Women in the Workplace: Is Flirting a Helpful or Harmful Strategy?

As companies strive to promote diversity in the workplace, more women are working outside of the home and working their way up the corporate ladder.  In Ellen Pollock’s Wall Street Journal article, she discusses the shift in women’s strategy in the workplace from non-sexual to flirtatious.  In the same vein that men have used their charm to aid in their success, women are using flirtatious gestures (which range from a smile to bantering or teasing) to try to get ahead in the corporate world.  Flirting is considered just another tool in a woman’s toolbox for which a woman can draw upon to help her in the male-dominated business world.  It is important that women feel more comfortable at work, which can be exhibited through more relaxed bahviors and dress, but I think it is important to remember that sexuality/flirtatiousness is only ONE tool women have to use.  The most important tool for me is my knowledge, which comes from my experiences.  Women shouldn’t have to be nonsexual or asexual to get ahead at work, but women should strive to let employers know that a pretty face is not the only asset she has to contribute. 

In contrast, Del Jones’ USA Today article presents a very different picture of flirtatious women in the workforce.  In the study the article is based on, researchers found that women who are overly flirtatious at work (i.e. sending risque emails, massaging a male co-worker’s shoulders, drawing attention to one’s legs, etc.) receive fewer raises and/or promotions than women who said they never engaged in those types of activities at work.  The study was limited to 164 female MBA grads at Tulane University, so it may not be representative of the population as a whole, but it does evoke some interesting discussion.  Are women who are overly flirtatious at work not taken as seriously as those who don’t engage in this behavior causing them to be overlooked when pay raises and promotions are available?  Why do women feel this is a useful strategy in the first place (where did they learn it)?  I also think it is important to note that the behaviors described in this article sound less like simple flirtation and more like unprofessional sexual gestures that don’t belong in the workplace. 

Women should be allowed to express their femininity just as men have been allowed to express their masculinity at work; however, women should not lose sight of the fact that intelligence, experience, and growth are important tools to aid in one’s professional success as well.  However, there is an important distinction between flirtatious behavior and sexual behavior.  Sexual behavior, whether it is being done by a man or a woman, is distracting and inappropriate in a work environment, which is probably why the women in this study who admitted to using these behaviors to try to get ahead saw themselves being passed up for promotions and pay raises.

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