Actually, they believe, with 100% certainty, that the women in our advertisements are offensive and harmful to their user base. To me, this is unbelievable.

It started off a month ago with our head of online marketing going on vacation. We stopped monitoring our LinkedIn account daily as it was running pretty smoothly. We would check in about once a week to make sure everything was running along smoothly and going well. However, last week, Breanden, our COO, logged in, and noticed something very strange. Almost all of our advertisements were turned off.

Puzzled, we contacted support with the following message:

“All of our ads were recently disapproved and I’m trying to figure out why.“

While we waited for a response, we looked through the guidelines and were wondering what was going on. Maybe we said something in the ads that violated their guidelines or was technically false; we weren’t sure. Reading them however, didn’t help (we did have one ad that is humorous that says “Developers so good we invoice in binary!”.. and while technically not true… we thought the humor would get across).

Roughly 24 hours later, we received a ridiculous, and shocking response:

“Hi [Toptal],

I regret any confusion experienced.

I reached out to you on July 17 regarding the reason why we had to reject your ads and I’m sorry iof you did not receive my message, which was sent to the primary email address associated with your LinkedIn profile (with domain @xxxxxxx.com).

I contacted you to you to notify that we had to reject the ads on the TopTal business ads account as many LinkedIn members complained about the women images you were using.

As a result, please edit the ads we will reject using different images, related to the product advertised and submit your ads again; we will be more than happy to approve them.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Thank you for your understanding.

Regards,
Lead Ads Support

My first response was, this can’t be true. Are they seriously siding with people who complained to LinkedIn that our female software engineers are offensive?

Here is one of the female pictures:

Here is a closer shot of the engineer since our old screenshot is blurry:

Now, mind you, 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.

After a couple hours we logged in and simply re-enabled all of the disabled ads, including the female ones. In a few more hours, they were all approved, and continued to run smoothly… until a bigger issue arose.

Approximately 3 days after the reactivation of our ads, our ads were not only completely disabled (again), but our entire account was banned.

A screenshot of what we saw when we went to login:

After being baffled, yet again, we sent a response, and had to wait for more than 48 hours for any word.

Here is the Skype conversation as I received this morning:

[8/2/13 2:55:04 AM] Breanden: linkedin just wrote me back and said they would reinstate our account immediately if we agree to change the images
[8/2/13 2:55:13 AM] Taso: no fucking way
[8/2/13 2:55:55 AM] Taso: we need to get them on the phone
[8/2/13 2:56:18 AM] Breanden: Hi [Toptal]:,

I truly apologize for the delay in my response as we were reviewing this case. If you agree to change the images on your ads, we will un-restrict the account and you will be able to advertise again.

Please reply to this message for confirmation.

Regards,
Lead Ads Support

[8/2/13 2:56:59 AM] Taso: Tell her you and I need to have a call about this because that’s very offensive to our current female engineers.

Our COO went ahead and said we promise not to show any females in our advertisements and asked for a phone call. After we responded, we got the following:

“Hi [Toptal], Thank you for your confirmation. I went ahead and removed the restriction from your ads account. Please feel free to edit the ads and submit them again.

If you will reply to me once this will be done, I will approve the ads for you as soon as possible.

I will also follow up with about the possibility to have a phone call.

Regards,
Lead Ads Support”

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.

It’s sick.

This needs to be fixed.

Best,
Taso Du Val,
CEO of Toptal

I would like to say to LinkedIn, that I’ve had no choice but to write this. You’ve greatly offended our female engineers, staff and employees, and as the CEO of Toptal I have no choice but to defend them. Also, out of principle, I stand up for what is right. The fact you can state things such as banning regular professional women in advertising is just completely absurd.

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Comments

Mary Russell
Good grief.
haliphax
Despicable behavior on LinkedIn's part. Why not cut ties with them altogether, if you're truly outraged by their conduct?
DHHiltbrand
You should post the male ads that made it through for reference.
Justizin
Right.. Just go to one of the other professional networks that everyone in the tech industry uses. That'll show em.
Harrison Jackson
Ha - and in the process of banning you they have allowed you to get more attention than the ads were probably getting - and also open new careers for your female engineers as models.
Guest
I want to start out by acknowledging that LinkedIn certainly went too far in banning all female adverts from your company. But 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.
Belmont
I think it's awful that women are not being represented in these ads for... really, what reason did LinkedIn give besides nebulous complaints? Did I miss something reading this? There's nothing wrong with female engineers. That being said, I can sort of see why there might be a problem with these images in particular. A professional photo of a man might be in a dress shirt with a tie and suitjacket. A professional image of a woman could easily wear equivalent clothing and look respectable. The focus in these images seems to be more related to sex appeal than professionalism, which makes the ads look like scams. I wouldn't be led to believe these women were actual engineers not because they're women, but because the photos look more like something one might put on a dating website. If that was the actual problem, LinkedIn should have been clear about it. Their approach to this issue so far wasn't appropriate.
Taso Du Val
It was her previous profile picture, so we used it. Just like all our developers profile pictures. She felt that was a professional profile picture, and we agree.
Jenny Everywhere
macman, that's not a bra strap, that's part of the dress. Frankly, your suggestion that she looks like she's ready to "make love to the camera" is annoying and sexist. how you get "sexually suggestive" out of that headshot I have no idea. Do you have engineering credentials tattooed on your forehead, Sir? How does YOUR picture in your icon emphasize any of YOUR abilities? That's rhetorical -- it doesn't. It's just a picture to show what you look like. A friendly picture is much more generally appealing than a dour one, and what should the women wear to make you happy, burkas?
DrewMiller
Check out the homepage for a sampling of male head shots - not exactly glamorous.
Sandra
That's not a bra strap, she is most likely wearing a dress. I would disagree that she is staring at the camera trying to make love to it. She is just smiling and looking at the camera! You are reading too much into the image. Look at the first image, she is wearing a simple top (we cannot tell what) and I would say neither image at the ad resolution look sexually suggestive.
whatever
I think the current picture of her is more interesting and seems more authentic, but "making love to the camera"? That's purely your interpretation being cast onto that photo.
Guest
Actually, I do, Jenny. My tattoo is on my arm though. It was sexist of this company to feel like they needed to put their engineers in little black dresses to show them off. I work at a large software company and I can assure you that none of the women here feel like they need to wear that kind of bullcrap to be taken seriously.
macman851
I agree the current profile picture is more authentic. I never said 'making' love, but just on the precipice of about to make love to it....
StoneCypher
I don't think that hedging really changes anything. She is not doing anything particularly untoward, nor does sticking "on the precipice of" onto the front modify the claim.
StoneCypher
This company didn't do that. The person in the photo did.
Jenny Everywhere
Garbage. That could be a fancy blouse over a fairly standard skirt or slacks. Again, you're making unwarranted assumptions from a headshot. That you find a pretty blouse to be "bullcrap" is sexist and demeaning, just as bad as saying "she was asking for it". This kind of slut shaming is insidious and just plain dirty. Then there's the OTHER picture, the one that appears to have been taken off this article, that looked as demure as my former supervisor. She was not wearing anything visible that could at all be said to be "suggestive". That women are perceived to be "sexually suggestive" for dressing well and smiling says more about the person registering the complaint than about the woman. Again, what would you prefer they wear to not be wearing "bullcrap", as you so testily put it? A headscarf and a turtleneck? As has been reported already, the company DIDN'T "dress their engineers in little black dresses to show them off" -- this is the woman's profile pic. SHE selected the outfit. But let's turn it around -- the men. Assume that the men dressed sharply and handsome, typical businesswear. Why is that seen as "professional", but a woman dressed sharply and pretty, is seen as "suggestive"? I suspect an agenda, something that requires that a woman deliberately dress UNATTRACTIVELY to be taken seriously. That is rank sexism of the very blackest stripe. I also don't believe that your tattoo is "engineering qualifications". What is it, a resistor color code chart? A log table? A copy of your resume in fine print? FCC band chart? Would you feel better if this woman had a tensile strength of metals table tattooed on her own arm? What is it that you would prefer to see? I asked you that in my first post, and you ducked the question.
Jenny Everywhere
I agree. This is as sexist and filthy as the "fake geek girl" nonsense making the rounds, spurious claims that women at sci-fi and comic conventions are dressing up in costumes "to get attention from men", instead out of honest appreciation of the characters. They get accused of simply dressing that way "to impress their boyfriends", or some other dismissive nonsense.
Jenny Everywhere
My point exactly. They aren't dress-up dolls, these people took those photos themselves, wearing what they would typically wear. I still want to know what macman thinks would be more "acceptable". That anyone would see those pictures as 'suggestive', or "on the precipice of about to make love to the camera" is projecting. The picture in this post is pretty, and she has a nice smile, but it's not a particularly or exceptionally alluring look.
DHHiltbrand
I believe you and I would say that the discrepancy I was referring to is just the difference in what the two pictures seem to communicate. Florencia is a lovely lady and both pictures are flattering, but her toptal profile pic looks more inline with your male headshots and more like someone I expect to be working with in engineering. The ad headshot looks more like she's headed to a cocktail party. It's also certainly not my place to discourage women from dressing how they like professionally and "attractively," whatever their profession.
t.maris
As a sorority member, mechanical engineering major, at an enginering school with only a 31% female population, I think I can say that your assumptions and preconceived notions of what female engineers should wear and look like is repulsive. Is it really that hard to believe that a women can be HOT AND an ENGINEER?? I am disguisted that you are objectifying women and think its ok to judge them simply on what they're wearing. As a female engineer I make a point of looking good at work. Why? Because I fucking can. Do I need another reason? NO! In my experience when a male co-worker or classmate has made comments like that its because he feel threatened by me. Why? I have no idea besides he is now too self-conscious of his below average dick size in the presence of a confident, independent women. So keep trying to minimalize women's stature, but your dick won't get any larger.
ConsiderObjectively
I think the challenge is that the facial expression and text combined make it suggestive. I think a more meaningful test of whether LinkedIn is discriminating would be to use the same woman, but change her facial expression and the text of the advertisement (and keep everything else). I also wonder how many of the members that complained were women. I know fellow engineering colleagues that are women that would take issue with the advertisement coming across as selling the woman instead of her skills. One key question that can be used to evaluate her expression is: would you make the same glance to your boss, ceo, etc.?
Jessica Rose
Does anyone have a cached version of the original article they could share a screenshot of? Would love to compare it to this new version, where they seem to have scrubbed the other photo.
Guest
I am 100% in favor of women in technology and am supportive of the depiction of females in tech advertisements, especially for programs that endorse of the female technologist community but I have to agree with LinkedIn on this one. You [Toptal] have to ask yourselves what your intent was by using head-shots of people in your advertising. By consciously deciding to make the focus of your advertising on the person instead of on the action (engineering), you're forcing yourselves to be selective in choosing one head shot over another, in an attempt to receive a higher number of clicks (because that's the reason for advertising, click rates). Now, what is the intention of using pictures [in general] in an advertising campaign? It's to attract the eyes of your audience away from the content they are viewing and navigate them towards your advertisement. Because you've chosen to depict head-shots of people, you've forced yourselves to be selective and critical of the pictures that will capture the eyes of your audience. Advertising 101-- what is going to capture the eyes of your audience? Attractive people. All of the sudden, if you have to choose between an attractive headshot for your ads or a less attractive headshot, you're going to choose the attractive one. The problem with this whole argument is it's very subjective and a touchy place to say whether or not the person above was chosen because of their attractiveness or because of their professionalism. My honest opinion is that you forced yourselves to chose people from your overall bucket of pictures who you believe had higher levels of attractiveness because of your desire for higher click-through rates.
Vlad Shvedov
Indeed, it’s sick. Shared this via LinkedIn with extreme pleasure.
dgarrett81
Macman, how do the glasses in your profile pic emphasize your abilities? What's with your neck being visible? Why are you grinning at the camera as though you're about to ask it out on a date? Those questions might seem ridiculous, because they are. Clearly, they say more about the person asking them than they say about you. 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? If a company posted an ad with a male in a tank top, even if you think a tank top isn't very professional, would you understand people flagging it as offensive? Would you "somewhat see why they were rejected"?
dgarrett81
Jesus people. So it's the female engineer's fault because she didn't look at the camera the right way and she wore professional clothing that some people find attractive. And it matters if the complainers are women or men because?? It's a woman dressed professionally who is being critiqued to no end when the real problem is that people can't seem to handle a simple picture of a female engineer without projecting a whole lot of sexist baggage onto it.
dgarrett81
Would a man staring directly at the camera, slightly grinning, wearing a dress shirt with the collar open be considered "unprofessional" or "more related to sex appeal"? I doubt that if people saw an engineering ad with such a photo, there would be many people struggling to take him seriously as an engineer. We live in a culture that over-sexualizes women. So it really doesn't matter what she wore if she's considered a mainstream version of "pretty". Many people are looking at her, projecting intent on the photo, and thinking "sex" in a way that rarely happens when it's a man.
dgarrett81
He's sexualizing the image and instead of seeing that as his problem, he's seeing it as hers. :|
dgarrett81
You've just successfully sexualized a harmless photo; you should consider what that says about you and the culture you live in.
Boris Staal
I think it's inappropriate that you wear beard on your photo. Also the blinks on your glasses and your smile make me feel like you are sexually suggestive. I work in a big company where none of the men feel like they need to wear glasses or stop shaving to be taken seriously. I mean... Do you really believe in what you are saying?
John M. Eden
Seriously? 1) She's not making love to anything or anybody, she's just looking at the camera. Get out a little more; you might find out what a woman actually looks like when she's interested/aroused. 2) Headshots of male engineers NEVER showcase their engineering chops. When was the last time you saw a professional photo of an engineering mapping out an algorithm or coding something? Don't expect women to adhere to protocols than men don't just because you're a bit sexually frustrated.
John M. Eden
Taso, I'm sorry you guys had to deal with this. I found nothing offensive in the shots you use, nor would a normal, non-repressed human being. The US is nutzo. Filled with serial killers, perverts, and all manner of deviants - but an attractive female engineer . . . wow, we just can't handle it.
Alexandre Marc
I'm simply baffled at some of the comments... There is nothing suggestive about this picture. When a company decides to advertise to recruit new members, it certainly does so to attract members that it believes would fit in well with the work culture by sending a clear message. The message I got from this ad was youthful and dynamic, certainly the type of company that I would enjoy working for. I think it laudable that a company would make sure to include in their ads, underrepresented groups in the sciences, it does go a long way for those who apply. I certainly did not get offended, or think this woman was propositioning me via my computer screen... How ludicrous. Now the discussion on this woman's outfit is simply disgusting and would have NO place in a professional setting; at least I sincerely hope not. There is absolutely nothing wrong with her black top, people wear similar things at work EVERYDAY without causing an uproar, to state otherwise is downright delusional. That this picture is being sexualized is not in itself a problem, you may find whomever attractive, but one's arousal does not warrant offense. Nor should the recipient of one's arousal have to change his or her ways just to placate the person who has physical feelings, that is preposterous and we would never be done accommodating everyone. I also find that only the women to be chosen as targets to be sexist, heteronormative, and despicable. All those who declare that this woman in the picture does not have an appropriate demeanor should think twice. Had it been a man with an open collared shirt, this debate would not have taken place. Also may I remind everyone that women are not the only subject of attraction? As a gay man, I would be more likely attracted to pictures of men (I'm sure straight women agree). Would this be reason enough for me to find them offensive and for Linkedin to ban them? I think not, because the only opinion that matters is that of a heterosexual male it seems. And we must do everything in our power to prevent them from getting unwanted erections whilst browsing for employment opportunities and networking. If we had to ban pictures because arousal=offensive, then shall we use no actual human beings for fear of stirring up the "lust of the human flesh?" Or are we going to move past this medieval mindset on sexuality and simply acknowledge that just like men, woman can be beautiful, sexy, powerful without being offensive to the male ego.
awsnap-caster
So what I'm learning from this comments section and random dudes on the internet is that a lot of people don't actually know what a dress is.
Jen L
Hi, female engineer here. No headshot emphasizes abilities. And she is wearing a dress shirt. The images are not suggestive simply because they contain attractive women. If you find pretty women inherently suggestive, you should consult a therapist about your issues. Your headshot in this site doesn't emphasize your engineering abilities and for the love of god your supposed tattoo doesn't either. But what's really important here is that you control what women that you don't know wear and continue the sexism that drives women away from engineering. Do you know how I have to dress to be taken seriously as an engineer? Well, it depends on the company. For some companies, I have to dress extremely nice, better than the male employees.For others, if I dress nice, I'm considered stodgy and no fun. That said, I will never be able to dress perfectly to get myself taken seriously as an engineer because I am female. You're just looking for excuses.
cvxxx
This reminds me of the men denied entry to a country because they were "too handsome". Should there be a sign saying only grubby dress, unkempt look is acceptable as any grooming is too distracting!
Jen L
Because he's sexist. He's looking for excuses but he disapproves of the ad because it supports women in tech. This is standard-issue US engineer Republican sexism. And of course he'll never admit that the problem is him because that would require thinking about that concept.
Jen L
You're so supportive of women in tech that you have to agree with LinkedIn on this? So them allowing attractive male headshots is fine because you support teh ladies. It's an ad. You're not hiring the person in the headshot. What should they have in their ads, oh wise guru? Pictures of code? Pictures of computers that they don't make? What?
Havoth
sorry you aren't getting enough to know the difference between a stylized top and a bra strap and that because you viewed her with a prurient interest meant that everyone did too, says way more about your over-sexualized view of women in general than it did about this woman in particular or women in general.
FDRjr
My congrats to Taso Du Val for standing up to this case of bulling and disrespect. I am truly surprised that LinkedIn felt so low to allow itself to be entangled in such a shameful campaign. I do not know where to start in my disgust toward LinkedIn subscribers that were so unhappy with their lives so they felt they had to make someone else miserable. They must be very ugly people, that would be my first reaction. Would it be too hard to imagine that people from different countries dress differently or look different? Not everyone is grossly overweight, in sloppy jeans, oversized T Shirt and worn out tennis shoes. Quite honestly I have never seen any ad with model that looks like that, unless they are trying to make parody. And even more, the picture is of a real female engineer, to make it even more ridiculous. In my mind who ever felt so compelled to write against that ad, just publicly exhibited its own twisted mind. Since when engineering community became so closely minded or twisted? Engineers bring progress and new ideas not inquisition.
D Thomas
Wow, I can barely stop laughing. People are right: it's just a headshot. I can't believe how many of these supposed smart dudes are reading so much into a pretty face. Both me and my better half have had to deal with this silly notion that you can't be pretty and smart. If you dudes who are trying to hold on to the "They Took Our Jobs, Dey Turk Er Jurbs, Durkur Duur!!!" end of the tech industry can't handle beautiful and smart women who reveal themselves in tech, then how are you gonna deal with the African American men who are prettier than both? We generally don't show ourselves because you dudes will go butthurt and nuclear, like the LinkedIn techs.
quax
Maybe LinkedIn would be more comfortable if they'd wear a burka? WTF? What's wrong with these people?
Peter
Your argument would be valid if LinkedIn had a problem with male pictures as well. However, LinkedIn seems to think that professional females who just happen to be attractive (and good dressers) is somehow an issue while no such demands seem to be made of pictures featuring male professionals. The problem here wasn't attractive people in general, but attractive women in particular, and that's sexist.
Tiffany Lowyns
Real female engineers (regardless of appearance) deal with this sexist attitude every day. When I tell people I am a Civil Engineer, the typical response is " Really???!!!!". As if I had just stated that I was an alien from Mars (or Venus LOL). I have spent years in the field as a Construction Project Manager juggling difficult projects while handling the additional problems stemming from the incredulity that I could possibly be a REAL engineer. Thank you Toptal for defending female engineers!
Charlie Reeb
This is exactly the reason why we human resources expert ALWAYS ask CV without photos - double blinded currilculum vitae.
SWE
The decision to pull this recruiting ad exemplifies how biases continue to impact women engineers. The value of the situation becoming public is it reminds each of us to be wary that our unconscious – or conscious – biases do not influence our decisions. The Society of Women Engineers WE13 conference will shatter any stereotype of what an engineer looks like when more than 6,000 women engineers arrive in Baltimore.
AbigailBuccaneer
I'm a woman and a games programmer. I don't feel like I need to dress up in order to be taken seriously by my male peers. But sometimes I do dress up, because I like to, and it's my damn choice.
cs44
Maybe try Github Jobs? Does LinkedIn actually work?
cs44
I'm shocked you found well dressed engineers, period!
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