How do you keep it strictly business when meetings take place over cocktails at candlelit hotel bars?
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If you are a woman in an industry where a lot of networking and actual work gets done during one-on-one lunches, coffees, drinks and other things that really resemble dates, what are some ground rules for interacting with men? I've personally had problems getting the professional help of (usually older, usually married) men because they are very concerned about crossing or appearing to cross a line I have no interest in crossing either, and I have lots of friends who have had problems with the other type of guy who IS looking for something sexual while they are just trying to do their job.
Basically, and I guess this can be gender neutral, I want to know how to keep it strictly business when business meetings take place over cocktails at candlelit hotel bars.
Sigh. This world! Does everything just come down to Peggy and Don’s interactions in Mad Men? You know, a work relationship that was supposed to take place almost 50 years ago. (I mean... no? But sort of yes.)
Illustration by Tuesday Bassen
Most people I know hate the word “networking.” It invokes an awful after-work event in a sports bar where everyone’s wearing nametags. Peggy and Don aside, the broader issue here is that in many industries — media, for instance! — there’s so much casual networking going on among guys, hangouts that they probably wouldn’t ever consider networking but kinda are.
Ever notice how some of the guys in your office all have lunch together every day? Mmhmm. Or how they grab beers after work, or play basketball together? And they’d probably be actually surprised that you felt like you should be invited along, or were offended about not being invited. But since guys (STILL) tend to be in the positions of power, this means that we women are missing out on opportunities that we didn’t even know existed. So that’s how so many bros end up getting ahead. They’re not deliberately excluding women from that promotion or getting assigned that article; it’s just that it happened to come up in the middle of Van Halen’s set, you know?
It’s sometimes awkward, as you point out, for women to do this casual networking with guys, because guys are either afraid of seeming like they want to sleep with you, or actually wanting to sleep with you (and sometimes a combination thereof). And sometimes we women want to sleep with them, certainly! And sometimes no one wants to sleep with anyone, but the gross spectre of a potential hookup looms over these interactions often enough that you felt compelled to write in.
I don’t know that this is going to change overnight, but let’s set some ground rules:
First, no business meetings over cocktails at candlelit hotel bars! Try coffee at Starbucks, possibly the least sexy environment ever. Or if you have to do a lunch, don’t let him take you somewhere expensive, even if he says he is going to charge it to the company. And definitely no one-on-one dinners with someone you’ve never met before, because that really will feel like a date.
It does depress me that it’s 2012 and this is still enough of a problem that you’re writing in to a career advice column about it. So I think, ladies, we need to try to horn in on guys’ semi-professional hangs every once in awhile, even if it’s awkward at first. And more important, we need to create our own versions of the semi-professional hang. I have a monthly-ish dinner with a few other women who all work in media where we talk about work (none of us works at the same place) and other stuff. And when there’s a job opening, or an assignment that needs assigning, we generally turn to each other first to ask if we know anyone.
So let’s emulate another thing guys do, which is form alliances with other guys they work with. Too many women are suspicious of other women and feel like there’s a finite set of lady opportunities to go around, and if they are nice to someone junior to them then that person might take their job. And without telling you that you need to become BFF with everyone you work with — because, frankly, I do not need to hear about my co-worker's visit to the gynecologist — let’s stop thinking this way! So let’s have beers (or vodka sodas, or whatever) after work and eat lunch together and maybe occasionally go running together on a Saturday. Let’s make it so that our only options aren’t candlelit hotel bars.