XX in Tech

Too Hot for LinkedIn? A Startup’s Blocked Ads Spur Controversy

"Unfortunately we’re banned from showing anything except 100%, all male software advertisements from now on."
The photo in question. (Toptal)

The photo in question. (Toptal)

Does LinkedIn have trouble believing that pretty ladies can be engineers? A tiff with Toptal, a networking site for developers, has folks wondering.

According to the Daily Dot, Toptal recently received a notice from LinkedIn saying 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.” The vague, weird email added that if they edited the ads “using different images, related to the product advertised” and resubmitted, they’d be quickly approved.

Rather than cooperate, Toptal reuploaded the same ads and found their account suspended. After more back-and-forth, the CEO wrote an outraged blog post, concluding in a high dudgeon that LinkedIn was making the sexist conjectural leap that because the women in the ads were attractive, they couldn’t possibly be real engineers:

“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.”

Hacker News–of course–isn’t so sure. When Toptal’s post landed on the site, commenters took issue with the example photos: “I don’t think it’s the fact that the women are intrinsically attractive, but rather the fact that they’re consciously choosing the pose/makeup/lighting in order the emulate the design language of the adultFriendFinder-style ads.” That was your go-to? Another got all tough guy/real talk: “lets [sic] cut the PC nonsense; how many gorgeous female software engineers do you know? They are an exceedingly rare breed.”

Plus Florencia Antara, the developer whose picture is Toptal’s main example of LinkedIn’s objections, came in for criticism: “I’m sorry, but to me, it seems like she hasn’t done any software engineering, and has, at best, implemented hodgepodge jQuery.”

Now, there’s no question that HN isn’t exactly one of the Internet’s most feminist-friendly watercoolers. But this might not be quite the open-and-shut case of sexism it looks like. For one thing, the ads in question do look a bit spammy, though it’s thanks to the copy rather than the photo:

toptal blog image 1375469095883 Too Hot for LinkedIn? A Startups Blocked Ads Spur Controversy

Would you click on that?

Meanwhile, LinkedIn swears it was all an accident and won’t provide any more details. A spokesperson told Betabeat, “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.” Update, 1:26: A source says the ads were originally taken down as the result of complaints from users. Guess there are some mid-level corporate managers and HR professionals who have very strong feelings about the content of LinkedIn ads.

A cynic might note that by writing an outraged outcry that landed Toptal on Hacker News, the company probably attracted far more relevant traffic than all the LinkedIn ads in the world could. Just a thought!

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com