Like many people, I worked in the fancy corporate office world for a long time. I had large HR departments at my disposal, with clear rules against sexual harassment and simple reporting procedures. I had no idea how #blessed I was.
That was, until I got uppity and decided to freelance on my own. Month after month and meeting after meeting, I slowly began to realize how sheltered I'd been for most of my working life. Out here in these streets, men are crazy thirsty. There is no HR officer standing between my fine ass and their lecherous gazes.
I have been hit on in business pitches, team meetings and contract negotiations. I have been hit on by male colleagues from all around the world in person, over the phone and via email.
I am overwhelmed by how hard these men have been coming at me lately. It's not like I'm all that and a bag of chips. (No, wait. I am.) But when you take HR out of the equation, things get especially wild.
It was up to me to set my professional boundaries and dodge a hail of clumsy advances. Not only did I struggle to earn a living on my own, but I also had to learn how to simply take the professional respect I deserve. Instead of being constantly offended, I decided to get proactive in managing the male egos I work with.
(Please note: I'm not equipped to address the extreme offenders who require restraining orders. I'm talking about the basic types that most women will run into at one point or another in their careers.)
Instead of belaboring the fact, I advocate that you — as with everything else — rise up and handle your business, ladies. Define your terms. Taking charge of the situation instead of becoming a victim to it is a major step toward achieving equality in the workplace.
On that note, I've developed a guide to help identify and navigate the different kind of men who will most likely hit on you. I've also made some suggestions on how to manage their advances. I have a feeling I'll be managing them for a long time to come.
1. The Fake Mentor
I once met a much older, well-respected editor who offered to help me get my foot in the door of his publication. We exchanged a few professional emails. He gave me some good advice.
Then, he started texting me at night and on the weekends. Then he took the liberty of calling me, and the call was not work-related.
He chose his words carefully, but it was fairly easy to read between the lines. While he was somewhat helpful work-wise, it was not worth entertaining his attempted manipulations. I emailed him and quite respectfully asked him to back off. I never heard from him again.
This type uses his perceived maturity and experience in the business to lure you into professional dependence. He might make you feel like a young, stupid woman on purpose by speaking down to you and pointing out your mistakes.
He wants you to believe you need him. Eventually, he will proposition you in exchange for help with your career. This move is designed to seem helpful and selfless. But trust me, this type is much more interested in helping himself to a young piece of ass than he is in your career.
How To Handle It:
Some women see this move as a simple business exchange. I once met a woman who boasted of sleeping her way to the top in a large marketing company. I'm not here to judge people who believe their sexuality is a valid career tool.
On the other hand, if you prefer to depend on, oh I don't know, your worth as a professional, then prepare to sacrifice a potentially valuable career move for your self-respect. At least your self-respect is guaranteed to stay with you. No new job, promotion or opportunity is necessarily guaranteed to be worth it.
2. The Genuinely Interested
This type is probably someone you've been working with for a few months or years now. You have a good rapport, you work well together and you may even consider yourselves friends.
But then one day, it gets weird. Your trusted work buddy makes a pass at you. Not in a gross power play kind of way, but in a genuine I-have-a-crush-on-you kind of way.
You may appreciate his honesty because it's always better to be aware of the situation you're in. However, you are under no obligation to return his interest, especially if it's just not there. You might also simply prefer to keep it professional.
You have a good working relationship, so why risk throwing that away? Attraction comes and goes, but finding someone you work well with is likely to be a long-term perk for both of you.
How To Handle It:
While it is no fault of your own that homeboy caught feelings, this is someone you still care for. Be considerate of the fact that he's dealing with more than you are right now, as well as your rejection.
Give him some space if you sense he might need it. Find someone else to eat lunch with for a while.
He'll get over it, and things may very well go back to normal. However, if he decides to let his ego destroy a perfectly good working relationship, let him. No business associate is worth feeling pressured into something you just don't want.
3. The Desperado
This hopeless chap just wants to get laid. He will hit on you at your office, in a meeting and at lunch, and he takes every opportunity he gets. He often confuses professional politeness for personal interest, and his life is just one long blur of mixing up the two.
Now, he may not be disrespectful, just desperate. He sees nothing wrong with inter-office relations and refuses to hide the fact that he finds you incredibly attractive.
How To Handle It:
Now for the frisky one among us, this might be the right guy to have after work drinks with. I'm just saying, if you also happen to want to get laid too, this is your guy.
In an ideal world, women would be able to sleep with whoever we want and go about our business. But for the sake of your real-world professional reputation, try to ensure that the sexy affair stays between just the two of you.
If this seems too risky, or you're just not into it, simply point the Desperado toward the exit. If he refuses to take the hint, be assertive about how little patience you have for his childish nagging.
His ego will be so bruised that he will stay clear of you until it's healed. Fortunately, he's used to rejection and will bounce back in no time. Hopefully, he'll do so with a much more humble approach to your professional relationship.
4. The Shameless Flirt
This is the laid-back charmer, the funny guy, the completely non-threatening flirt who somehow manages to hit on you on a daily basis and get away with it. This guy has no real intentions of pursuing you, and he just enjoys making the ladies smile.
It doesn't matter if you're middle-aged and married or 20-something and single, the Shameless Flirt will comment on the brightness of your blouse or your lunch. ("Girl, you don't need salad. You're fine as hell.")
By and large, this guy is harmless, and who are we kidding? Women have egos, too.
This guy gives it a nice boost, without the added pressure of threatening sexual harassment. This guy knows your boundaries, and he fully respects them.
He also respects your work and has no hang-ups over admitting that you're excellent at your job. In fact, he'd probably be the first to say so.
How To Handle It:
Ironically, the Shameless Flirt is one guy you can trust in the workplace. There are no feelings, ulterior motives or bruised egos involved.
He just enjoys being the flirt about town. When needed, he is the professional you can depend on and bounce ideas off of because he's likely to be honest, humble and helpful about it.
Don't let your experiences of gross men hitting on you cause you to lash out unnecessarily at the Shameless Flirt. If he makes you uncomfortable, just say so and move on.
But, it might be good for your sense of humor to let him make you laugh every now and then. It's easy to forget that not all men who flirt with us are creeps who don't value us as professionals. Sometimes, he's just a super chill guy who happens to be charming.
5. The One You Might Genuinely Like Back
Oh snap. That sexy, sweet guy you've been secretly dreaming of asked you out.
Last week, he went the extra mile to give you more detailed feedback on your report than anyone else on your team. He always offers you coffee, and he worked late to finish his chunk of the project ahead of the deadline, like you asked.
But, you're a professional, this is a work environment and you prefer to be respected rather than injected. But you are really, really into this guy. Now what?
History (and by history, I mean television show plots) is filled with love stories that started in the workplace. There are Jim and Pam in "The Office," Mindy and Danny in "The Mindy Project," Jane and Rafael in "Jane The Virgin." There's no telling where real love may strike.
How To Handle It:
It is paramount that women clearly define themselves professionally and demand the respect and treatment we deserve from the men we work with. It is also important that we take control of both our personal and professional lives.
Once well-informed, we are all perfectly capable of making good decisions about the personal side of business. At the end of the day, do what is best for you.
While this guide is based on my personal experience, I find it helpful to articulate what I'm up against and decide how to proceed. It is in no way meant to diminish other women's experiences or the well-meaning men who may have unintentionally insulted their professionalism.
Of course, it's not fair that women must resort to actively managing male egos in order to get on with their business. But, it makes life a bit easier when we take the lead and set the tone upfront for interacting with the various kinds of men who may hit on us at work. At the end of the day, you are a smart, ambitious, talented person.
Trust your own judgment when working with men who try to blur the line between professional and personal. Whether it's turning them down, taking legal action, refusing to work with them again or returning their interest, just make sure the ball is in your court.