Flirting for Promotions

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Studies and demographic information leave me skeptical for the same reason: the entire outcome can be determined by just how you phrase the question. That said, there’s a thought-provoking study from Tulane University that suggests flirtation in the workplace holds women back instead of getting them promoted. I’ll be very curious to see if TV producers who assume the opposite get this one, or accidentally file it in the round bin.

The study came about because folks like Donald Trump were shooting their mouths off about how women should use their “God-given assets” to dazzle employers. Funny… my first thought there is “brains”, but somehow I don’t think that’s what he meant. The Tulane professors realized there was no evidence either way about whether flaunting it in the workplace gets women further, because most studies focus on sexual harrassment issues. So they conducted their own, and found that

“…49% of 164 female MBA graduates said in a survey that they have tried to advance in their careers by sometimes engaging in at least one of 10 sexual behaviors, including crossing their legs provocatively or leaning over a table to let men look down their shirts. The other half said they never engaged in such activity, and those women have earned an average of three promotions, vs. two for the group that had employed sexuality. Those who said they never used sexuality were, on average, in the $75,000-$100,000 income range; the others fell, on average, in the next-lowest range, $50,000 to $75,000.

This kind of matches my observations from industries as far-flung as waiting tables to adminstering union health benefits. I’ve always noticed that women who dress sexy and flirt with the men in the office stay get passed up by women who leave off that sort of thing.

This is, of course, far from what you see on film and TV. There, we always see underqualified Sexkitten getting promoted over the brilliant and talented No-Nonsensica. Are they playing to a female insecurity? Once again sending the message that it’s a man’s world, and what men value in a woman is packaging? I think so. This study suggests that men are not (by and large) so vapid as to promote beauty over skill. Once again, what we see on TV and film is a disservice to both genders, designed to keep women at odds with men, and manipulative women over women who want to be promoted by merit.

There’s one more noteworthy item from the article.

Almost all the women in the Tulane study who said they used sexual behavior said they did so infrequently. But executive coach Debra Benton, who has long asked business leaders about the pros and cons of sexuality in the workplace, said that if a similar survey were given to men, they would say that women use sexuality “all the time.” Women need to be aware that when they say “It’s a nice day,” men will often conclude “She wants me,” Benton says.

Really? Are they really that dumb? Note that this quote came not from one of the study’s conductors, but from an executive coach who’s just speculating out of her ass. In my experience, despite the bragging you hear in locker rooms or beauty parlors, very few individuals are quick to assume people – especially attractive ones – want them sexually. Most of us just aren’t that secure.

But the assumption that men are this easily manipulated is what fuels the belief so many women cling to: that using their feminine wiles to make men do stuff for them is the way to succeed in life. The executive coach is perpetuating that myth. And USA Today is helping her by tacking her unfounded opinion onto a study that actually deals with data and some level of empirical science.

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