Lifestyle
6 minute read

In Defense of Female Engineers

Taso is the co-founder and CEO of Toptal. He manages our core team, which includes hundreds of professionals from around the globe.
Read the Spanishes version of this article translated by Isabella Rolz

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 (including the ones featuring female software engineers) 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 sought examples of the female software engineer advertisements 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 in technology, our own 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, despite a disproportionately small percentage of female engineers in our network. 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 female software engineers 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:

This image is an example of the banned advertisement featuring one of our female software engineers.

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

Due to sexism in technology, this photo of a female software engineer caused our LinkedIn ads to be banned.

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:

This is the error message we received when we noticed that our female software engineer ads were no longer running.

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 software 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 due to the small percentage of female engineers in advertising is just completely absurd.