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What Do Top Female Engineers Think About The LinkedIn Sexism Row?

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Over the past few days job social networking site LinkedIn and engineering firm Toptal have found themselves in the middle of a sexism row.

The catalyst? A job advert on LinkedIn featuring Argentinian web developer Florencia Antara, which was "mistakenly" taken down with users deeming her "too attractive to be an engineer".

Although the ad has since been reposted by LinkedIn, it has caused wide debate.

Some are outraged at the assumption that female engineers are unattractive, while others criticise the company for using an overtly sexualised image of a female engineer - their main complaint being the visibility of her bra strap.

According to The Daily Dot, a spokesperson for LinkedIn said that the adverts "were rejected in error" during a "standard review process". But in a blog post Toptal's CEO accused the site of "extreme sexism".

The issue has unearthed a range of issues surrounding the issues facing women in engineering (and in other industries) and the stereotypes that surround them.

HuffPost UK Lifestyle asked some of the UK's top female engineers to share their experiences of working in the industry.

female engineer

"Of course, women can be both attractive and an engineer," Milada Williams, President of the Women's Engineering SocietyWomen's Engineering Society, told HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "But suggestively twisting her [Florentina's] image is wrong in professional context."

Williams says that she is "fed up" with the current focus on women's appearance in a professional environment, but does not see it ending soon.

"Until women engineers are present in greater numbers, instead of being a minority, this focus on the exterior will not stop."

Dawn Bonfield, Vice President of the Women's Engineering Society and Williams' colleague, says that the issue is indicative of our image-obsessed culture.

"It is seen as acceptable to comment on the appearance of a woman, and we need to challenge this attitude. Women are seen this way by men and until we have more women making the decisions on how to portray women then things won't improve."

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Dawn Elson, Head of Engineering at Gatwick airport and HuffPost UK blogger, says that it is not just women who are stereotyped professionally.

"Although there may not obviously be these debates about men – I am sure that we are all guilty of stereotyping men in particular jobs. Just picture a male builder."

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Elson says that female engineers face a significant challenge as there are two stereotypes for them to overcome - not only based on gender, but on the assumption that all engineering jobs are 'hands on' as opposed to managerial or theoretical.

"I have experienced sexism at various stages of my career," says Dawn. "The most blatant comments relating to technical problems ‘but you’re a girl – what would you know!’ - but not usually linked to my appearance."

She added: "I think it would be helpful if people could try and move beyond the stereotypes so that we could try and increase the number of girls entering into engineering."

Tellingly, both Elson and Williams say people are still surprised when they learn their chosen professions.

"Occasionally I am still asked if I fix my own car to which I have to reply I am not a car mechanic," says Williams.

Still a lot of work to do, then.

See Women's Engineering Society for more information - including careers advice.