Well this is just silly –
When I was in my twenties, two things would happen when my then-boyfriend and I went to dinner with another couple. The men would talk about their careers at length and often agree to follow up on something work related. They’d exchange business cards within minutes of being introduced. Women never volunteered their cards and the men didn’t collect cards from any women.
When I confronted my boyfriend about why he never exchanged information even with women in his field, he admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable asking the women for their cards because he wouldn’t want them to think he was hitting on them. So the women weren’t asking the women for cards and the men weren’t asking the women for cards. Whether from their own doing or the men’s, the result was the same; the women were left out of the business conversation.
Samantha goes on to suggest some ways of fixing this, which are all good and you should go check them out, especially the women who are reading this, but she didn’t address her boyfriend’s biggest concern. That is the elephant in the room when it comes to professional networking.
The creepiness factor.
Yes, we cannot even begin to have this conversation if we don’t address two things.
1. Men who use “networking” as an excuse to hit on women.
2. Women who assume every guy who does approach them, is hitting on them.
Now, I’m not going to argue that number 1 above doesn’t lead to number 2. Women, you probably have every right to be wary of guys who approach you on social media or in person to talk about your work, who really aren’t interested in your work. But, truthfully, not every guy is looking for a date.
Guys, first off, just stop it. Stop being a creep. Stop sending messages to women you don’t know well on LinkedIn and telling them how beautiful their profile pic looks. Stop asking them out. Stop sending sexually suggestive messages and photos to people you barely know.
Seriously, stop it. If you can’t do professional networking or work alongside women without being a creep, grow up.
Secondly, let’s talk about ways in which we, guys, can help. As some of you may know, I have a great number of women who I consider friends. Women who I have worked with, and for, who I have a ton of respect for. Women who have been close friends for years and years. And yes, that includes my wife, who I think is one of the most talented professionals I’ve ever known on top of being my wife.
I’d be more than happy to help any one of those women with a professional connection, career advice, technical help, recommendation, etc. if the opportunity came along.
Because I respect them and their work.
I am not friends, or connected with them, because I’m secretly hoping they’ll sleep with me.
See how that works? You too can have female friends, and coworkers, and not have every interaction be uncomfortable. Some of them can even be incredibly attractive, and you can be a grown up about it. (Yes, some of the women I know professionally are absolutely beautiful, so what?)
Not everything is about sex and dating. The fact that you think it is, only shows that you’re not a grown up.
Side note – That goes for the ladies too. I’m addressing this to the guys, because I am one, but let’s not ignore the women who are also out there looking for a mate at networking events. That happens too.
So guys, if you’re capable of working, and networking, alongside women and seeing them for their talent, make sure you do what you can to include them, the same as you would for any of the men you work with. Many of you reading this work in technology. Let’s face it guys, this industry does not have a great track record. We can do better.
Ladies, don’t blow off forming professional relationships, with men and other women. It’s important.
None of us knows what the future holds or where the next challenge is coming from. We will all, at some point in time, need help. That’s why we have a network. So that when you need “X”, there are people who can help you find it. Whether that is a new career opportunity, a business lead, or even just the answer to a question, the more people you know, the easier it is to get.
And if you happen to meet someone and something romantic happens, great! I met my wife at work, I’m in no position to tell people to never, ever mix the personal with the professional. But it can’t be the goal. Networking events are not speed-dating. Workplaces are not the club, and for god’s sake, LinkedIn is not Tinder.
We can all be professional toward each other, and offer our assistance to anyone when needed, regardless of their gender, orientation, looks, or anything else that isn’t about their professional abilities.