LinkedIn Creates Furor When It Bars Photos Of Pretty Female Engineers

Is it impossible to believe that beautiful women can be successful engineers? It apparently was inconceivable to some employees at LinkedIn, the professional social network. As Internet news website Daily Dot reported, last month LinkedIn pulled recruiting ads depicting attractive female engineers, telling the advertiser to use images "related to the product" instead.

On Friday, LinkedIn backed down and said "an error" had been made by the customer service department after LinkedIn members complained about the images, as a LinkedIn spokesperson told AOL Jobs via e-mail. But the damage was done. Taso Du Val, CEO of TopTal, an online community for software developers and the advertiser, was upset, as were bloggers, both of which accused LinkedIn of perpetuating sexism within the tech industry. (The image from the ad in question, which features developer Florencia Antara, is seen above.)

Du Val, for one, wrote a particularly fiery blog post condemning the "extreme sexism" by LinkedIn. In the post, entitled "In Defense of Female Engineers," he wrote the following:

"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."

Commenters on Du Val's blog post agreed with him. One said said LinkedIn was engaging in "nerd oppression because no female engineer could look good."

As it turns out, not every ad placed by Daily Dot used images of actual engineers, and instead relied on stock images. Some, however, did depict images of real developers like Florencia Antara, as seen above. But for Du Val, the question of authenticity is irrelevant. "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," he wrote.

In response to uproar, LinkedIn reached out to Du Val on Friday and said "after careful consideration and careful review of all ads" it will re-enable the ads, as he recounted on his company's blog. Responding in the blog, he welcomed the decision: "This is fantastic news for everyone and we're thrilled this decision was made." (In speaking to AOL Jobs, a LinkedIn spokesperson wouldn't comment on whether anyone's job was in jeopardy as a result of the incident.)

Sexism....or bad advertising?
Not every online commentator saw LinkedIn's initial decision as sexist. Writing on the online forum Hacker News, user "dwild" charged TopTal of using cheap and unnecessary salacious ads. "Why do they show attractive women? Why not every type of women and every type of men?" The user went on, as did many othersHacker news, to question the ads because they gave off a "spam" vibe, and so were hard to believe as authentic.

In spite of high-profile tech leaders like Yahoo's Marissa Mayer, the tech industry has historically suffered from a "little bit of a time warp" in embracing female workers, as Laura Sherbin, director of research at Center for Work-Life Policy (CWLP) told AOL Jobs.

And proof can be found beyond the script of "The Social Network." As Forbes has reported, the number of women in senior technology positions at U.S. companies dropped last year for the second year in a row. As of 2012, nine percent of U.S. chief information officers (CIOs) are female, down from 11 percent in 2011 and 12 percent in 2010.

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