You know, guys, we’re never going to make it to a post-sexist society — assuming there can be such a thing as a post-sexist society — if we keep having silly little contretemps like this:
On Friday, a baffled hacker community got a firsthand lesson in just how bizarre sexism in the tech industry can be. LinkedIn and Toptal, a small developer networking platform, essentially played a round of credibility chicken over Toptal’s advertising on the site.
The incident involved a brief attempt by LinkedIn to pull ads for female engineers — because it claimed that its users had complained about their appearance.
Said Toptal’s CEO about the matter:
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.
One fairly typical comment from the sidelines, which sums up the controversy:
I glance at the two ads they’re showing there, and my first impulse is “they slapped some stock photos of attractive women on there to give male viewers an endorphin kick.” They’re a far cry from the “look! boobs!” of Evony ads, but they also don’t look like women ready for a day at the office. I know from the article that these are actual, working female engineers, but part of me wants to say that the ad designer obviously picked them for “sexy” as opposed to “professional,” and that seems sleazy and sad. But on the other hand, who the hell am I to tell any professional how to dress or style their hair? But on the third hand, if I’m right it’s not the fault of the engineers but of the ad designers…
Augh, I kinda feel like an asshole just for thinking about this.
Which may be the whole point: it’s okay to appreciate women in the 51st appearance percentile, so long as you regret it immediately afterwards.
Toptal did not, however, help their case by falling back on a few stock photos of non-engineers to, um, sweeten the deal. (“Who cares?” they asked, not expecting an answer.)
The idea that how well a woman performs as an engineer is basically independent of her appearance — one could argue that a prettier one might get her foot in the door slightly faster, but that’s not a performance issue — isn’t even being considered. Now that’s what’s sad.
Addendum: Here’s an actual Toptal profile.