The ugh factor

27 Jan

According to a Tulane study of female MBA grads cited in USA Today, 49 percent said they had tried to advance their careers by sometimes engaging in at least one of 10 sexual behaviors, such as crossing her legs provocatively in meetings with men or letting a man look down her shirt. Ugh. Double ugh. I have a visceral reaction to this barroom behavior, which immediately led me to turn the question on myself as a woman: How do I present myself in the workplace?

Well, not like this. I pride myself on presenting as a paragon of professionalism. That desired persona prevents just such behavior. I want to be evaluated on intellect and output.

I don’t get why women would allow themselves to be “used” in this way, such as the respondees who said “I allow men to linger at certain places of my body while hugging them.” Ugh again. Throughout my career, I’ve had to skirt around certain male huggers and squeezers, the ones who want to rub my shoulders, or put their arms around me, or whose touch lingers just a little too long for my comfort. I’ve spent far more time in my career avoiding this behavior than encouraging it — in fact, I can’t recall EVER encouraging it. Fortunately, the excess touchers were always peers, never superiors, and it was easily avoidable once I was aware of it.

According to this study, which was limited in scope, the flirty women did not advance as well in their careers. Thank goodness for that. In a related Wall Street Journal article, another woman refers to flirting as a “short-term strategy.” Absolutely correct. Aging is inevitable. In fact, it brings up an even bigger issue: How are middle-aged women treated in the workplace? Are their opportunities for advancement unfairly limited because the “bloom is off the rose?” How do we equalize for loss of innate appeal as employees age, both male and female?

At the end of the Wall Street Journal article, Robert Dunson was quoted about bringing a female colleague along who was liked by the client to help close the deal. At first, that “ugh” bile started arising in my throat again. However, when I mentally switched the story around to become a “male colleague whom the clients liked” — maybe they play golf together — the bile receded. I could evaluate this one a little differently than the flirting. It’s a simple fact of business, and life: When you have an advantage, you use it.

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