When I go onto business platforms such as LinkedIn I’m there for professional reasons – nothing else.
So, if anyone thinks this is some sort of online dating or ‘chat up’ forum, they are seriously mistaken. Last month, I connected with a new person, who then sent me a message thanking me for the connection and that he was looking to building up his network. A couple of days later, I got another message saying: “Gotta say sarah if u don’t mind but u are a very beautiful woman” (sic).
Yes, I do mind. It’s flattering to be told you’re beautiful by someone you’re dating, or you have connected with on a dating app, but frankly unsettling – and infuriating – on a business network, or indeed in any work setting.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a blog lambasting workplace romances – after all, a large amount of people meet at work. I met my ex-husband at work. This is about unwanted (and unsolicited) advances.
When I challenged this anonymous person, who claimed to be a 21-year-old Irish ‘loss assessor’ looking to meet up with insurance contacts in the City, his apology seemed heartfelt – until he ended it with the killer line: “I guess it’s hard to give a woman a compliment these days.”
International Women’s Day
Cue eye roll! I blocked him, of course, and my first instinct was to put it behind me. But the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day – #ChooseToChallenge – prompted me to call out this guy and others like him who still think it’s okay to proposition women in the workplace.
In today’s digital world, social media platforms like LinkedIn are an extension of the workplace and should be a safe and welcoming place for women who want to network with other professionals without being on the receiving end of inappropriate approaches.
Before blocking this man, I sent him a link to a blog I’d found online, ‘LinkedIn is not eHarmony’ – which is well worth a read to get a real reflection of what some women have had to put up with on LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/women-linkedin-responding-unprofessional-message-meller-zawacki-/.
I did a search and soon found that I was not alone in being targeted. Anna Ivey, CEO of CommonCoachInc, received an email from someone she had connected with on LinkedIn and realised he wasn’t looking for a professional connection.
“Your beauty and charming smile caught my eye,” the man wrote. “You have an amazing profile and glad I had the courage to write you after weeks of deep thought.” (sic) He then added: “I hope no offence is taken.”
It was remarkably like the overture I’d received, and, like me, Anna did take offence, posting a screenshot of the email on Twitter with the message ‘LinkedIn. Is. Not. A. Dating. Site.’
No more unwanted advances
Great strides have been made in the last few years to stop sexual harassment in the workplace, partly thanks to the #MeToo movement, and partly because young women – and young men – refuse to put up with unwanted advances in the workplace or at work-related events.
But this kind of unsettling and offensive nonsense still goes on in LinkedIn, where some people feel emboldened to make advances that they wouldn’t dare try face-to-face.
LinkedIn’s community guidelines prohibit ‘romantic advances.’ However, as the company’s CEO Jeff Weiner told Wired magazine last year, it relies on self-policing to enforce the policy. The company says it removed more than 50,000 instances of harassment or adult content in 2019.
Let’s all agree that Time’s Up for this kind of outdated behaviour. We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality, celebrate women’s achievements and help create an inclusive world.