Informal social networks are critical to advancing women in business, which is why it’s so problematic when men use online tools like Linked in to solicit dates and sex.
The inquiry seemed innocent enough at first — an invitation to connect on Linked In. Maybe there were some mutual connections, but sometimes not. Often, the invites came following a conference or trade show. But for the women on the receiving end what followed was often an invite for a date, and the sudden realization that their resumes and personal information were serving as inadvertent dating profiles.
It’s an increasingly common complaint on the many boards and online forums women gravitate to for advice on negotiating salaries, or handling delicate office politics. Only instead of occurring in the workplace it’s a new form of inappropriate online behavior women have to navigate. And its becoming increasingly common.
On boards and forums women reported often asked whether they should talk to their own Human Resource departments, or considered reaching out to report employees to their own companies. But Human Resources is typically set up to handle complaints within an organization, and in the #MeToo era it’s clear that many are ill equipped to handle even traditional forms of sexual harassment in the workplace, let alone inappropriate sexual advances happening on social media networks outside the office.
When there were common shared connections, women reported fears that turning down the request forcefully or getting the offender blocked by Linked In would have career repercussions. Even when the invites were seemingly random, the attention felt unsettling and creepy. Ultimately, most decided to simply ignore the requests, leaving the offenders to continue their inappropriate behavior. But some went so far as deactivating their account, which effectively removes them from a site that is increasingly used to screen potential hires and and even recruit for jobs.
This is deeply problematic: in the last decade research on social networks and their importance in accessing informal career opportunities such as mentoring and hiring opportunities has documented the importance of networking. It’s even led to legislative efforts designed to create more opportunities for women. In CA, publicly traded companies are now required to have more than one woman on the Board of Directors. These efforts are critical to breaking the glass ceiling and bringing more women into management, and non-traditional workplace roles. Sites like Linked In, while imperfect, are an important way for women to access some of these same benefits by growing their social networks in a career focused space. Which is why it’s troubling that some men are now turning to these sites to solicit dating opportunities.
It’s also part of the broader struggle that policy makers are grappling with as they seek to understand what limits and rules are necessary to govern public private forums like Facebook, Twitter and other dominant social media networks. With their tremendous power for influence also come the unintended consequences of bullying, harassment and privacy concerns. How these get navigated is still up for debate, but it’s important that the conversation include the experiences of women, who are all too often the targets of online bullying and harassment.