networking as a woman, when men keep angling for dates

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I am a young(ish) Black woman in a white male-dominated field.

I have found it virtually impossible to network with male colleagues. Each time I try, the guy is just angling for a date. I source folks from in-person networking events, LinkedIn, and apps like Shapr. If they’re a dude, it’s a dud each time!

The only way I amass male contacts is by working with them over time, and then one of us leaving the company. (Although some of them have since gotten divorced and tried to turn romantic.) It’s a much more limited pool than what is available to others.

I haven’t had much luck meeting more senior female colleagues, and while I’m happy to connect with the more junior women who approach me, I’m really looking for peers and above. Is it me? (Maybe I should try to “blend in” better?) Or is this just the way of the world?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 682 comments… read them below }

  1. mreasy*

    This is terrible and I wish I had a solution – but my “network” is almost entirely former coworkers for this same reason. Men, stop being like this!

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Seriously. And before someone comes in with #NotAllMen: if it’s not all men, your next step as a man is to talk to your male colleagues who are doing this, not complain about women pointing out how prevalent this behaviour is.

      1. Jackalope*

        Yes, thank you! I would also add that going into things assuming that this is a professional contact and not trying to date you should be the norm. Sigh. Thank you Caramel & Cheddar.

      2. nnn*

        Also! If it’s not all men, how do we quickly and easily identify which men it’s not?

        1. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          As a man, how do I detect these men so I can tell them to knock it off?

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Be alert for signs of overt sexism, they tend to go hand in hand. A few off the top of my head…
            -You’re early to a meeting and the second guy to come in says “Rats, I got here early hoping to get more time chatting up Jane.” Ask him what project he wants to talk about with her. If the answer is not about Jane’s work and her career potential, consider it a warning you may have to tell him to knock it off.
            -You’re in a group discussion, and “Jane” leaves the room. The guy to your right looks her up and down and comments on her body. Tell him to knock it off.
            -The guy refers to Jane as “smokin’ hot” instead of “a skilled project manager / engineer / chemist”… Tell him to knock it off.

            1. J!*

              It can be even more subtle than that. For example, men will sometimes introduce their female colleagues as “the lovely and talented So and So.” Lovely is not a word that should be used to describe someone in a professional context.

              Sometimes guys come off as nice rather than overtly gross (“lovely” vs “smokin hot”) but it doesn’t make it that much less creepy in context for the recipient/person being objectified.

              1. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

                I think the behavior that such men display toward women is often concealed from other men, as well, and you’ll have to go a step further to identify related behaviors that such men display to other men. As a woman I cannot identify them all, and would welcome input from men who have noticed.

                But the one I can think of is, if a male colleague is warm and collegial, but only with men. If you are part of a group of coworkers with the same or similar title or department, and one or more of the men tend to chat Or hang out together to the exclusion of the women, take the time to observe how those guys act towards women. It’s a subtle sign that they don’t consider women to be “friend” material, and if they aren’t romantically interested have little use for us. Obviously men will sometimes have more in common with each other, but observe the atmosphere. Do the men EVER shoot the shit with the women? Do they talk about the women as a group, or assume the women will do different work than them (cleaning up, cedzing more active work and takzing on admin, etc.)?

                If you suspect that the men around you might not regard women as full and equal colleagues, keep an eye out, make it known to women that you are doing so and are an ally (use common sense here, and just make it casually apparent), and do your part to include them despite your male coworker’s boys’ club attitudes. Listen to women and accept their experiences. Call out your male coworkers when they deserve it. Make yourself that valuable network connection When no one else is.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  A detail about one of the excellent suggestions above: if you’re trying to make actual professional networking connections with women — which yes, please do! We really need more men who are willing to do this WITHOUT it being a pretext to hit on us — understand that she may well be reasonably nervous about your intentions, since she’s probably seen a lot of similar requests which *were* just excuses to hit on her. It can really help if you invite multiple people to the same thing the first time or two, so she knows you’re not likely to try and turn it into a date or something. For example, “Hey Jane, want to get together with a few of us tonight to talk about the new chocolate content regulations and what that’s going to mean for teapots? I’ve invited Bill, who had some really interesting ideas about that when we were talking between workshops today, and I’m hoping to ask Wakeen and Delilah if I can catch them by dinnertime.” That way, Jane knows you’ve got at least one person already invited and a couple more, including another woman, you’re hoping to ask, by the time she has to say yes or no. It can also help if you ask two or more women who are in the same place at the same time together. “Jane, Delilah, want to get together and talk design this evening after the last meeting? I was really interested in both of your ideas in the discussion group today about handles, and I’m hoping to get Wakeen and Terry, who are my company’s handle designers, to come too.”

                  If you ask a woman to meet with you alone, make very clear what the agenda is and offer a specific location which is very public. If that location doesn’t work for her, she can counter, but she’ll still know that you were not meaning to say anything at that meeting which couldn’t be said in front of a lot of passerby. That helps.

                2. Tiny Soprano*

                  I would also add to this excellent comment:

                  Watch how they treat ‘undesireable’ women. Older women. Gay women. Trans women. ‘Abrasive’ women (for want of a better word.) Someone who seems nice but is then weirdly dismissive/insubordinate/rude/snarky about these kinds of women is usually hiding some not-great attitudes to women in general as well.

                3. The Shawnster*

                  Yes, and do this for your black and Indigenous colleagues as well. There have even more challenges when you combine identities please be good allies and don’t turn a blind eye

              2. 'Tis Me*

                Not meaning to derail but as a woman in a female-dominated industry I have referred to my colleagues as lovely and have heard other people do the same (on the whole, we’re a friendly, helpful, conscientious, welcoming bunch and are keen to help new colleagues build up their confidence and want others to feel comfortable working with us). I might describe my male manager as lovely (meaning that he’s approachable, understanding, helpful and a genuine, kind person who I respect a lot and appreciate as a manager).

                It is linguistically lazy of me but it didn’t occur to me that people could think I might be indicating anything other than appreciation of them as colleagues… Is this possibly a UK/US thing, or a tone of voice thing..?

                1. Manchmal*

                  I think it is a UK thing. Lovely in the US is mostly used for physical appearance, whereas in the UK context I think it means more like they’re a nice, kind, good person. Some Americans use it in that second way, too, so it’s not universal.

                2. High School Teacher*

                  As a US person who thinks of “lovely” as a word for feminine beauty, I think that might be the case. :) I know a British teacher who calls mixed groups “my lovelies” as a term of endearment, which was charming in her British accent but would sound off to me from an American!

                3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Further to High School Teacher’s remark I can’t nest under, a Brit comedian from the North of England, specifically Newcastle, calls people, including blokes, “Flower”, in much the same circumstances as I might call someone “my dear”. I’m never quite sure whether this is something that’s done up north or whether it’s for comedic effect.

                4. short'n'stout*

                  RebelWithMouseyHair it’s definitely a North of England thing, although the comedian might be exaggerating it

                5. short'n'stout*

                  I feel like saying “the lovely Hortense” as part of an introduction is saying something different than “I had a really good meeting with Hortense, she was lovely”. Can’t quite put my finger on the distinction, though.

              3. Clisby*

                Introducing a female colleague as “lovely and talented” is not, by any stretch of the imagination, subtle.

                Well, maybe if the colleague is in the entertainment business? I have no idea of the norms there.

                1. AuroraLight37*

                  I remember a special on women in country music produced in the 90s where someone pointed out that women had been generally introduced onstage along the lines of “Here’s a pretty little gal who sings real good and now she’s gonna sing you a song!”
                  She was not flattered by this.

              4. TardyTardis*

                I’ve sometime described guys as ‘the lovely and talented so-and-s0’ but alas, most people don’t get it…

          2. Manana*

            If you’re part of a networking group or organization, you can request that the group make a charter of rules for the group: what the group’s intents are, what is and is not acceptable behavior, what networking should look like. Instead of waiting until an issue arises, make it clear what behaviors won’t be tolerated. And this can go beyond issues of sexual harassment and really just set the tone of professionalism for the group. No confrontation or singling out necessary unless someone does not abide by the rules. These same kind of rules can be included in employee handbooks, so that’s another route you can take with your workplace. Most businesses do not want their employees to use the guise of “networking” to get dates or flirt with industry contacts.

            1. Snuck*

              This can be difficult to achieve, and then difficult to police. When you start having to make rules about how to be polite and professional to each other and signing off on them you are removing adult autonomy and responsibility. Then you have people who say “Well it wasn’t on the list, so I can do it until you tell me not to” and the charter is only as good as the weakest link. If you have problem behaviours address them without it being a specific shopping list of what is ok/not ok. People who aren’t going to abide by a charter already weren’t abiding by the unwritten social norms of today. All you are doing is formalising it, instead just formalise it with a PIP around professional behaviours and don’t ‘punish’ everyone with the rules. Otherwise it’s like the “Wash your cups” poems in the kitchen – targeted at all, when a few are the issue.

          3. Eskarina*

            Listen to and believe the women around you. Accept that someone who is “totally cool” with you can be a “total creep” to women, and your willingness to ignore/overlook this is a HUGE part of the problem.

            1. Batgirl*

              Hell I’ve had guys be totally awesome to married-Me change with the divorce. It’s genuinely tough to spot.

            2. Glitsy Gus*

              This is a biggie. It is really easy to be charming and affable to the group you identify with then turnaround and be a complete sleaze when those folks aren’t looking. Also, the worst kind are very good at making SURE you only see them as charming and affable that that only their victims see the sleazy side, no witnesses, no issues.

              Also, as someone else kind of mentioned above, how do they treat women outside the “attractive zone?” If they talk about “that old bag Cheryl who keeps questioning my expense report, why can’t she just shut up and process it?” that tells you something right there.

          4. Ginger Baker*

            Alison, can you maybe pin a separate thread on “advice for men on how to help change this with other men”? I see some other great advice below and think it might be really helpful to compile in one place for ease of reference (and to keep it apart from advice to the LW).

          5. nnn*

            I’ve noticed that there’s a strong correlation between men who speak contemptuously/eye-rollingly about women (including their wives, daughters, mothers) when talking to other men and men who are unkind to women when there are no other men around.

            1. jonquil*

              Yes to this! Look out for the men who consistently characterize the women they interact with in sexist ways. If every time your male colleague meets with or interviews a woman he remarks afterwards that the woman talked to much or was crazy, it’s not the women who were the problem, it’s him.

              (I say this as a woman whose career was set back by the casual sexism of just this sort of guy. It doesn’t have to be overt sexual harassment to have a permanent impact on the finances and career trajectory of the women you work with.)

              1. Mavis*

                “I say this as a woman whose career was set back by the casual sexism of just this sort of guy”

                Honestly – is there any female that hasn’t been?

                Not all men – absolutely! But is there really a career path that has completely avoided this? And if so – how long will that continue?

                So forget networking. I was interviewing for an exciting job opportunity – making a career pivot, on 3rd interview an equity stake was mentioned. I was beyond excited.

                but then a 4th. then a 5th interview was requested. then I received anonymous flowers with a personal message about remembering my birthday. I called Xbf to see if her sent, no. Then an anonymous fruit basket – was able to call and get a name.

                Yep – interviewer.

                1. ToS*

                  Wow. There’s documentation and credit card receipts on that. Have you considered reporting it? Whoever is managing liability insurance for that firm might want to know that the hiring process is a dumpster fire that the EEOC might catch wind of.

                2. Mavis*

                  “Wow. There’s documentation and credit card receipts on that. Have you considered reporting it? Whoever is managing liability insurance for that firm might want to know that the hiring process is a dumpster fire that the EEOC might catch wind of.”

                  somehow – I can’t reply under this comment.

                  This was started via a recruiting firm, so I contacted them, gave just a few bullet points and told them that I was no longer interested in the job and to please have that person stop contacting me. I did hear from the bozo again, and called and the recruiting company to let them know and to reask he not contact me again.

                  I don’t think they believed me the first call. They did investigate, called him, and called me back. Who knows what he said. Likely I was imagining things. Second call, I did get the sense the person believed me.

                  However, I never heard from that recruiting company again.

                  This was in 2006.

          6. Beth*

            You probably have some kind of sense of who among your close colleagues is work buddies with who, right? You know, the level of “who’s likely to go grab lunch together” and “who’s likely to spend an extra couple minutes chatting around the coffee machine if they run into each other” and the like. How many of the men in that circle of close colleagues have work buddies who are women?

            A guy who has no casual platonic relationships with female colleagues…there’s a high chance he’s like this. Maybe he tries to ask women out and that’s why they can’t be buddies with him; maybe he’s not that directly sexist, but doesn’t see value in forming relationships with women he’s not sexually or romantically attracted to, or feels like making friends women is too intimidating/too much work/not something he’s up for (which is just as bad for women’s networking opportunities, for the record). Anyways, unless your circle of close colleagues simply has no women for people to befriend–in which case, you have a bigger problem!–this is a pretty straightforward way to note which men treat their female colleagues like colleagues, and which ones treat them like a foreign species known as women.

            1. babblemouth*

              Look at whose work they recommend. Who they think of as “industry rockstars”. I have a colleague who will only ever share stuff by men, in an industry that is fairly gender balanced.

              When you know, you know.

          7. MiddleCottage*

            I am an engineer and I work in manufacturing. A huge red flag for me is men who swear to each other but not in front of women. I swear like a sailor to compensate. This works with some men and makes them realise that they shouldn’t act differently around me simply because I lack external genitalia.

            1. Junior Assistant Peon*

              If you asked me to define “sexual harassment,” I would have told you “telling dirty jokes or cursing in front of women” rather than “unwelcome flirting” until pretty damn recently. A lot of people are still under this impression.

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                With dirty jokes, it depends on the joke. If it’s sexist or gross in some other way, that could be harassment, or if someone is uncomfortable and asks them to stop and they don’t, it is harassment.
                I’ve always thought it’s silly for a grown-up to be offended by swearing. We’ve all heard it before. We’ve all done it before. It’s a way to express strong feelings that is less destructive than most other ways.
                IME people who are offended by swearing are setting themselves above others. “Don’t swear around me, I’m offended” = “The only thing that’s important here is my feelings.” Also, “I’m better than you because I don’t swear”.
                I once saw on older white woman on a bus giving a younger Black woman a hard time because she was swearing on the phone to her friend. The older woman was using her “offense” at swearing for race and class warfare. I stepped in and defended the younger woman.
                The older woman and I got off the bus at the same stop and we stood next to each other at the stoplight and she had so little awareness, she didn’t know I was there.

          8. NB*

            One thing I’ve realized; is that you don’t have to be able to detect them in order to have this conversation! We all live in a sexist society; therefore it’s worth it for all of us to address.

            An analogy: I am a white women (this is relevant). I consider myself to be loving/respecting of people of color, and I believe nearly all of my associates feel the same way. However, with recent events unfolding, I’ve realized that I don’t have to believe a white colleague or friend is overtly racist in order to discuss racism and discuss how we can examine our own behaviors, implicit biases, and ways that we may have contributed to our own accidental racism or structural racism in our society. I can simply introduce the conversation! And in fact, some wonderful growth has occurred in myself and others, by being willing to examine ourselves through this lens.

            These conversations have not been meant to flagellate or wallow in self-criticism, as some people would have you believe. Rather they are an opportunity for us to openly reflect on these matters—and they are worth the discomfort.

            Since you mention that you are a man, I would encourage you to do the same with your male colleagues, whether you believe them to be behaving in this sexist manner or not. At the least, you’ll probably uncover additional ways that you can be better allies for women in the workplace. At the most, you may uncover some behavior in another person (or even yourself) that is contributing to this problem.

        2. A*

          I would also say to be on the look out for any gender based unfair treatment – like being uninterested or unwilling to mentor/network in an ongoing capacity with a young woman because it feels ‘inappropriate’, or their wife might get mad. Not only is that kind of behavior sexualizing the situation, but it creates an uneven playing field. Any networking or mentorships a man would be willing to extend to another man – also needs to be extended to women in the same manner.

      3. Phil*

        There is, unfortunately, an issue here. Men who aren’t doing this are probably unaware that anyone does. I, a man, have been part of a professional networking group for over a decade, have gone to multiple networking events, and I have never seen this happening. I’ve never even heard of this happening before now.

        To be clear, this is not to say that it doesn’t happen. But the people who are hitting on women at these events are most likely not hitting on men. So the men who aren’t hitting on people have no way of knowing who is.

        1. Amelia*

          The fact that men don’t do this in front of other men is evidence that the men who do this know it’s not okay. As for the men who DON’T do this, talk loudly and often about how repugnant and unacceptable you find it that there are men out there who still do it. Bring it up when you talk about networking. Tell stories about anonymous female colleagues who have been dismayed/distressed/derailed by this phenomenon. Be proactive. Say something before you see something, to set the norm as “not tolerating grossness” in your own networking community.

          1. Phil*

            Who would we talk to though? Anyone who doesn’t do this doesn’t need convincing. And anyone who does this clearly doesn’t care about societal norms, as evidenced by their behavior.

            I can’t tell stories about anonymous female colleagues who’ve had this happen, because no such colleagues have ever said to me that this happens to them. And in the environments I’m in, “not tolerating grossness” is already the norm.

            1. No Sleep Till Hippo*

              I want to push back a bit on the idea that anyone who does this clearly doesn’t care about societal norms. I think that’s inaccurate. These guys do in fact care about societal norms – but the norms they know are from a society that does not consider or include the experiences/desires/comfort of women.

              I’d bet 72% of your paycheck that most of these guys would knock it off if they heard “I have a boyfriend.” I’d bet 100% of MY paycheck that 100% of these guys would knock it off if a man walked up and said “I’m her boyfriend.”

              They do respect societal norms – the norms that prevent them from coming into conflict with other men. So if other men make it clear that using networking as a cover to angle for dates is not acceptable behavior, it will start to sink in.

              1. Tupac Coachella*

                This might be the part that gets to me most-women’s right to be treated with respect is tied to respecting men too often. I am 100% certain that being perceived as sexually unavailable has done more good than harm to my career. I married young, so have been conspicuously partnered my entire professional life-I wear a ring, and have often worked in environments where it’s normal for people to see one another’s partners a few times a year. I rarely get blatantly hit on (I’d say I’m of slightly above average attractiveness, and was hit on fairly regularly before I got married). Honestly, I think both men and women find me more neutral because I’m married, which allows my work to speak for itself more (though I am a POC, so there’s that, too…). Having a man at home has afforded me the privilege of being taken seriously by people who would otherwise objectified me. It makes my eyebrow twitch that women who don’t have a partner can’t count on this as a basic workplace courtesy. If a woman you work with wants to sleep with you, you’ll be the first to know. Otherwise, treat her as a colleague, not a potential date.

                1. mountainshadows299*

                  As a woman who has been single her entire working life, thank you for saying this. It is absolutely spot on. What’s even more frustrating are married female colleagues who actually assist the bad acting men in part, by simply not believing those of us who are single about the treatment we receive. (It’s probably worse for me since I’m overweight but still a bit prettier than average, because women, other white women especially, want to deny my experience. The colleague couldn’t have POSSIBLY been hitting on me/attracted to me/etc, and besides, he’s such a nice guy! [insert eye roll here]).

                2. TardyTardis*

                  I had fun with being married in the Air Force–I was neither turning guys down ‘because secret lesbian and we must turn her in’ which was still a thing when I was in, or ‘giving guys a good time because I was a slut’–I only ran into ‘well, she’s married so she doesn’t put the Air Force first’. Time were different 40 plus years ago. Though not as different as they should be.

                3. The Bookwyrm's Lair*

                  Replying to TardyTARDIS, 40 years ago… and 5 years ago. I’m an Air Force vet, too, and married while I was in training. I was safely unavailable because I got engaged halfway through nav school, so I didn’t check the “ice queen” or “easy” box… which let me become “den mom” to my crew. I was active from 2008-2016.

            2. merp*

              Agree with No Sleep above. The more people proactively talk about a space/organization/etc being a no-creep zone, the more the creeps will realize they don’t have allies there. It may not matter to them in a moral sense but that’s not the important part. They know what they are doing is wrong but they probably think that anyone who doesn’t say anything either supports them or doesn’t care, and continuing to say nothing only convinces them they are right.

              Be that voice that doesn’t support them. Even if some specific creep doesn’t care, it will make it easier for others to speak up against inappropriate behavior as well, and it might even eventually make those who are being creeped on feel more like they are safe to bring up harassment as a concern.

              1. Fed up*

                YES. Normalizing these comments and conversations is so key, and anyone who makes effort to do so is helping greatly.

            3. kt*

              Agree with the sibling comments here: if you mention in passing that trying to get a date at the coding meetup is really not cool, it sets a tone that will subtly influence the guys around you. And thanks to the wonders of the internet, you don’t have to make up an anonymous female colleague — you can say, “I was reading this internet site and women were mentioning they find network hard because guys keep focusing on them as possible sexual exploits rather than colleagues! Can you believe that? How bizarre, gents! *We* wouldn’t do anything like that, amirite, because we’re professionals!”

              That would be cool!

            4. pancakes*

              That you’re not hearing stories doesn’t necessarily mean the women in your industry don’t have stories. I’ve only ever told guys about my experiences being harassed by other guys if they’re fairly close friends or colleagues, and generally only if the topic has come up for some reason. It’s not something I’d raise in casual conversation with someone I don’t know well, or volunteer to an acquaintance or a coworker I’m not close to just to see what their reaction is. If a male acquaintance seemed to be friends with another who behaves badly I probably wouldn’t discuss the matter with him at all, because not being believed would make for an additional layer of anger and frustration.

            5. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

              These kind of men often get away with and continue things like this because they feel safe and accepted among other men. If you create an overt atmosphere of not accepting it, they will become afraid. Maybe not with one mention, but over time.

              And it’s not TELLING them. It’s talking about it. The next time you are at a networking event in a mixed group, bring up this very blog post. Say “Can you believe this happens?” And then watch the women get excited to discuss how it has happened to them. Listen while they say how obnoxious and unfair it is. Agree with them, say that you hope no one at this event would behave this way because it’s unacceptable, and then tell them they can count on you for a professional networking contact.

              In this way, you make the implicit “not tolerating grossness” explicit, and you put yourself forward as one of the men who would be disgusted to learn his colleagues did this. If any of the men listening were already doing this, or if they might think of doing it in the future, they’ve now heard a man they respect say it’s intolerable.

              You say that men who do this don’t care about societal norms, but that’s wrong. They just value the female part of society’s concerns LESS. Often their egos depend on approval from the men, who they actually respect.

            6. ToS*

              You can talk about cases in the news or in your industry as a way of broadcasting the expectation of appropriate professional behavior. It doesn’t matter that pandemic and election news keep this below the fold. Even the WSJ will post a tiny paragraph on page 1 to alert readers of noteworthy content on page 7. This is the interpersonal equivalent of raising awareness and staying away from silence being interpreted as a lack of caring

            7. ShanShan*

              They care about societal norms just like everyone else. They just believe societal norms support what they are doing.

              I mean, how many movies and TV shows have we all seen where this kind of crap pays off romantically and no one is punished for it?

              That’s exactly why men need to speak up. You have an awful lot of media and culture to drown out.

            8. nnn*

              Even if you struggle to find ways to talk to peers, this is absolutely something that could be brought up in a mentoring sort of relationship with a subordinate or a younger colleague. And the more time passes, the more subordinates and/or younger colleagues you will have.

            9. Karia*

              They care about norms when it comes to guys. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t conceal their behaviour from you.

            10. BonzaSonza*

              It’s hard for some guys to recognise that this commonly happens to women, because a) you’re a good person and would never dream of treating a woman this way, and b) you’ve not witnessed or been told of this occurring by any of your female colleagues.

              Here’s the problem with that though:
              1. Discounting someone else’s experience because it doesn’t align with your own is part of the reason why sexism exists in the first place. “Sexism doesn’t happen to me/I don’t do that, therefore it doesn’t happen” is a very common mindset, even amongst good men. My husband, who is the best of men, was one of these, and it was only when I pointed out that only seeing issues add they directly impact on him was a privileged and sexist mindset that the penny dropped.

              2. I would never discuss harrassment with male colleagues unless I was 100% unequivocally sure that you were not like this yourself. The risks that this would blow back on me, harm my career, or have you treat me differently now are just too high. Until you publicly and vocally represent yourself as an ally against sexism I cannot be sure that you are a safe confidant or that you will support me when I come to you.

              3. It’s exhausting to try and explain this all the time. It’s not my responsibility to try and educate you on these issues, it’s yours. A personal example: I am Australian and until recently was totally unaware of the extent of racism people of colour face in the USA. Before, I had only mild confusion as to why they’re called “African-Americans” and not just Americans like everyone else. I’m still trying to educate myself on this topic, but I recognise that my own ignorance to the problem doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem, or that it’s the responsibility of coloured people to change my mind.

              If you want to deal with sexism then it’s not enough to just be not racist or not sexist yourself. You have to step up and speak out against it.

              Everyone’s line in the sand is different and there’s no right or wrong in deciding what issues you’ll stand up for (it’s not possible to live perfectly. I know plastic is an environmental problem and right now I’m still consuming it, but I’m trying to get better and that’s enough for now). But hopefully, there will come a time when enough men are speaking up for women that change will actually take place.

              1. Anna*

                Small thing, but I’ll mention it because you are educating yourself and it can be useful to you: ‘Coloured people’ is an old-fashioned term and is now considered pretty offensive in the US. The better term these days is ‘people of color’ (or ‘people of colour’ if you will).

          2. Helena1*

            You can also just start looking out for it more. My husband never used to believe catcalling/street harassment happened all that often, until he decided to make a point of looking for it. Of course once he was looking he noticed it all the time.

            He also found he could make the guys doing it stop, a lot of the time, just by making eye contact with them. He’s not a physically intimidating guy so it wasn’t that. But they knew what they were doing wasn’t ok, and once they knew somebody else saw them, they looked guilty as hell and slunk away.

            1. lazy intellectual*

              Cat callers are also good at being covert. I get street harassed all the time, but for some reason rarely see it happen to other women.

        2. JKP*

          My experience as a woman networking in a male dominated industry, is that the hitting on doesn’t happen at the official events. It happens at the 1-on-1 coffee with the guy I met at the networking event.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            What the SnarkyB said, with my own added experience– in the recent sexual harassment blowup in my industry, it turned out that one of the victims and I had been creeped upon AT THE SAME PARTY BY THE SAME MAN, and we each thought that we were the only ones experiencing it. So, the harassment was invisible even to other women victims within the same few hours. This is how pervasive it is. This is how much we are conditioned to doubt our senses, our experiences. This is how little we recognize it when it happens to other people.

            And naturally none of us felt our careers would be safe if we came forward. It is YEARS later, and lo and behold, there are a ton of us. Victims of this one person. It’s enraging, and I can only say, please make yourself open to hearing. Make it clear by vocally decrying creepy behavior, by checking in with your female colleagues, and offering them safe escort if they need to get out of a situation.

        3. TheSnarkyB*

          Honestly, I think there’s room to reflect further on this. You’re right that it’s not happening directly to you, but that doesn’t meant hat it’s not happening in front of you — it’s important to develop an eye for these things.
          Additionally, if your conversations with female friends, colleagues, and family members doesn’t include discussion of sexism, there are conversations happening without you. That’s not an inherently bad thing, and many people choose not to discuss their experiences with discrimination and -isms much, but if you’ve *never* heard of this until now, it may be a sign that you’re not making it clear to others that you’re open to a conversation about this. It also could be that you’re not listening — either to the women around you, or just general discussion/writing in the world about the experiences of different people.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            ” . . . if your conversations with female friends, colleagues, and family members doesn’t include discussion of sexism, there are conversations happening without you. ”

            I, for example, mostly have these conversations with other women, because sometimes it’s exhausting to have to explain to men (even the good ones) how prevalent it is and the effect that it has. The men in my life absolutely believe that sexism exists and that it’s wrong. But they seem to think it happens from a much smaller pool of bad actors and to a much smaller pool of women, or that it’s just a small part of a woman’s life that only happens occasionally in discrete incidents. They don’t disbelieve what the women in their lives tell them about it, but their limited experience doesn’t show them how much of most women’s lives are occupied with these experiences, and it just becomes exhausting and frustrating to try to make them understand the scope.

            1. pancakes*

              Yes, exactly. I think I was typing my similar comment at the same time you were writing this one.

            2. anon for this*

              My husband is a reasonably good guy, but he truly, truly believed for a long time that since *he* wouldn’t do something like that, no guy ever would (except, like, an evil rapist). For many years he made excuses for every creepy, misogynistic, or offensive thing a guy ever did or said to me. Usually his excuse was, Oh, I’m sure he was just looking out for you!

              I gotta say it really has strained my relationship with him. His investment in making excuses for ‘the other guy’ consistently has really rankled, and I still do hold it against him. I think he finally started changing when he saw firsthand how I was forced into a diversity project at work, worked really hard and carried out an incredibly successful event, and then was thrown publicly under the bus by the “mentor” who took credit for the whole event from the stage and refused to mention me at all. I think he started to get it then, because my boss came to me and apologized that the mentor gave me no credit and said that they all knew who’d done the work, and the administrative assistant who’d been roped into helping me also came by & said sorry.

              It’s just unfortunate that we can’t be believed the first time around — the carnage has to be witnessed by a man so explicitly and firsthand that it’s incontrovertible. It’s like the ancient law codes that said if a sexual assault isn’t witnessed by a male, it doesn’t count. Feels like there’s a lot that doesn’t change.

              1. Silamy*

                I’ve only ever had one “no one would EVER” friend where the friendship has proven sustainable in the long run. Dude is a fundamentally decent guy. He’s also a fundamentally oblivious guy. We were at a thing with my stalker. Stalker repeatedly tried to get me alone away from the group and wouldn’t let me have ANY conversation with anyone else that didn’t involve him. Friend didn’t notice any of it, and I wasn’t able to point it out (stalker has gotten physical before and knows where I live), but when he said he was leaving and I thanked him for the ride and said I was going too, he just kinda rolled with it even though we lived in opposite directions. And it’s specifically that his automatic reaction is “well clearly I missed something but my friend wouldn’t inconvenience me for no reason; she’ll explain when it’s possible” and not “hey, Silamy, I’m not giving you a ride, what gives” that made him reliable in that setting. Too many other guys take “I would never” and then extrapolate out to “no one would ever” and then extrapolate THAT out to “and therefore you must have misunderstood.”

        4. Lou*

          While you’re definitely right that a lot of the men doing this aren’t doing it in front of other men, I’d also be willing to wager that there is some happening in front of you but that you don’t know what to look for and thus aren’t seeing it.

          I’m remembering an anecdote I read online somewhere about how a woman was talking to her co-ed group of friends about a creepy guy who’d left the group and how all the men were saying “I had no idea he was being so creepy!” and one of the women got up and gave one of the men a shoulder rub (which creepy guy used to do to the women), except she exerted a lot of pressure on his shoulders so he couldn’t get up, her hands wandered far enough down the front of his chest to be uncomfortably intimate but didn’t look that way to someone watching, pressed her front against his back, and was just generally giving a creepy, uncomfortably intimate shoulder rub. She asked the other men what it looked it, they said a shoulder rub; then she asked the man she did it to and he explained how it was really uncomfortable. It was something of an eye-opening moment for the other men because it looked fine from the outside but it really wasn’t fine.

          There are probably at least a few cues that a woman is uncomfortable/being hit on by a man at a networking event, but like I said earlier, you don’t know what to look for so you’re not seeing them. Or you’ve been “trained” to either ignore the cues or see them as positives/enjoyment. I think what Amelia said about talking more often/loudly about how not cool it is to use networking events to hit on women is good, but maybe also take some time to think about what someone who’s uncomfortable but can’t/doesn’t want to make a scene might do and/or really watch pairs to see if one person is trying to gently extricate themselves without making a fuss.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            Came here to say exactly this – very high odds you have seen this but not recognized it for what it was. If and when you do, it would be helpful to all if you spoke up in the moment (“I’d like to hear what [the woman being interrupted] has to say.” “That sounds like something [the woman whose idea is being miscredited to a man] said just a bit ago.” “That’s not relevant, I’m sure [the woman described in eye candy terms] is a talented professional/very accomplished/skilled employee.”)

            My personal anecdotes:
            1) had a older male colleague introduce two younger female colleagues (including me) to his (male) manager and his primary work group as “the reason he prefers working on [our project that I was leading] because we’re so beautiful.” I made a pointed comment about how we have brains, too, but no one else said a thing. I also emailed him afterward and told him that it was not okay to talk about us like that, for which he over-apologized about how he thought we’d be flattered and no offense meant. I eventually stopped working with or communicating with him entirely after he directly sexually harassed me.

            2) Attended a large group meeting where everyone was expected to participate. About 40 or so men, 10 women in attendance. Each and every woman reported (to me) that they felt shut out, talked over, or ignored by a number of the men present, and this was confirmed by other women who observed this happening. I mentioned it to a few of my closer male colleagues who were in attendance – not a single one noticed this or would have said they thought the women were being ignored, but they weren’t the ones talking over/ignoring/shutting out any women. They respected my take on things, though, and have asked me to clue them in next time so they can recognize and help correct that sort of thing.

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Have any of you seen a video on social media of a guy singing an old Elvis song to a couple of cockatoos? One of the cockatoos is obviously into the song and blows his feathers up in delight. It looks like the song is turning him on, like a young guy getting a very obvious erection. He then canoodles up to the other cockatoo, who clearly hasn’t been turned on in any way and is very clearly uncomfortable. While it’s delightful to see the first one reacting to the music, the way he makes the other uncomfortable sucks all the joy out of the video for me. Yet several of my friends have posted it, obviously thinking it’s funny. The video has been pretty viral. I can’t help but think that those who think it’s funny are precisely those who wouldn’t notice or care about a woman getting hit on by a creep at a party.

        5. Yorick*

          If you think long and hard about it, you can probably recognize that this has happened. It’s not always some creep hitting on a woman in a disgusting way. Even if they’re perfectly nice when they ask for a date, it sucks when you think you’ve made a great network connection (or met someone who could be a potential client) but then they disappear when you politely reject their advances.

          Anyway, you can proactively normalize the idea that workplaces and networking events aren’t a place to find dates even if no one you know has ever done this before.

        6. lazy intellectual*

          I’m not surprised that you haven’t seen this happen yourself, but the fact you never heard of it happening makes me wonder how many women in the working world you know who confide in you? This has happened to almost every woman I know, including myself of course. My guy friends have heard these types of stories from their girlfriends or female colleagues.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          What does caramel and cheddar mean in this context? I googled but all the hits I got were about popcorn lol.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Or at least learn to read the damn room. It’s very obvious when someone isn’t interested in having a personal connection with you (generally sticking to work topics is a good indicator), so they should just talk shop with those women and leave them alone otherwise (I say this because there are some women who don’t mind making personal/romantic connections via networking events – me and my friends are some of them).

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        The problem isn’t that they can’t read the room, the problem is they don’t care.

        1. Caroline Bowman*

          or even worse, it doesn’t occur to them to even consider if their romantic (being generous, I feel like often ”romantic” is a charitable interpretation) is remotely welcomed. It literally is just Not a Thing. They have the right to make advances and she will be grateful and not at all icked out, right?

          1. AKchic*

            Or worse, they assume that if she “wants to get ahead/anywhere” then she will *welcome* said advances, and generally assume that that’s how she got where she is in the first place because “well, she’s a woman, right?” (insert loud, expectorating chortle with some nudging, knee-slapping and maybe an exaggerated wink or two to really prove the “I’m a man’s man” here).
            And it’s not just certain generations. It really does trickle down as learned, acceptable behavior; and even some women internalize it. Some industries are lousy with it.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Tell me about it. Arts & entertainment is riddled with it. We just had a massive, public blowout when a male mentor at the head of a large online professional org was outed as a serial predatory sexual harasser.

          2. Tidewater 4-1009*

            It always astounds me how oblivious these men are. I have told such men loudly and clearly “I’m not interested! Leave me alone!” right in their face, and they don’t hear it.
            They have big thick walls blocking out anything they don’t want to hear or see.

        2. Vina*

          Studies have shown that men actually can read body language and accept soft nos just fine in situations that don’t involve dating prospects.

          It’s a choice.

          1. JSPA*

            Well, formally, expecting the possibility of a “no” does color one’s ability to recognize one. Call it free form Bayesian analysis.

            As a result, dickful thinking can promote situational blindness to a soft “no.”

            Doesn’t mean it’s OK! Doesn’t mean the target owes the guy a hard no, when in all other circumstances a soft no would do.

            But it does mean there’s a lot of preparatory work yet to be done–ideally mostly by guys telling other guys–so that everyone learns at a young age that it’s wrong to mistake one’s wishes for objective reality. And creepy to act on what your wishes tell you that you therefore “know.”

          2. Mookie*

            Yep. They’re reading the room just fine. They know the pressures women face to perform compliance and issue soft rejections. They want to benefit from that. It’s actually very socially aware behavior. We just like to pretend that abuse and manipulation are “accidents,” not tactical behavior that gets refined over time on the backs and professional prospects of victims and bystanders.

        3. Beth*

          Those who won’t read a room are no better off than those who can’t read a room.

      2. ElizabethJane*

        Except there’s a lot of evidence that men can’t read the room. How many times have you heard “My waitress was absolutely hitting on me. She kept smiling and checking on me”

        No, that’s her effing job. Men notoriously read “being nice” or “doing my job” as flirting.

        1. Vina*

          The studies of this show otherwise. That’s an Excuse men use. Doesn’t make it legitimate or real.

          The actual academic studies show they can read the room unless it involves someone they want to have sex with. Then, magically, they shut odd logic.

          It’s on purpose.

          1. ElizabethJane*

            I should say there’s a lot of evidence that men willfully ignore the signs or otherwise chose to see interest when there is none. So without the presence of a soft no or body language (i.e a restaurant server doing her job) men will interpret interest.

            1. Melody Pond*

              Not that I disagree with you, but – what evidence?

              Just a reminder that the plural of anecdotes is not data.

              1. lemon*

                You can Google “sexual overperception” and find a multitude of studies on this.

            2. Amy Sly*

              People see interest when they themselves are interested. I think it’s just that simple. Have you never known a teenage girl who fawns over every possible word or gesture that “proves” their crush is into them?

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Exactly. Granted, interest criteria, how quickly one becomes interested, and how obnoxiously one acts expressing that interest varies considerably, but seeing interest where there is none because one is interested is an extremely common phenomenon.

              1. Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

                At the same time, we are supposed to grow out of this, hence why you call up the example of teenagers. Someone who refuses to grow up and realize that just because they want something doesn’t mean they’re entitled to it, and delude themselves on purpose to insist they have a chance, is not really someone I want to give the benefit of the doubt. We don’t just accept other deluded and harmful behaviors.

              2. JSPA*

                Yep. Wishful perception is extremely common. It’s what follows that’s entitlement-based. Making a little shrine in the corner of your bedroom, planning what you’re going to name the kids you’ll have together, or writing thinly-disguised romance stories or even hanging around someone’s workplace longer than necessary when you’re both teenagers, in the hopes they’ll say “Hi” are on a whole different level of obtrusiveness (from “none” to “maybe eye-roll-y”) than “how dare she give me the impression she’s into me, if she isn’t.” It’s OK to be a little self-delusional on your own time, in your own space, and so long as you remain able to notice a “no” and recalibrate before anybody but you has to handle (or even notice) your emotions.

        2. LPUK*

          When I started working as a barmaid, I used to make a point about pushing how far I could go in being rude to male punters ( childish and immature but the job was very dull). What I learned was, as long as you were a reasonably attractive young female with a smile, you could say the most outrageously rude things to men and they would just think you were flirting. No one ever took offence – probably they weren’t even hearing what I said.

          1. Silamy*

            And this is where the “compliment” “feisty” comes from. All it usually means is “has made it explicitly clear that sexual interest is not reciprocated, often while being blunt to the point of rudeness, but the rejection hasn’t been processed.”

        3. azvlr*

          The Billy Joel song Piano Man has a line that says, “The waitress is practicing politics.” It blew my mind when I realized he meant that the waitress has to simultaneously schmooze with the businessmen slowly getting stoned and being nice enough to them to make decent tips that night.

          It’s yet another reason why tipping should go away and service people have the opportunity to earn a living wage.

      3. StrikingFalcon*

        I feel like if someone contacts you in a professional capacity and asks to network, “reading the room” shouldn’t even be a consideration. Just don’t ask her out. Connect with her as a colleague, or don’t, but assume that women looking to network are looking network, and not looking for dates. No woman is going to try to get dates by pretending to network.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Who said the women would be pretending? As I stated in my original comment, my single female friends and I (pre-COVID) would go to networking events to do both. When you spend most of your time working and don’t do the club or bar scene, it’s a lot harder to meet someone, and networking events at least ensured some level of safety that meeting a random on an app does not.

          But yes, men should not ask a woman out in these situations if there’s been no indication from said woman that she would be remotely open to that kind of overture. If she’s only talking work and not asking personal questions, for example, she ain’t interested. Move along.

          1. Ominous Adversary*

            If you were going to professional networking events to do “both”, you were not really doing both. You were tanking your professional connections in favor of potential romantic connections.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Mmm no. The people I was interested in romantically were not remotely in my industry (these were general professional networking events) and the industry people I met have been nothing but helpful in my career. But thanks for your concern.

          2. StrikingFalcon*

            I meant that the men who respond to work-only conversations with requests for dates, or the men who show up at meetings that were clearly outlined as networking meetings assuming they are dates, simply because the person they are talking to is a women, should not think that women are only pretending to network.

            There is of course nothing wrong with dating people you meet through work. I just meant that women who want to talk to their male colleagues about work are not doing so because they are secretly hoping he will ask them on a date. The default should be that work related conversations are conversations between colleagues, not potential dates.

          3. The Grey Lady*

            Given how many women have told stories about their disgusting male colleagues, I have to disagree with your statement that meeting a man at a networking event ensures a level of safety. Creeps are everywhere.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              When talking about safety, I’m talking about not having to worry about being physically attacked and possibly killed the way you could be with a stranger off an app. Obviously, you can get unsolicited flirtations/come-ons anywhere.

          4. Yorick*

            I think we should just assume that professional spaces are not for dating. If you meet someone at work or a networking thing and you get to know each other and have a personal connection, maybe you can try to ask them out. Otherwise, just don’t have that on your plate as an option when you go to an event.

            Or at the very least, ask them for a date right away so they can say no and you can get over it. Don’t say “let’s meet up to talk about this project” so you can trick her into going on a secret date with you.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              + 1 to your last paragraph

              Intentions are known upfront so that if the woman isn’t remotely interested, her hopes of meeting a genuine professional contact aren’t dashed and everyone can go about their merry way. The trickery and false pretenses are horrible and should never happen.

            2. Mahkara*

              Yeah, I mean, I’d have no problem if a similar level (e.g. someone who didn’t have professional power over me and wasn’t likely to in the near future) very quickly asked me for a date at a networking event. It’s not why I’m there. I’d probably say no. But people meet in all kinds of places and it’s not inherently creepy to make the offer as long as you’re 100% cool if it’s rejected.

              But guys need to cool it with the flirty touching, the stealth dates, etc. when the focus of the event is supposed to be professional. And if there’s any real power imbalance, keep it in the pants. (Because no one wants to have to tell their CEO, or the CEO of a company they hope to work for, “Sorry, I don’t want to sleep with an old married dude.”)

            3. Tau*

              Honestly? Maybe I’m oversensitive, but I’d be annoyed even if someone asked me on a date immediately at a networking event… because it means they’re still looking at me with the romance/sex goggles on, and I don’t want people I’m interacting with in a professional context to be viewing me that way. As you say, it’s the fact that it’s on the plate as an option at all that’s the problem.

              Especially if it’s more than just a few people. Think about poor OP’s situation – do we really think it’d make a nice experience if she went to a networking event and the second sentence out of half the men’s mouths was “want to go out sometime?”

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Not oversensitive – that’s your preference, and you’re entitled to having people respect that boundary.

        2. JSPA*

          The same people (generally but not always cis-het-male) who use “networking” as a stalking horse for “a date,” assume that when people-attractive-to-them (generally but not always female) ask to network with them, it’s the same thing in reverse. Basically, they’re treating their entire existence as “a game I engage in for mating purposes.”

          Which, evolutionarily, is arguably a normal baseline, except that we’ve evolved norms to make it not-OK to engage in those behaviors 24/7/365, and not in workplaces with people who are working.

          It’s hugely tiresome. Like people who only hold a door or offer space under their umbrella or pass the doughnuts to someone who’s either sexy to them or professionally useful to them, and then spend a weird amount of time trying to assess why you just held the door (etc) for them.

      4. Beth*

        The vast majority of this kind of guy knows perfectly well how to read the room. They’re not going around mistaking professional vs romantic cues with their male colleagues. They’re not doing it with their managers who are women, or with female colleagues who are twice their age.

        The problem isn’t that they can’t read cues. The problem is that they see a woman they consider attractive and immediately assume that she must be there primarily to be part of their dating pool. Let’s not give them the credit of assuming they’re incompetent when the actual problem is active sexism.

    3. NewJawn*

      Yes, same. OP, I’m so sorry.

      I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry with somewhat casual standards, and I never even thought to try traditional networking, because that would backfire instantly. The only people I’d want in my network are former coworkers (and only a handful of those, heh) and people I’ve worked with either as a freelancer or when I engaged freelancers.

      But a kind of more “accidental” or serendipitous networking is available in my industry, and maybe yours — working peripherally with someone at an event, meeting at conferences (whether at a specific networking gathering, or more likely in a Q&A session after a presentation or sitting down next to strangers at lunch), and other chances to meet new people that have some other focus besides meeting people.

      Pretty much any unsolicited contact from a woman seems to make a lot of men think, “Is she *interested* in *me*?” with no thought of professional standards.

      1. OtterB*

        I’ll second this, and the comment below about professional organizations. Working on a committee or a project with someone can help give engagement with a focus.

      2. Christmas Carol*

        It’s not that these dudes think “Is she *interested* in *me*?” It’s that they all think “she IS *interested* in *me*” Because, what woman wouldn’t be?

      3. Babsi of VA*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry this happens in your industries. My industry is pretty male dominated and networking is a thing we do all the time so everyone knows it’s JUST networking. We wine and dine each other and are pretty social – and that’s just how we do business. No one ever assumes “going out for a drink” implies anything other than going out for a drink. How uncomfortable….

    4. AVP*

      Yep – same here. The only things that changed for me are that (due to work reasons) I started networking with older men who were more likely to be married, and then eventually got married myself. People can sill be a little lechy but the boundaries got clearer. I wish there was a better response!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        See, and I’ve had the exact opposite experience – the married men were the biggest boundary crossers. I had one put his hand on my knee when we were talking at an event and then asked if I was staying in my hotel room alone or with my coworker who came with me (ew!) – wedding ring on display, clear as day. And many of them flat out ask for my number “just to talk sometime” with no real mention of what they want to talk about – gross. They’re all significantly older than me, too.

            1. premature gray hair doesn't mean I'm interested in guys older than my dad*

              Yeah – I’m in my early 40s but my hair is gray and the 70s ish guys have actually stepped it up recently — I suspect they think I’m a “well-preserved” 50ish and therefore likely to be receptive?

              1. juliebulie*

                You just saved me some typing. I got hit on by 70s when I was in my 40s. Does it never end?

              2. Susana*

                And even if you were 50-ish… they’re 20 years older and assume you’re interested? In’m in 50s, look younger, and men in their 70s hey on me at the gym (or did before COVID).

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              It got better for me after I had a kid and put on some weight in my late 30s, but yeah, it’s still a thing now as I’m pushing 50.

              It helps a lot not to do things 1 on 1. Maybe you could have a networking buddy? You and a friend invite 1 – 2 other people, so the group’s 3 – 4 total, but it doesn’t feel like a ‘date’.

        1. AVP*

          oh no! Actually, now that you mention it I had one instance where a client asked to come up to my hotel room to “look at a file” when we’d been discussing our upcoming weddings earlier that day! Sigh, I had forgotten about that.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I traveled with an older male co-worker when I was in my late 20s. We had a working dinner in our hotel restaurant. I had plain iced tea with my meal, but he kept offering to walk me to my room just in case I got light-headed from my drink. I finally just left the table. Gah.

            1. pancakes*

              Yikes, what a creep! To me that suggests he tries that line so frequently that the context doesn’t matter at all / isn’t even part of his thought process.

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                Wow, I didn’t even think about that! Thankfully I wasn’t impaired, but that is definitely something to be aware of!

              2. Gazebo Slayer*

                Yep. And if I AM light-headed from my drink, I feel a lot safer without some creep following me!

        2. Bluesboy*

          As a married man (so from the opposite perspective) I find this interesting (though so, so disappointing).

          Since getting married, I find networking much easier, I believe because women realise I am genuinely networking rather than hitting on them. I am so sorry that this isn’t your experience.

        3. Beth*

          Yep. Being visibly married doesn’t stop it, nor does being visibly older. And if I work the fact of my being a lesbian into the conversation, there’s a good chance I’ll find out about the dude’s long-held threesome fantasy.

    5. Ping*

      The same. All my networks are past coworkers on projects.
      I’ve found that the higher up the ladder you get the less it happens. Obviously you get older but I also think that the more senior men are more professional and understand that you are professional.
      There’s still a few jerks though.

      1. TootsNYC*

        or, they recognize that you now have the clout or the power to create some negative consequences for them

    6. Abogado Avocado*

      First, I’m sorry. This sucks terribly and you are right to feel frustrated. I hope you know you are not alone.

      I am not a person of color, but I have in a male-dominated field for the past 30 years and found that by joining a statewide professional association and the national professional association, I was referred a lot of lucrative business once I proved myself through significant committee work and getting elected to the Board of Directors. Yes, this took time from other activities I liked to do on my time off, but it really paid off professionally because those male referrers got to know me, saw firsthand that my work was excellent, and that they would look good by referring work to me. Sadly, I still had to deal with getting hit on — even though they knew I was married, for Pete’s sake! — but I found that good referrals kept coming even though I was declining all offers of romance, etc. (In fact, I sometimes wonder if those referrals kept coming because I was saying no to everyone, but I digress.)

      All of which is to say, yes, we women have to work harder to develop business, but I’m convinced we can. We just have to do it differently and persevere through some too-typical behavior of our male counterparts, but we can do it.

      1. The OP*

        YES WE CAN!!
        I’m doing well for myself, but just wish it wasn’t such an uphill battle. It leaves you wondering how much further you could’ve gone.

    7. Artemesia*

      I was very slow on the uptake as a young professional woman and this happened to me constantly. I was married, I would be at professional conference and men would want to. meet to discuss my research or theirs — and every damn time, it was just a come on. One famous person in my field even pulled over the car while giving me a lift and started ripping my blouse off — I totally didn’t see it coming and I was 3 mos pregnant at the time and so I don’t think sending off a lot of come hither vibes.

      I finally started arranging dinners at conferences — I would make a reservation at an interesting local place for 6 and then would recruit 5 people to join me — men and women — or sometimes given how few women there were, men — and that seemed to work to make the intention professional.

      In a one on one, I would manage to mention my husband and family early on — perhaps in setting up the networking meeting — ‘I could do lunch on Weds or Thurs but have a thing at my child’s school on Tuesday or ‘my husband and I are getting lunch on Tuesday.’ Stupid but it did help set the tone as professional not personal.

      The only thing that fixed this almost completely was age — it fell off around age 40 although not entirely.

    8. Lucia*

      Me too. This is a big problem. Even men who are decades older than me! Ugh, gross.

      1. FaintlyMacabre*

        Again, nope. The problem is not the way women dress, but the men who are behaving inappropriately.

        1. Artemesia*

          I was always a tad frumpy — my go to was a tweed jacket over a turtleneck in winter and black slacks — and no makeup except lipstick, and simply styled hair — and that didn’t stop men from making their move —

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Exactly. I know I’m irresistible in my relaxed fit mom-jeans and my black t-shirt with a gaming meme on it, but try to restrain yourself anyway.

      2. The OP*

        Alison — I just wanted to thank you for your moderation. It’s such a refreshing change from what I’m used to!

  2. tab*

    I recommend you get involved in your professional society. I’m an EE, and I have many female connections through IEEE and Women in Engineering. And if you’re an engineer, you can connect with me.

    1. Goodbye Toby*

      Second on the professional organizations, it tends to tone down the creep factor quite a bit. Or, as ridiculous as this is, try to do small group networking rather than 1 on 1 if possible. So, Wakeen- my colleagues/associates Fergus and Maleficent are all going for happy hour, want to join?
      School alumni events can also be helpful. And try to scope people out with your friends/contacts to see who has a reputation as a creep

      1. Caz*

        Youngish woman here as well. Also agree about professional orgs/ alumni networks. The other area where I’ve had better luck are ’emerging leaders’ type of networks. I used to help run one for health leaders, and we had formal mentorship programs and speed networking events where older men and women were typically very engaged and professional the entire time.

        And also – I’m sorry and I sympathize – I’ve had many random men try to connect on LinkedIn for the purposes of flirting/ chatting. It’s gross and unprofessional, and it’s totally up to them to learn to be decent humans.

        1. If Lucid*

          Which is a pretty good reply to that behaviour. “Sexualizing industry peers and seeing professional contacts as potential hookups is unprofessional, and frankly gross.” It’s something I’ve gotten much more comfortable calling out as I see it.

      2. slmrlln*

        I want to second the suggestion for small-group networking. Going out for coffee or a meal with a group of 4-5 has worked well for me at conferences to meet new people but still feel reasonably safe. Ideally I like to have 1 person that I already know and 2-3 people that are either friends of my colleague or totally new.

      3. Artemesia*

        Yes, reputations can help. But the guy who assaulted me in the car who was a big shot at the most prestigious university in the country? – EVERYONE knew he was like that — but I didn’t. I was a newbie and simply didn’t know. Several people later said — ‘we felt bad we didn’t warn you, but we figured everyone knew so either you could handle him or were willing.’ Great. And me running down the street buttoning my blouse with the remaining button.

          1. Artemesia*

            It was more surprising than traumatizing, but thanks. I did need to rethink my dissertation so as to not work with this guy which is classic disadvantage for women professionally. And it never crossed my mind to report him because it was so perfectly clear to women trying to succeed in what was a largely male domain that the only person hurt by that would be me. And over the years I knew of many women whose careers were derailed by aggressive men who had power in the field whom they pushed back against.

            I laugh at the doofuses who when, for example, a Supreme Court justice nominee’s record is being discussed argue that ‘well she would have reported it at the time if it really happened.’ Yeah, no.

        1. Sandi*

          I’m really sorry to hear that, although your experience is a reminder to me that I shouldn’t feel bad about telling other new women about the creeps in my office. Thankfully there’s only one (that I know of), and it’s a huge number of people, and I only tell those women who work near or with him, but I’m also very clear about my experiences with him and I don’t hide it. I have been told by the HR people that I’m welcome to share my experiences, so he can’t complain that I’m targeting him. I don’t call him a creep, rather I just say what happened to myself, and let them draw their own conclusions. Plus I know he’s done inappropriate things with others, so I limit what I say to the personal part, yet I know he is likely to target any women. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty because it may negatively affect his chances of promotion, yet I have to remind myself that he has done it to himself. The issue is that he clearly knows where the line is drawn, so he will say creepy things that have plausible deniability, therefore nothing can be done officially.

          I also told his boss, someone I have known for years, although I provided very few details but did comment that if anyone ever complained about sexual harassment from this guy then to please take it very seriously and I would be more than happy to support them in whatever way possible. The system is far from perfect, but we have to try and support each other at every opportunity.

          I have worked with plenty of men who were interested in something more, and it is tiresome, yet almost all of them were direct “Want to come back to my hotel room?” which can be easily deflected. “Thanks, but I’m busy.” It is those that need to use stealth that I strongly object to, as there is a lack of consent that is horrific.

          1. Persephone Underground*

            I think this kind of BS “line skirting” harasser behavior is actually worth being called out as a pattern, just like the person always one screwup short of a PIP. The pattern alone is a problem, and that’s something people often are fooled into letting slide. It doesn’t matter if the person never *quite* crosses the line. Not telling anyone who is a victim how to handle it, but this argument has really gelled for me recently based on Alison’s general workplace advice and another comment that made a similar connection in another post entirely. Anyone in a position to address that kind of harassment issue (which is so so common), like a manager or bystander in an office where it happens, should make this argument.

    2. Nikara*

      I agree with this advice- I’m a member of a professional organization’s committee on emerging technology. Because of the topic, it tends to have somewhat younger (and frankly, more progressive) folks than the larger organization. I met them all as a grad student, and they have served as amazing mentors throughout my career. The fact that we mostly meet each other online, and only see each other once a year in person helps a lot. Also, from the start of the committee, the leadership has been female. It’s really helped me professionally to have that group available to help.

    3. Lizy*


      OP, If you’re in commercial real estate (kinda specific, I know) – I strongly recommend CREW Network. I worked there for almost 6 years and they’re fantastic. Very diverse and focused on advancing women in commercial real estate. Their members include males – all of whom are supportive of diversity. If you have anything to do with commercial real estate, check it out. Website is

      I’m not normally this specific but in this case I want to help! I’m happy to answer questions and/or put you (anyone, really) with membership leaders.

    4. SomebodyElse*

      This is what I would focus on. Honestly, I’ve just assumed that linked in, meet up, and other sources are mostly just social clubs in disguise, that consist of people trying to sell something or find a date.

      Work events, industry conferences, and professional organizations always seemed like they attract the more serious networkers, if that makes sense.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        And see, most of the industry conferences I’ve been to have been used as hookup events for married people seeking one nighters with other married (or single) people.

        1. SomebodyElse*

          Huh… that’s interesting. Maybe I just go to boring conferences. Mine tend to be supply chain, manufacturing, and industrial focused.

              1. Diahann Carroll*

                Lol, what is wrong with insurance folks? I really thought insurance would be boring as hell before entering the field – far from it. Our industry conferences were a mess (in a fun way – sometimes).

                1. Texan In Exile*

                  My first job out of college was in insurance. My company was banned from the Greenway Plaza hotel after our regional conference. I AM STILL SO SORRY ABOUT VOMITING ON THE BED. I stripped the sheets and rinsed them in the tub and left a huge tip for the cleaning person, but – I cringe when I think of it.

                  My great grandboss kept hitting on me, giving me beer with a rolled-up $20 as a straw. My married great grandboss. He was later fired for sexual harassment. This was in 1988. Nobody was fired for sexual harassment back then.

                  Insurance people. Yep. It just looks boring.

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  Yeah, @Toots, I read an interesting discussion recently about sexual harassment where someone pointed out that we mostly hear about the cases in high-profile, “glamorous” industries where a lot of the people involved are public figures, but we don’t hear about the cases in “boring” jobs.

                  This doesn’t mean that Hollywood or politics or whatnot are uniquely terrible, or that harassment doesn’t happen in lower-profile industries; it means we just don’t hear as much about it because the harassers and victims aren’t well-known people.

                3. former underwriter*

                  My career in insurance in the late 90s & early 00s was far from boring! I had no idea when I entered the field out of university. Lots of off color jokes, drinking and extra-curricular activities were the norm. Some examples- We played drinking games at our national meetings. No one wanted to room with Roberto because he slept in the nude. One very well respected underwriter liked say, “They have sent me to sexual harassment training so many times that now I know how to do it properly!” My manager in 1997 told me to wear my skirts shorter because our clients would like it. A colleague old enough to be my dad requested adjoining rooms when when booking the hotel for a business trip. I was horrified when the desk staff loudly announced that our request had been granted.

                  To get ahead back then you had to be “one of the boys” and not get offended. But if a colleague or client went too far over the line you could tell them off. I often got lots more respect from them when I did. I just had to figure out when it was worth the fight. It was usually if someone questioned my expertise in a sexist way that I let them have it. Oh the poor young new guy that tried to hand me papers to copy, he definitely got an earful! But I’m sure he remembered from that day forward that there are women underwriters, not just female office staff.

                  To be fair, I knew I could confront the sexist pig and it wouldn’t affect my career overall. Certainly not every woman has that assurance in her place of employment. In my part of the insurance world, being a bit confrontational was seen as a positive. A requirement really. If you couldn’t negotiate with your clients you weren’t going to be successful.

                  Everyone tell new staff who the creeps are. Especially if the new hire is a woman!

                  I had lunch with one of the department heads the first week I started a new job. How nice the much older man with a big job title is so interested in my previous jobs and experience right?! Ugh, of course not. Super uncomfortable lunch in an out of the way restaurant, with him trying to get me to have more one glass of wine.

                  Turns out this guy tries to sleep with any attractive new hire. He was very good looking so it worked out for him quite a bit! (Come on ladies, really? You’re making it hard on all of us!) That lunch and a couple more client meetings I had to attend made people assume I was sleeping with him. Even though I newly was married. Gross.

                  I couldn’t figure out why a particular woman didn’t seem to like me at all. I wondered if I had offended her until someone explained she was gross guy’s long term affair partner. They had been having “long lunches” for years. She was not happy I had caught his eye. It took awhile before everyone knew me well enough to realize that I was not going to cheat on my husband!

            1. Tasha*

              Have you seen the movie Cedar Rapids? It’s doubly funny because 1) I work in insurance and 2) live in Cedar Rapids.

          1. Not my name*

            I’ve had the same experience – I’m sure there are shenanigans at the conferences I go to, but I’ve never seen it. As far as I can tell, those of us in supply chain and manufacturing/industrial are just boring. Or maybe too tired to bother.

            My partner and I joke that we’re monogamous not just because we both prefer that, but also because we barely have the energy to maintain one relationship. Neither of us can imagine putting in the work involved for more.

          2. Texan In Exile*

            Yeah, mine were boring supply chain trade shows. The only great thing about supply chain is it’s the only public space where there is no line for the women’s room. I laugh when I see the line snaking out of the men’s room.

            Maybe there were hookups? If so, nobody ever tried to hit on me and I was one of about five women there.

      2. Elizabeth (the other one)*

        Interesting. I have actually had great luck reaching out to people on LinkedIn for networking conversations, whether by phone or in person for coffee. I have encountered zero creepy situations through LinkedIn.

        I frame the conversation as wanting to ask them a few questions about [business topic] and asking if they have 15 min for a quick phone call (or sometimes 30 min for coffee, when we’re not in a global pandemic) in the next week or so. I think having an agenda and a time frame keeps the conversation on track (and out of the creepy zone).

        I also focus the conversation on professional topics. If they mention a hobby or random benign facts about themselves, I listen in a friendly way but don’t engage too deeply; if they mention anything about their relationship or lack thereof (beyond a passing reference to a spouse – I’m talking things like hinting at tension in their marriage or that they are unhappy to be single), I do not take the bait and politely redirect the conversation. That helps too.

        I’m sure I’ve also just been truly LUCKY to not encounter the kind of persistent creeps that would be undeterredly creepy despite this setup! Some creeps just gonna creep no matter what you do.

        Now that I think of it, the only time I had a creepy networking encounter was actually with a coworker who recently got laid off – we met for drinks after my work day (normally I would stick to coffee meetings for professional settings, but I knew him and thus trusted him in a 1 on 1 happy hour setting) – and he drank 5 glasses of wine in an hour and started talking way too personally about how his relationship with his girlfriend is strained. It was a mix of him seeing me as a mentor/savior for his personal emotional happiness and hitting on me. I redirected the conversation gently and noped out of there shortly after, and never responded to any of his subsequent LinkedIn messages. There was so much desperation in his eyes, he was really drowning, but he was looking for help beyond what I could offer, and his behavior didn’t make me feel safe. So I trusted my gut and didn’t interact with him anymore. It’s just too bad that his lack of appropriate boundaries cut him off from a potential source of support with his job search, and probably without his ever realizing it.

    5. Sunset Maple*

      By extension, your professional society’s LinkedIn group can be a good place to network virtually. Any group that makes you request permission to join and/or vets your credentials tends to have higher quality content, IME.

      I’ve found it helpful to join both by professional field and by industry. It lets you leapfrog diagonally across multiple areas of influence, while also showing that you care about keeping up with breakthroughs in both spheres. So, as an accountant for a company that makes widgets, I should be in both the LI Accountants Group and the LI Widgets Group.

    6. It's mce w*

      Agree. Get involved with organizations relating to your profession and perhaps also ones relating to BIPOC.

    7. Anongineer*

      I’m also an engineer, and second/third the professional organizations (ASCE/WIE for me). It takes time to dig through and figure out who is worth connecting with, but it can lead to good mentorships.

      I also have been told that I’m very “direct/blunt/mean” on more than one occasion, and apparently that’s been enough to stop most people so far. Another fun men-are-trash story: I literally told my supervisor once that if he commented on my face one more time I’d hit him and accept the consequences (such a fun day of “you look so angry today”, “why aren’t you smiling more”, “you should try to look happier” and him ignoring me telling him I’m fine. He stopped. Violence shouldn’t be the answer but it definitely got the point across more forcefully).

      I’m so sorry this has happened to you!

    8. Quinalla*

      Agreed that professional organizations tend to be a better place to network than others as the default assumption is people are there in a professional capacity. Don’t get me wrong, assholes still going to asshole, but its much better. I go and don’t interact much at first and then start talking to people in the 3rd meeting or so, they are used to seeing me there by then. Also, vendors in my experience are better about this that actual peers, so maybe start with them. And it helps if you have another person with you while networking too, honestly especially if it is a dude. It’s like the anti-wingman lol.

      And I will be honest, I’m a woman in engineering too and I tend to put on my “engineer” outfit (long sleeved, collared, button down shirt and slacks and usually I do a low ponytail too, I don’t wear make-up – but go minimal if you do – and subdued jewelry) that makes me look more like a dude to help with this cause there is a direct correlation to how feminine I’m dressed and how much of this BS happens. As I get to know people better, I will wear more feminine dress, but I try not to have that be my first impression as people have enough trouble getting over a woman who is an engineer (unconscious biases are the worst!) so if I make it easier otherwise, it helps the process go faster. Just to be clear, I shouldn’t have to do this and neither should anyone, but it has helped me out so I wanted to pass it along.

      And also see if there is a women’s organization you can join in your field or maybe broader or adjacent. Or start one, that’s what I did in my town as I wanted a all-women group in my male-dominated industry to talk to and network with. Its been great!

      1. TrueStory*


        As a female engineer also, I make a lot of these same decisions. I second professional orgs and personally found SWE and WIN to be really excellent.

  3. Amber Rose*

    Ugh, I am SO sorry you have to go through this. I am also in a male dominated industry and suffer from either being dismissed or other.

    There’s no good answers when you’re facing a system built on this kinda garbage. I’ve kinda taken my lead from my boss and gone the “never smile at anyone, speak firmly, avoid personal topics” route and it sort of works, but it’s not great. Maybe a fake wedding ring might help deter some of them.

    I’m sorry all the advice I have to offer feels disingenuous and gross. Hopefully someone else has something better. :(

    1. Persephone Underground*

      I wonder now- I’m married and haven’t had this problem as much or at all, despite being a young woman in engineering. Maybe the ones inclined to this behavior leave me alone because I’m married? I do remember wearing a fake wedding ring when traveling once for similar reasons…

      1. Amber Rose*

        I’ve been married since I was 22, and my ring only seems to change the flavor, not so much the content. I don’t get date invites, but I DO get lots of weird and awkward comments.

        I just don’t network anymore. It’s exhausting anyway and I’m not ambitious enough to need it.

        1. Kimmybear*

          Same here. Married at 23 but I’ve seen it in both male and female dominated workplaces. Has definitely gotten less common as I’ve gotten older and had a kid.

        2. blackcat*

          “I’ve been married since I was 22, and my ring only seems to change the flavor, not so much the content”

          Married since 25, and yep.
          The only conference that went by without a single moment that made me uncomfortable, I had my husband and newborn in tow. But I think the lack of comments had less to do with the presence and more to do with my lack of bandwidth for any activities after 5pm.

      2. AKchic*

        Depending on the industry, and the region, wedding rings don’t deter, and sometimes can *add* more suitors (because there’s additional thrills, less strings/no commitment worries).

      3. AnotherAlison*

        When I was a young woman in engineering, I got hit on a lot. Young men ignored my ring. Perhaps because I was married at a young age and they just assumed it wasn’t a wedding ring? IDK.

        It was not just young men asking for dates, either. A lot of it was older, married men just “flattering” me and commenting on my looks. At that age, I had a short pixie cut and dressed in the engineer’s uniform of khakis and polos, so I really don’t get it.

        I’m 42, still married, and no one hits on me now (other than some of those same married men I still know 20 years later). I am not expecting or wanting that attention, either, so I think it’s great, but the answer for the OP is not “get old” or “get married”.

      4. Rusty Shackelford*

        I got married very young and haven’t had this problem much either (please note that I am not denying the problem exists for others!). In fact, the only incident that really stands out is someone who I only knew through a professional listserv (yes, that long ago), and it wasn’t until I happened to mention a husband and got his reaction that I realized I had mistaken his interest for just casual friendliness.

        On the other hand, a certain type of guy doesn’t notice wedding rings or doesn’t care (or considers it a challenge or even a benefit). I’ve been at a restaurant with a guy who was sure the waitress “liked him” until I pointed out her huge honking engagement ring. (Guys. The waitress is ALWAYS GOING TO BE NICE TO YOU. It doesn’t mean she likes you.)

      5. Artemesia*

        I was married. Didn’t make any difference in getting hit on at conferences and always in the guise of professional networking so I would get sucked in before the proposition was made. I will say that most of my colleagues who behaved like this did take ‘no’ for an answer gracefully. But most men in positions of authority over me came on to me at least once from my Freshman year of college until many years into being a professional. And while I was fairly attractive as a young woman, I was not gorgeous and I never used make up beyond lipstick or dressed seductively or even fashionably and I don’t flirt.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It is really sick that we all have to even SAY things like “… And I’m not even all that pretty and I don’t flirt or use makeup!” I’m absolutely not criticizing women who do say that — we’ve all been trained to know that we need to, or risk victim-blaming questions about what we must have done to “draw that sort of attention.”

          But the truth is that 1) whether somebody does any or all of those things to ward off interest, they’re still gonna get hit on if they run into a certain type of jerk, and 2) we *should* be free to dress in any normally professional way we want to at work, including wearing feminine clothes or makeup — and we should certainly be able to look however we naturally look, whether that is considered typically attractive or not — without being hit with false networking attempts that magically turn into requests for sex as soon as the “professional contact” has us alone.

          1. Anna*

            I know a woman, same profession as I, who /is/ very attractive and clearly on purpose: hair dyed blonde, extensive make-up, pretty clothes, knows how to look her best in photos. She’s a beautiful woman, anyone can see that. In the field we’re in, women (pretty or not) are often called beautiful. And I thought she must like that, because she puts in the effort to look this good. But at one point it came up in conversation, and it turns out she detests the ‘beautiful lady’ moniker just as much as I (hair in bun, no make-up, not a great dresser) do.

      6. Nora the Explorer*

        I’ve been single and married and luckily have never had this happen to me (I’m 39 now) in my male dominated industry. I’m in excess and surplus insurance so we have a lot of parties and there is a lot of drinking, but still this hasn’t happened. I have no idea if it’s happened to my coworkers either.

      7. Sandi*

        I find that the likelihood of creepiness varies quite a bit based on location, and much less on marital status. Some cities and countries are more respectful than others, whereas in the creepy locations they really don’t care if you are married or not (because usually they are married themselves).

    2. Lucky*

      In my early days in a male-dominated legal field, I found that a fake wedding ring did help some. I would also find a way to bring up my boyfriend (real, but I could have made one up) and to ask about kids & spouses. Also, whenever anyone would try to invite me to dinner “just to talk” I would just respond back that “coffee would be great, how about the Starbucks in your office lobby?”

      1. Susie Q*

        I wore a fake ring too! They didn’t respect me because of it, they respected my fake husband.

    3. Zoidberg*

      I used to wear a fake wedding ring prior to actually getting married; it definitely helped.

    4. The OP*

      Are we the same person?!
      I’ve definitely tried these tactics as well: dropping my voice an octave, removing “just” and other qualifiers from my speech/writing, and generally being tight-lipped about my personal life.

      The fake wedding ring backfired though, because then people wanted to know about my “husband!”

      1. Amber Rose*

        It’s ridiculous isn’t it. :/

        This is a great time to be “married” to the actual greatest man on earth. “Oh, Jeremy? He’s got gorgeous brown eyes, a blinding smile, he’s in MENSA, pulls 6 figures, does all the cooking and cleaning, arms like cannons…”

        Just kidding. If people want to know about your “husband” you could say “he’s a private person, works as an accountant” (or some other uninteresting seeming job) and redirect. My husband actually works as a finance manager and nobody ever asks me anything lol. But I can also understand why you wouldn’t want to and I definitely don’t think you have to.

      2. Farrah Sahara*

        I agree with your tactics and they work with those that respect professional boundaries.

        I’ve also had my real wedding ring backfire on me in what turned out to not be a networking situation. I pointed out that not only was I not interested, but that I am married.

        The guy’s response was, “So?”
        I said, “That should be your cue to back off.”
        He said, “No, that just means you’ll be more of a challenge.”

        Euuuw on all accounts. Conferences and industry events are for people trying to make work related connections, not hookups!

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          “No, seeing me as ‘a challenge’ means one day soon you’ll get a visit from a nice police officer.”

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I can confirm it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference whether you have a ring on or not. I’m married, have been for 15 years, work in a very male dominated industry and if I had a pound for every time some guy has tried to hit on me instead of just being professional…well I wouldn’t be retired, but at least I’d not be overdrawn at the bank.

        I’ve tried several methods. Outright behaving like a bloke (complete with rude language, burp and fart jokes) didn’t work and made me feel revolting anyway. Dressing extremely conservatively? Nope. Lowering my voice by an octave? Sort of, although it opened a door to the ‘you’ve got a sexy voice’ types. Yuck.

        The only method I’ve kept is the ‘broken record’ of just going ‘dude, not interested’. They ask why, I repeat. They try again, I ignore them or block them. Yes it’s got me a reputation in some circles as being a ‘b’ word but I don’t mind. Anyone that desperate to get into a strangers knickers isn’t someone who’s going to be a good professional contact for me at all.

        I like to keep a mental image of Xena. I tell myself that I’m skilled, intelligent, fierce and resilient. Then when people try to treat me like an object (of desire, or anything else) I’ve got a lovely movie playing in my head of how they’d be ducking chakrams.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            I’ve got a sword at home. Before job interviews I wander around the house carrying it and pretending to fight battles. Makes me more confident :)

            (Note: I don’t take the sword TO the interview. That gives an entirely different impression to the interviewers….)

            1. an infinite number of monkeys*

              This is awesome! I do Wonder Woman power poses to psych myself up before speaking to groups, but I want to get a sword now because that is NEXT LEVEL.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          I use Wonder Woman! And also repeat this phrase to myself all the time “my body is an instrument, not an ornament.” It helps so much to combat the objectification and internalized misogyny.

        2. spacePrincess*

          How does one lower her voice by an octave without sounding … silly? I don’t understand how women (and I am one) claim to do this. It sounds like a comedy bit.

          1. Nethwen*

            I don’t know about a full octave, but for those who understand singing terminology, it’s using your chest voice. For me, it’s hard to keep up long term, but I use it selectively in situations where I know it will benefit me.

            If you don’t know what “chest voice” means, try this exercise. Disclaimer: I’m not a voice teacher, I just experiment on myself.

            1. Speak normally. Pay attention to what you feel in your face, nose, mouth, throat, and chest. Try this a few times a day until you feel comfortable naming what and where you feel anything when you speak.

            2. Then do the same thing speaking in a high, squeaky, or nasally voice – think comic snooty rich lady being disdainful about the commoners. You may feel that you are speaking faster or with too much breath in the sound.

            3. Once you know where and how things feel when you speak like that, do the same thing like you are doing an ominous Papa Bear voice for a fairy tale. Once you figure out how and where that feels, that’s the low voice you can use to speak. You my feel like you are speaking more slowly or need to breath more often. Your chest and shoulders may feel very wide and open, but you’re abs will provide a lot of pressure/support.

            Be careful when playing around with the high and low voices. If you feel tight or pain in your throat during or after your experiment, don’t do that same thing again. You want your throat to be relaxed. If it hurts, don’t do it! It takes some playing around, but you’ll figure it out.

            1. willow for now*

              Or get yourself a parent who is going deaf. My dad can’t hear the grandkid or the SIL, but he can hear me, because I do the octave drop. And sit in front of him. And speak sloooowwwwllllyyyyy. It feels ridiculous at first, but you get used to it.

          2. The OP*

            I don’t know if it’s an actual octave (I am not musical!)
            But I definitely speak in a lower register, and don’t put as much inflection into it as I would with friends/family. It’s not the absolute lowest my voice can go — that would sound weird — but it’s a less overtly feminine version of my regular voice.

          3. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Dunno about others, but I used to be a heavy smoker so dropping my voice down a register is rather easy for me. I just use the voice I did then.

        3. Nora the Explorer*

          So…are you guys all really good looking? I’ve never been hit on in my male dominated profession…ever!?

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            I’m not (I’m average and slightly above average on a good day and with great makeup), and I still get leched on by men at work. I am, however, quiet so I think they believe I won’t call their asses out on it or make a scene – that’s why they do it.

          2. Amber Rose*

            No. I’m overweight and have bad skin.

            But, and I hate that I have to say this, I am a quiet person usually pegged as an easy target, and I have a large chest. :/

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              Same. The chest really does draw attention no matter how you try to downplay it.

            2. Nora the Explorer*

              It’s a very weird thing for me to bring up, but….I’ve been working for 17 years and this never has happened to me (it doesn’t happen in real life either…women always complain about guys coming on to them and I’ve NEVER experienced this) and not that I WANT it to of course, I just assumed it is because of my level of attractiveness…which is really just average, so when this happens to regular looking woman, I just wonder why??

              1. pancakes*

                By focusing on the relative attractiveness of women you’re leaving the mindset of men who behave this way out of the equation. For some it seems to be a way to assert dominance or grasp at power; for others a way to reassure themselves about their own sense of identity or sexuality; for others, it’s a numbers-game approach to dating whereby the context and an individual woman’s interest or lack of are mostly irrelevant. For starters. Some of this also varies by industry and location too. Looking at only one thing is not a full picture.

              2. Gumby*

                Nora, I also have very little experience of this. I don’t think it’s because of attractiveness, or chest size, or dress, or voice. I think I might just give off a vibe somehow? Kind of no nonsense and not interested. Or something. I don’t know exactly. But it is not new – in high school I was told I could have lots of dates if I seemed more open; at the time I didn’t care about dates because they did not boost your AP scores.

                I also think that being oblivious to the more subtle come-ons might contribute. I might very well be missing instances where men are legitimately hitting on me. In addition, being not just non-receptive but also entirely non-reactive might discourage it. Maybe? (I can be really oblivious – by nature, not design – and I basically never expect to be flirted with. A stranger on a bus was proposing marriage to me before I figured out he was flirting. My mom and sister sat in the row behind me laughing instead of helping. I don’t think he was serious about the marriage thing…)

                In any case, I do not know what it is. I am grateful that my experiences have been milder and much less frequent than many other women’s experiences. But figuring out what the secret sauce is doesn’t matter because jerky men should stop regardless of what women look like, sound like, etc.

                1. pancakes*

                  Whether women are seen as receptive to or interested in sexual advances is often not our choice to make. The person who is making that assessment (or making a pass regardless of receptiveness) also plays a role. And there are some patterns well-established by research that have nothing to do with a woman’s individual receptiveness, e.g. black women tending to be seen as more sexually available than white women, and sexualized at earlier ages.

              3. Althea*

                I’m pretty average, and it’s relatively rare for me, too. But I’m not in a male-dominated field. Most of my actual coworkers have been 100% great. Had a couple of things happen when at events or travelling. Can count on 1 hand after 14 years in the workforce.

            3. blackcat*

              I was breastfeeding while interviewing at places and the amount of energy and money I spent on interview clothes to hide the ginormous breastfeeding boobs was really obscene. I normally have the large chested problems, but breastfeeding made it like one million times worse. It is hard to not look ridiculous when you’re 110lbs wearing a 32I bra.

          3. Batgirl*

            I have a friend who thinks this. She absolutely has, but she’s so oblivious as to freeze it off at the bud. I know straight away, blush, and then it’s like I have waved them on in. Short hair does put them off though. Dunno why.

          4. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Overweight, disabled, rather masculine face, I can out-belch a room full of hardware engineers…

            Nah. I’m confident though that I THINK I’m hot as hell. I’ll wear form fitting clothing (over size 22), walk like I’m the best thing ever (okay, limp, because of my walking aids), and maybe that sets the guys off? I dunno. I’m not going to change myself to stop attracting arseholes though so it really doesn’t matter what it is that they like the look of.

          5. The OP*

            Eh. It’s all relative, I think.
            I could walk into 3 different places and be perceived 3 different ways.

            That said, I tend to be read as younger… which suggests naïveté. A lot of men find that attractive, because they’re clueless.

          6. Beth*

            That’s not how this works, unfortunately! It’s like catcalling in that how often you encounter it depends mostly on your environment and the people around you, not on you yourself. I’ve gotten street harassment as an almost daily thing in the last couple cities I’ve lived in (where I walk a lot, on sidewalks where a lot of other people are also walking, in areas where it’s not unusual for people to be hanging out on their stoops/front steps/sidewalks in front of their building/etc. after work, so I pass easily 100+ people each day), but it never happens when I’m visiting my parents in their suburb where just about everyone drives everywhere. Similarly, women deal with work harassment at much higher rates in some work environments than others–it’s not about her, it’s about the culture in her office, geographic region, industry, etc.

            1. Becatsed*

              It’s also a function of various kinds of privilege. Are you always able to take a taxi home instead of walking late at night? Are you financially stable enough to leave a job where you’re being harassed? Are you comfortable making a scene in public because you know that the witnesses will side with you? And then I think it becomes self-reinforcing: if you have never felt threatened or harassed in the street, you’re probably far less situationally aware. Maybe you wear your headphones everywhere and don’t even hear the catcalls. Maybe you don’t think twice about it when someone compliments your outfit, because you take it in good faith. Maybe you feel so safe that none of it can touch you.

              That’s my theory on why I don’t seem to get harrassed or approached, at least. That I’m able to remove myself from situations without worrying about financial consequences, and that I’m oblivious and have the luxury of ignoring things.

          7. Avasarala*

            I really want to push back on the idea that dudes hitting on random women in inappropriate contexts has anything to do with how the women look, dress, or behave.

          8. Saradactyl*

            Nope. I am plain, wear thick glasses, and have been overweight my entire adult life. Due to Sensory Integration Disorder, I wear loose and baggy clothing and never wear makeup at all. I am non-binary and asexual, so I dress in a very masculine manner too. I am also autistic and quiet, and yes, an easy target for creeps because of it.
            Now that I’m older and heavier, it happens less, but it still happens now and then. I am open about being asexual now too, down to having Ace Pride stickers on my car, an Ace Pride t-shirt I wear now and then even at work, and an Ace Pride coffee mug. My being open about being asexual really discourages the loser creeps, because they won’t bother a woman they already know has zero interest in sex!

        1. MayLou*

          As a woman married to a woman, I wouldn’t recommend using that as a way to deflect unwanted male attention. It… won’t work.

          1. Artemesia*

            Everyone knows that one night with (creep coming on to you) would cure you of that amirite?

          2. Working Hypothesis*

            Unfortunately too true. It’s not just the whole asinine thing about the challenge of “converting” lesbians, it’s also simply that they MAY, if they’re a certain type of misogynist, back off from a woman married to a man out of respect for the man (though of course never out of respect for the woman herself). But since, to that mindset, women are meant to be some man’s property, being married to a woman definitely doesn’t have the same effect. It just registers as “oh good, she doesn’t belong to any other male, therefore she’s mine!”

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Hi, OP,
        I found that a cubic zirconia engagement ring worked better than a wedding ring, and a male friend explained why. To a man on the make, a wedding ring means ‘bored wife open to a fun time.’ An engagement ring means ‘starry-eyed, romance-living bride who isn’t ready to cheat yet.’ I had tried being blunt to men hitting on me, or to deliberately misunderstand their comments, or just talk over them about business. The engagement ring worked.

      5. Not A Manager*

        *The fake wedding ring backfired though, because then people wanted to know about my “husband!”*

        “Oh, no, actually I’m not married at all. I just wear this to discourage men from hitting on me at networking events.” You can say this with varying inflections, depending on the audience.

        1. an infinite number of monkeys*

          Oooh, that’s good. And follow up with “You’d be amazed how many guys use professional networking events to try to pick up women!”

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            I have actually had that work so well that I began using it about my *real* wedding ring! If you say it breezily before they’ve had a chance to get past the plausibly deniable stage, they usually swallow their tongues trying to make sure they DON’T say any of the things they’d intended to say after that, to avoid embarrassing themselves.

      6. Althea*

        Any chance you could reply to inquiries about your “husband” with “Oh, actually this is a fake ring. I wear it to help deter creepy guys from hitting on me at events like these.”

    5. Caroline Bowman*

      It’s very good advice and practical in the real world but very sad that as a woman, you have to effectively NOT be friendly or anything other than somewhat coldly professional 100% or risk Unpleasantness.

      It’s not the advice that’s gross, it’s the fact that it’s reality. My mum gave me that very advice based on her own experiences in the 70’s, rising high in her career as a very conventionally-attractive person who only married quite late (by the standards of the time, she was 37 whole years old). ”Wear an engagement ring. Don’t smile too much, you might give the wrong impression” and it wasn’t that she wasn’t a seriously invested feminist – she was, even taking on her then-board of old-man-directors to demand A/ equal pay and B/ to be allowed to wear trousers to work, but she knew the realities of being a young female in the working world.

      Whilst of course things have changed, some things are depressingly the same.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Sure is sad, it hurts me to actually give that advice. I try to take comfort from the fact that more and more, it depends on the industry, some are much worse than others. I work in oil and gas, which is pretty Old Boy’s Club. My husband works in health care and it seems slightly less awful.

        1. Saradactyl*

          health care is still horrible… I dealt with a whole plethora of inappropriate behaviour from men in health care, from the casual sexism, the ‘ Go get me a coffee, sweetheart!’ shit (I was in Information Systems – a hardware tech!), the gross comments, the predatory behaviour, the sexual and sexist ‘jokes’, the unwelcome, unwanted shoulder massages and vaguely sexually invasive touching all the way to sexual assault that forced me to knee the creep in a sensitive spot and run to lock myself into a vacant office where I had been pulling network cable moments before.
          I ended up burning out and leaving the industry after the man who assaulted me was not punished at all, and I still had to see and interact with him.

      2. Amy*

        This is 100% true. I’m a natural extrovert, I’m very friendly and can talk to anyone about anything, and I’ve honestly never worked anywhere where I haven’t had to fend off unwanted advances. I can tell a man I’m married and have 5 kids and 9/10 their response is so you must like to have sex if you have that many kids. The only thing that has ever worked for me is being what I would consider to be rude. And then you get a reputation for being a ball buster who hates men, but it’s what works the best.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I’m married and have 5 kids and 9/10 their response is so you must like to have sex if you have that many kids.

          Good lord!

          1. HBJ*

            And it’s not just a work thing. My mom got variations of this from cashiers at the grocery store. “You guys must have a great sex life.”

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Same. It’s disgusting. And it really hasn’t gotten better with age, only less frequent. I am in my FIFTIES, ffs. Creepers just keep on creeping.

        3. juliebulie*

          “Why yes, now that we’ve had sex five times we had so much fun, we’re thinking we might do it again soon.”

        4. Batgirl*

          “I’m a natural extrovert, I’m very friendly and can talk to anyone about anything, and I’ve honestly never worked anywhere where I haven’t had to fend off unwanted advances.” Yeah this is like the worst thing you can do and I’ve had to reign it in a lot. It stinks because men are allowed to do it.

    6. sub rosa for this*

      Nope, the only thing that has worked for me is “being fat,” unfortunately, and even that didn’t help much until I added “being older” to the equation. I guess if one isn’t seen as “hot,” one has fewer issues with the creepers. (And gets fewer opportunities, and gets treated as semi-invisible, but that’s another discussion.)

      It sucks, it’s awful, it shouldn’t have to be this way. But (as with the non-drinker’s advice to carry around a ginger ale with a wedge of lime to get people to stop pushing drinks on them) a small percentage of awful people have pretty much ruined it for everyone else, and yeah, maybe the fake ring will help some.

      And I’m pretty sure we’re all universally queasy about that being the best advice we can come up with. :(

      1. Amy*

        I’m in my late 30s, have gained quite a bit of weight from medications, and not in a cute way, and it has not in any way slowed down the advances. I have so many people tell me I give off a vibe that I’ve made a concerted effort to pay attention to how I act and I’ve asked men I trust what they notice about me. What I’ve discovered is what most men mean when they say a flirty vibe is I smile a lot and wear bright lipstick. I have no idea how men manage to exist if they can’t control themselves at the sight of red lipstick. Seriously, I’ve been in an all white uniform looking like a giant marshmallow, and I get men who are excited because I smile at them.

        1. Ficus Plant*

          I’m wondering what it is about the people that get hit on though. I have never ever ever had a creeper in a work or in a social environment. I’m not very attractive, but I am very outgoing and friendly. I assumed it always has had to do with my looks, as I make friends very easily. Clearly they find you attractive though.

          1. lemon*

            I think it’s more about the environment than the individual. In more mixed-gender environments, where women who are more traditionally attractive than I am are available, I notice I get hit on less (fine by me) because there are other options available. But, in male-dominated environments, I get hit on more, if only because I’m one of the few women available, so they have to hit on me by default, I guess.

            1. pancakes*

              I’m not sure that’s about availability of women so much as it is a chance for them to preen for the other men present. “Hey look, I have a sexuality over here,” basically.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          Being fat can actually make it worse in some settings, because if you say no they immediately turn to being deeply offended and say, “I would think you’d jump at the chance; it’s not like you can have very many men willing to f*** you looking like that!!”

      2. it's me*

        I have no issues with creepers at all, and yes the tradeoff is basically it’s like I’m not even there. It is what it is, I guess…?

      3. lemon*

        Hmm, I don’t know. I’ve been heavy my whole life, and have still gotten my fair share of creepers. I’ve even taken on the other advice offered upthread (don’t wear makeup, be serious, don’t smile too much, speak in a low, direct voice), and that hasn’t helped. I’ve often wondered if it’s due to being a woman of color? Some men tend to see you as sexually available by default due to oversexualized stereotypes of WOC.

    7. Lisa*

      My biggest learning about this over time: go grey rock.

      It’s a term used to describe how to deal with narcissistic abusers, and it works for a-hole men in business too. It means be boring. When their comments are out of line? Stare at them in silence. Change the subject. Don’t ever smile or laugh it off. Project power through your non-interest in their stupidity. Walk away if you want to. Don’t engage; disengage. “Uh-oh, look at the time, I have to run to another meeting.” Decline to shake hands and turn your back quietly and calmly. You can do all of this with professionalism, and with a neutral face.

      Protect your time, your professionalism, your emotional balance. It’s worked for me.

    8. Beth*

      A fake wedding ring was my thought as well. Or a very thoroughly built out fake boyfriend, who you bring up early on in these acquaintanceships.

      We shouldn’t have to do this, but it’s absolutely true that some men see women as open game until and unless they’re specifically claimed as another man’s.

  4. Kimmy Schmidt*

    GROSS. Gross gross gross.

    Are you open to looking for more digital connections, rather than in-person ones? In my field, we have several distance mentorship programs that communicate primarily by email, although I assume you could also do phone or video chat if you wanted. Maybe something over a computer screen would fend off any possible romantic interest?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Nah, people determined to be inappropriate in-person are equally willing, and probably moreso willing, to be inappropriate online. They become emboldened by the relative anonymity of the medium and the lecherousness is ramped up a notch.

      1. SarahKay*

        Urghh. I had a male co-worker ask me if dick pics were really a thing, or just an urban myth. (He wasn’t being creepy, it came up organically as part of a discussion within a group of us about how mobile phones have changed so many things, including on-line dating). I assured him that Yes, it really, really was a thing that happened. Lots.
        I mean, good to know that he presumably is not the sort of creep that sends them, but how nice it must be to live in a world where you can own a smart-phone and not get sent dick pics.

        OP, I’ve got no real advice about how to stop men coming on to you, I’m sorry. The one thing I would say is that even connecting with women in more junior positions is still worth it. Yes, it’s more likely that you will help them than vice versa, but people do get promoted, and lots of companies will pay employees for a successful referral – every little helps.

            1. SarahKay*

              Thank you – that was a cheering note in a somewhat depressing comment section :)

  5. spacelady*

    1) try and find a professional network (if possible, one focused on women in the industry)
    2) probably stop trying to network via digital contacts (cold contacting people on linkedin, shapr etc)
    3) do you have a mentor? getting one really good mentor would be more useful than lots of ~contacts

    this sucks. men are really the worst for this. sorry you’re having to deal with it

    1. DirectorOfSomething*

      I second this. Also, you could ask your mentor (if you have one) or other contacts you already have if they can connect you to someone in their network that has the skills/expertise you are interested in. In my experience people are happy to connect you to one or two people via email and you can follow up with a phone call or coffee chat. Since the connection came from another professional it may help set the right tone for the conversation.

      Good luck!

      1. Aquawoman*

        I was going to suggest this also–if people in your network can introduce you to people in their network, it *might* eliminate some of that behavior, which is gross and sexist and racist and why we can’t have nice things and should stop.

    2. Office sweater lady*

      I agree wholeheartedly with all these suggestions. I think this type of thing can happen with a lot of levels of nuance to it. To my mind, the most difficult scenario is one where a person repeatedly ignores your attempts at boundary setting and tries to box you into a bad position. Everyone knows if someone grabs your knee that it’s wrong, but the guys who try to work the conversation around to their dating life, your level of attractiveness or just assumes a level of familiarity they shouldn’t, can be hard. If you try to push back openly, they’ll “have no idea what you’re talking about” and be “sooo insulted.” Some will get the message if you repeatedly and firmly lead the conversation back to work, but others won’t and I think these are not worth your time. (Though if anyone has good strategies for this, I would also love to hear them).

      Side note, I think putting some more effort into junior colleagues might pay off more than you think. They are less likely to hit on you than senior colleagues, and they’ll get promoted and move on to new companies where it could be helpful to have a contact.

  6. Smeralda*

    I am afraid to reach out to senior people (Nearly all men) in my field because I don’t want them to think I’m hitting on them. Solidarity.

    1. Ashley*

      I don’t get the hit on so much as the assumption that my boss is my husband or brother which is equally gross and annoying.
      I work with a lot of people outside my company in my job and that has been the best way to build my network. I try to ask other people at events to introduce me to give me more credibility. It is part of the classic women have to work hard and watch their facial expressions more then men. Hard to believe it is 2020 and it is so prevalent.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Many years ago, a Jezebel reporter chronicled her attempts to get a Liz Lemon/Jack Donaghy mentorship in her field.

      The reporter got a lot of unwanted romantic interest and zero professional support.

    3. Smeralda*

      The sick part, or one sick part, imo, is that often these creepy connections CAN be good for your career. But that career help / mentorship comes at the cost of an overly handsy man child who feels entitled to your life. I’ve seen it happen to multiple women in my field and it’s such a bummer.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        That REALLY needs not to be the only way women can get help with their career. It shouldn’t be a both-or-neither, even though it usually is.

  7. ZSD*

    I feel like we’ve seen a letter like this before, which shows how prevalent this behavior is. Men, stop it!

    1. Random IT person*

      As a man – i have not encountered this. (guess i`m lucky).
      But how can I support someone against ‘those’ people ?
      What I mean is – if i notice this happening – what would be the best way to
      a) shut down the insensitive piece of walking bad publicity for men
      b) show his ‘victim’ that i`m not ‘one of those’

      I do think though that these characters are fully aware of what they are doing – and won`t do it with too many witnesses around (or am i naive here?)

      1. I like stripes*

        You are naive, men do it all the time, with and without witnesses. With witnesses, it’s more subtle techniques that they can later backtrack on as just being friendly, when it’s gross for the recipient of this behavior.

        As for what you can do, you can notice, name (“hey that’s sexist, would you say that to a man?”), call out, and educate yourself by listening and reading to stories of women who have experienced this kind of crap in the workplace. The educating yourself is key because it will give you confidence to speak up when you see stuff like this or hear a colleague tell you a story about this, and not back down or retreat in the conversation and explain away a woman’s experience. Hope this helps!

  8. Sir Lena Clare*

    I’d suggest joining your local women in business network, and then double or triple up with your contacts there when networking outside of this.

    I suspect the men reading this blog don’t do this, but just in case – stop it!

    1. JJ*

      For all the men reading who do think “I don’t do this” maybe take a moment and reeeeally look at what you do? It’s possible you have some innocently-intended behaviors that aren’t actually cool. Do you ever interrupt women in meetings? Do your “perfect hires” usually tend to look like you? Do you call out the male colleagues around you who do do this stuff?

      1. CJ*

        Thank you. I suspect the vast majority of men think they don’t do this and yet women’s experience suggests that rather a lot of them do. The questions you bring up are spot on.

      2. Foila*

        Also, maybe you really don’t do it. But maybe you’re thinking “I’ve never seen it happen, is it really so common?”

        Yes. Your male colleagues and friends have noticed that you don’t do it. They know you’re not “safe” to misbehave around. So they do it when you’re not looking. Because they know it’s not ok.

      3. TiffIf*

        And if you really don’t do this–Are you reaching out and networking with women in your industry?

      4. Yorick*

        A know a guy (Wakeen), who doesn’t seem overtly sexist or creepy, who organized a big networking happy hour so he could set up a female recruiter from a consulting company with his friend Fergus. I tried to explain that she’s going to think Fergus wants her to find him a job (which means $$$ for her) and she’ll be super annoyed when it turns out Fergus just wants to date her. I think Wakeen still had the event to help out other people who were actually looking for jobs, and he talked to her about the matchmaking-with-Fergus aspect before (he claimed he knew she was looking for romance, but I wonder if that’s true).

  9. Kiki*

    Hi, I’m a biracial (Black and white), young woman also in a predominantly white, male field. I too have found it very difficult to network with men in my field, I don’t say that to be discouraging, I say that in case you’re in a place, like I was, where you think this may be partially your fault in some way. It’s definitely not, it’s the men’s fault.

    1. The OP*

      Thanks for this, Kiki!
      It’s nice to be reminded that I’m allowed to show up in the world as myself, without other people behaving inappropriately.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        Just wanted to reiterate – this is NOT YOUR FAULT. Not even a little. This is all on men who don’t think they should have to restrain themselves, even a little.

        Sometimes I wonder what women could accomplish if we didn’t have to waste so much brain space trying to deal with everything from men behaving inappropriately and then blaming us for it, to trying to avoid sexual assault, and all that other crap that comes with being born into a female body. And then I wonder if that’s what scares some of these man children so much.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          Just wanted to note that I know it’s even worse for women of color, trans women, and others who don’t have the privilege I do. I can’t speak to it, but it is something I wanted to acknowledge.

          1. Working Hypothesis*

            Yes, this. I’ve had my share of trouble being hit on as a white woman, but I also know my Black and Latina friends have far more than I have… not only are they hit on more often but it jumps a lot faster into cruelty and threats when they try to refuse. None of this is ANY of our fault; but unfortunately there is a lot of toxic BS around about how the sexuality of women of color is supposedly public property in a way that white women’s sexuality is sometimes recognized as private (even if still not their own), and that only makes it worse. You have my sympathy and support, OP… you should not have to do anything at all to fend off sexual or romantic overtures in professional networking contexts; they shouldn’t be hiding behind professional networking as an excuse in the first place! I’m glad you’re getting some suggestions and I hope some of these are useful to you, but I also hate so much that this kind of thing even has to be a question. You shouldn’t have to deal with it. None of us should have to deal with it.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      YES! Like I heard a mom friend tell her 5 year old, only you are responsible for your actions.

    3. Solidarity, Been There*

      If it’s any comfort, I believe this has more to do with gender than skin color. Women working in male-dominated fields deal with this issue. It’s gross and it sucks. The situation improves as you get older. I’m sorry you are dealing with this right now.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I believe this has more to do with gender than skin color.

        No, race also has much to do with it. Men are far more aggressive with minority women due to race-based stereotypes about our sexuality and think they can get away with it because minority women – especially black ones – are rarely believed when we make harassment or assault allegations.

        1. premature gray hair doesn't mean I'm interested in guys older than my dad*

          I’m a white woman. I have absolutely noticed extra-gross icky dudes going after women colleagues of color due to stereotypes about their sexual receptiveness, but, even more so, the feeling that they are less able to fight back. Abusers often seek maximum power imbalance, and women of color have significantly less power than white women due to structural racism

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            +1 to this. Abusers / predators / harassers know what they’re doing when they pick targets, even if it’s not conscious, and the racist sexual stereotypes are still strong today. It is worse for BIPOC women – in the abstract for “Race, threat and workplace sexual harassment: The dynamics of harassment in the United States, 1997–2016”:

            “the decline in workplace sexual harassment complaints has been uneven, with African‐American women experiencing an increased relative risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, even as overall reported harassment complaints are down.”

        2. blackcat*


          In my professional circles, it seems actually be women of Asian descent who get the worst of the creeps…

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          I’ve observed that being female and a member of a marginalised group tends to act as a multiplier to the amount of harassment one gets. The ‘treating you like an object, not a person’ attitude just gets worse.

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        I suspect race may play into it. There are some gross stereotypes of Black women as hypersexual (and as always subordinate, not as aspiring senior members of a field to take seriously).

      3. ElizabethJane*

        No, it probably has to do with race as well. I’m a white woman and men have definitely hit on me but being white I feel more comfortable calling it out or otherwise making a scene. It’s part of my privilege. There’s also the stereotype of Black woman being more sexual. And then there’s the fear of consequences if it is raised. Again, as a white woman, if I felt truly in danger I could call the cops. I might not because I don’t believe they would do anything useful, but I wouldn’t be worried that calling the cops (or other authority figure) would make it worse. That’s a very real fear for people of color, especially Black people. And people in power (white men) will absolutely take advantage of this.

        1. Shoshona*

          Another important factor to keep in mind is that (at least in academia, but I suspect elsewhere) the underrepresentation of Black women means that it’s effectively impossible to report gendered harassment anonymously (especially misogynoir, where both misogyny and anti-Blackness come into play). Because networks and recommendations are the currency of academia, Black women, and Indigenous and Women of Color, find themselves faced with the probability that reporting will destroy their careers. As a white woman, I at least have the protection of some anonymity.

  10. Someone*

    Ew. I don’t have any advice, sorry, this amazingly doesn’t happen to me very often despite being a young female working in a male-dominated industry and I am so grateful for that fact. Sounds horrible.

  11. AvonLady Barksdale*

    Oof. I don’t think this has anything to do with the OP personally– these guys are inappropriate creeps. And that really, really stinks. I don’t have a ton of advice in dealing directly with them, but I’m curious about the networking events the OP is attending/focusing on. Is there a “Women in X” type of organization around? Sometimes they’re not very visible, especially if you’re new to the industry and most of your peers are men. There’s even some benefit in casting a wider net and looking for larger organizations that cover several industries. The city where I used to live had a “[City] Women In Business” that did a lot of great events geared towards women in many different industries. Shoot, that might even work for networking with men who won’t hit on you, joining a more generic organization, like “Young Professionals” or similar. You never know who might know someone you can speak to specifically about your profession.

    And this is not to say that you have to or should write off networking with male colleagues entirely. In your position, I might first reach out to women and see if they can connect you with their friends/colleagues. It’s not foolproof, but it might add an extra layer of comfort if someone has been “vetted” before you meet them. (I’m thinking specifically of meeting a great guy through a friend of mine who was in an adjacent field. I had lost my job, I texted her, she came over and told me that I had to talk to this one guy, he knew everyone, etc. That connection made me feel much more at ease than I would have otherwise.)

    1. The OP*

      Thank you, I think I will seek out Women-only organizations!
      It’s possible I might need to be a little less uptight about finding “perfect” matches — a woman who is doing exactly what I’m doing — and network more with women at about the same level of experience who might be able to put me in touch with quality contacts.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        A wide net is great–you don’t know where your career will take you, or when you might be putting together a panel or looking for someone with a different specialty. Not to mention it’s lower pressure and you get good practice networking even if nothing specific comes of it.

        1. Sunnyside*

          Right, and you never know when that “perfect” networking connection is going to be a third or fourth link in the chain. Start with a wide net of women (thus a lower creep-factor) and ask for introductions to their vetted dude network. Then you’re less of an stranger they can “get away with” hitting on, but you share a mutual connection and that can help keep the dickery in line. (UGH I hate everything about this)

        2. A Person*

          This is a really good point! A lot of the contacts I’ve made are from broader connections, and then THEY know someone.

        3. ThePear8*

          Definitely, I second this advice – I’m a student in computer science which is notoriously white male dominated, but attending groups and events specifically for women in my field has been an awesome! And regardless of if any of the other women are doing things similar to the disciplines I’m interested in, having even just a few other women in tech to talk to is so refreshing and can really save your sanity

      2. Forrest*

        Definitely this! It’s also worth remembering that some of the challenges you’ll meet aren’t industry specific — a senior woman in law has a lot of insight and advice that are still relevant in investment banking or engineering or whatever. Plus there I’ll be some people who you just get on with, even if they’re not directly in your area, and that personal connection is sometimes worth so much more than specific knowledge of your sector.

      3. Working Hypothesis*

        I don’t know what field you’re in, OP, but I am involved in a few women-only resources that cover a pretty broad range. I’m Naomi Rivkis on LinkedIn if you want to connect there and figure out if any of them might be a good fit.

    2. Sam.*

      I think this would be my approach, as much as possible (I’m a woman in a very female dominated-field, so it’s not an issue for me, specifically). Network through people in the industry you already know and trust. Definitely not foolproof, but some kind of vetting process is likely to help.

  12. Dela-WHERE?*

    Yes! And also to add, finding (or starting!) affinity groups within these professional networks. You can also vet them by seeing if they have current codes of conduct and DEAI (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, Inclusivity) boards with clear purpose. And if they have executive leadership or a board of trustees, who is represented and how they represent themselves.

  13. Blaise*

    Ugh :( There are a lot of patriarchal issues that come with working in a female-dominant field (in my case, teaching), but I think I’d rather be undervalued, underpaid, and the scapegoat of society than deal with crap like this. Sorry you have to put up with this, OP.

    1. mayfly*

      Teaching is female-dominated, but from what I’ve seen principals and other school “upper management” types seem to be much more likely to be male. Which means men are significantly more likely to move up and get promoted to positions of power (ugh).

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          YUP. Some of the worst sexism I’ve ever experienced at work was from my male coworkers in a female-dominated industry. One of them literally told me I was too emotional to do my job because I was a woman, in those words. (“I know how women are,” he added. “I have a wife and daughters.”) Our male boss, who was constantly bro-ing out with this guy making fun of feminism and women, ended up firing me because I “couldn’t get along” with Sexist Dude.

          I wonder if part of the reason they were so sexist was because they felt their masculinity was threatened by working in a mostly-female field.

          I’m currently in a male-dominated field where there are many stories of rampant misogyny, but oddly the only such experience I’ve had working in it was from a prospective job applicant. (I reported his creepy behavior to higher-ups, and he is now on our do-not-hire list.)

    2. AndreaJEP*

      I’m a teacher as well, and I’ve still had a couple of male coworkers assume that my politeness meant I was interested in them. I assume my prettier colleagues and colleagues of color get this even more.

  14. Yeah_I know*

    Ooh, this sucks. Mostly, I think these people are just the worst.

    I haven’t had to deal with that and I think it’s more due to the culture of the area I’m in than anything I’m doing. I’m not particularly friendly, but I have super friendly coworkers and they don’t have this issue either.

  15. Cheese Please*

    I am so sorry. This is very frustrating!!! If you’re encountering in-person networking situations, a fake ring can often do the trick (sad but true!). However, this is much harder if you’re connecting online. I have found that staying in touch with past professors (I am in the manufacturing / engineering field and less than 10 yrs out of college) is helpful for mentorship / career advancement purposes.

    Additionally, often my dad (also an engineer in an adjacent field) will help connect me with people he meets (mainly high-profile women) to build my network (thanks dad!) – which is to say having a trusted contact at a higher level who knows you are looking to network more for specific purposes may be helpful. Even just one or two people who can facilitate introductions in a “strictly business” kind of way may help these men see you as a professional colleague and not as a potential date!

  16. lorij*

    I was often the only woman in a room of men. I would make an effort to ask about kids and wives during the time before meeting started to make it clear that I knew they were married. I will say that when I gained the trust of the men I worked with they had my back.

    1. Sunnyside*

      Similar, if the boundary-pusher is significantly older, “oh you remind me of my dad!” is a useful phrase to have handy, especially when said with the appearance of genuine warmth. UGH again, I hate all of this.

      1. Kiki*

        This is hard because sometimes that does work incredibly well and other times they’re like, “Yeah call me Daddy.” And then you die a little inside.

      2. Forrest Rhodes*

        Yeah, unfortunately, “you remind me of my dad” often just results in “ooooh, call me daddy” responses.
        I escalated it to “Oh, you remind me so much of my grandpa!” or “Yeah, my granddad says that too” and those usually achieved the desired (on my part) de-escalation. Also, the looks of dismay I got in response were actually pretty funny.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          In work settings, men really said “call me daddy”????!!? Sooper gross.

          Men who are reading this, please call out other men who joke about this crap. Even just saying “That’s not cool” is significant, when mostly they hear agreement or silence.

          1. Forrest Rhodes*

            They did; this was a bunch of years ago, though, so I really should have written in past tense. It didn’t happen all that often—but often enough to get me to switch to the “grandpa” response. That usually ended it.

  17. FundraiserSarah*

    I would be very clear about your intentions of connecting, networking, etc. upfront so maybe (but probably not) the men will understand what you’re looking for. With colleagues who leave a job or you leave, try to keep those networks warm so you can always leverage them when you need to. If there are any formal mentoring programs in your field, I would apply for those. They are structured and expectations are clear. Finally, I highly recommend the HBR Women at Work podcast. They have discussed this a few times. There was a recent episode with good tips.

    1. Anonym*

      Seconding HBR Women at Work! They go deep in a lot of areas, in a really useful, accessible way.

  18. insert pun here*

    Maybe try the taking-the-car-to-the-mechanic-and-don’t-want-to-get-overcharged trick of dressing like a lesbian? I wish I had better advice. Ugh.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Um… what? No. How does one “dress like a lesbian”? Last I checked, there’s no “lesbian” section at Macy’s.

      This kind of bs perpetuates this kind of crap, you know. I’m willing to bet the OP dresses professionally. I’m also willing to bet that she could walk in wearing a burlap sack and this will still happen, so, again, NO.

      1. insert pun here*

        Sorry, should have included the sarcasm tag. (But I am queer, I do this, it seems to work… better than a coin flip.)

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          I’m going to guess that you mean “dress to not look feminine”? Yeah, I’m queer too (which can do a number on “how to dress professionally”) and I get what you’re saying. And yes, this shit helps to perpetuate stereotypes, but everything anyone does will perpetuate some kind of stereotype. Sometimes you have to stop thinking about it and just get dressed, dammit.

      2. Cheese Please*

        Thank you AvonLady! There is indeed no way to dress “like a lesbian” and there is ultimately no form of magical dress that forces another person to treat you respectfully – that has to come from other person learning to not be a jerk!

      3. Dye*

        ALB, I don’t think “dressing like a lesbian” is the opposite of dressing professionally.

        Also, there are definitely styles that ping. While these indicate nothing about the wearer’s sexuality, queer and straight people alike read them that way. A lot of times, lesbians go out of their way to dress like this, so we can recognize each other in the wild!

        Signed, a woman who definitely dresses like a lesbian, professionally.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          My point is that there is no single way to dress like a lesbian, so to suggest that is to stereotype lesbians, for starters. Not cool.

    2. Ericka Hayes*

      “Dress like a lesbian”? This is problematic for me on 2 fronts. First stereotyping lesbians is a really bad look. Second, I am entirely certain this is not happening because OP is dressing…like a straight woman? Sorry, I can’t even make that sound right. Bottom line: what she is wearing is irrelevant. What is relevant is these guys are gross and inappropriate and would be no matter how professionally or femininely she is dressed or what sexual orientation she is.

    3. The OP*

      FWIW, I’m Queer and would describe my style as Hard Femme/Off-duty X-Men. (So many boots! And constant debate over the sides of my head: to shave or not to shave?)

      But I’m also petite and look younger than my age, so cishet men ignore the signs. *headdesk*

      1. TechWorker*

        ‘Off-duty X-men’ – love it.

        I am terrible at networking (also in a role where most of the networking I need to do is with other folks at my huge company, which probably limits the skeeviness. It’s also true that my partner works for the same company and many of my colleagues know him too, I’m *sure* this helps :()

      2. insert pun here*

        Ugh, all the more frustrating. Maybe there is some magical combo of shaved head and fake wedding ring that would signal unavailability??? (But then, there’s always some dudes who would take this as a challenge, ugh, vomit.) I dress more or less according to gender whim, and I definitely get treated differently (by men *and* women) when I dress more butch.
        To be very clear, since my original comment was not, you should be able to show up half-naked to a networking event and have everyone respect your professional abilities. Alas.

      3. Dye*

        OP, if you are queer, I’d recommend Lesbians Who Tech events. They’re open to all queer woman and nb people, and lots of people who are only marginally involved in tech go (and just being interested in technology counts).

        It’s a great networking environment for queer women — well-attended, lots of people at all job levels, lots of people who go are fired up about helping other queer women advance. If there isn’t one in your city, there are virtual events and a few weekend conferences.

      4. AnonEMoose*

        “Off duty X Men” – love it! And I envy you the boots a bit…I love boots and my calves are too big to wear a lot of them (except for the 4-button ones I got for Renaissance festival – not cheap but SO comfy and holding up well after close to 10 years). Someday…some day…I’ll be able to afford a custom pair of the kind of boots that led to the joke “If your boots are worth more than your car…you might be a Festie.”

      5. Butter Makes Things Better*

        A caveat from my own experience: I had a male mentor who acted reliably and professionally with me for more than a year. He didn’t work at my company, but he helped me negotiate a huge pay raise and spot bonus. I’m still super grossed out by his assumption that I was going to sleep with him out of gratitude. Waves of nausea get kicked up whenever I remember.

        1. Butter Makes Things Better*

          Ugh, this was meant to stand alone, not be a reply to this thread.

          1. Butter Makes Things Better*

            And I kept blaming myself and feeling like I was less than because *of course* I didn’t deserve a real seat at the table. We are both BIPOC; I met him through a course where he mentored a whole class of POC folks, so that felt like an extra security filter he passed A-ok.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              I think those guys are worse than the outright creepers, really. Because then you do end up feeling like it was your fault and you “should have known” or somesuch. And, really, it’s on them and their shitty choices and views.

    4. MommaCat*

      I get what you’re trying to say with this. I’m a carpenter, and I’ve absolutely noticed a difference in how I’m treated at the local auto shop when I’m dressed for work vs dressed for the weekend (generally more feminine). I think it’s less that I’m dressed femininely or masculinely, and more that I’m dressed in a way that makes it look like I’m ready for physical labor; that the auto shop folks think that it’s for automotive work rather than carpentry is on them.
      Unless OP is in a field with heavy physical labor, I don’t know if this advice would help her.

      1. Sunset Maple*

        Same, I get much better treatment in male-dominated situations when I’m wearing my steel toes.

    5. Dy*

      I’m a woman who exclusively wears men’s clothes. I ping. Strongly. I have my own problems at work and at networking with male colleagues, but getting hit on is definitely not one of them.

      Not that OP should cut her hair and wear men’s clothes in order for this to stop, not at all. Just wanted to second pun’s experience . Sometimes dressing a certain dyke-presenting way — which does not actually indicate anything about one’s sexuality but can get read that way — removes that particular problem.

      1. spacePrincess*

        ping? What is “strongly pinging”? I’m not familiar with that word/prhase.

    6. Dye*

      There is no one way to “dress like a lesbian” and it doesn’t indicate anything about actual sexuality, but some styles definitely ping and successfully keep men away.

      I am a woman who exclusively wears men’s clothes. I ping. A lot. This leads to lots of other problems with men at work and networking (I pretty much only network at queer women’s events), but it definitely removes the problem of being hit on at work.

      Not, of course, that OP should have to wear men’s clothes in order to avoid this. Just wanted to confirm that however indelicately pun may have phrased this, the issue she’s getting at is real.

    7. Dagny*

      When I go to the auto shop, I go in with some idea of what is wrong with my vehicle and why I’m taking it to them instead of fixing it myself. May I suggest learning a bit about cars (which you should do anyway) and coming in knowledgeable, instead of hoping that different attire will help?

      1. only acting normal*

        A bit of car knowledge makes no difference.
        Last time I took my car for repair I had already ruled out one problem myself. They insisted that *was* the issue, waited half a day for the part, installed it (which involves practically dismantling the dash so took them hours)… it wasn’t the issue. They failed to correctly diagnose (no time left) so couldn’t charge me.
        Had to rebook for a week hence. Fault corrected itself 2 days later.
        So by not listening to me they lost the days labour, the sale of the correct fix, and future custom.
        If I thought wearing a boiler suit would help, hell, I’d try it.

          1. kt*

            It was a total waste of time, though, and they entirely ignored the fact that she was right about it not being X. So her knowledge make zero difference.

    8. lemon*

      Out of context, I understand some of the negative reactions above. But also, as a queer woman, I totally get this, too. I’ve noticed that more masculine-presenting queer women seem to have an easier time fitting into certain male-dominated environments than more feminine-presenting folks. I experienced this myself when I had professorial ambitions in a male-dominated field. When I started out, I was presenting a little more masculine– shaved head, hard-femme clothes. I thought I found a great male mentor who seemed totally supportive and not at all creepy. Then, I started dating a male classmate, and grew my hair out a bit. My previously-great male mentor noticed, and then started being really creepy and sending me low-key love notes instead of actual feedback on my thesis. So, as soon as he perceived me as sexually available, he turned into a creep. :(

  19. Dawbs*

    Ugh this sucks so much.

    When we’re not in a global pandemic, volunteer opportunities directly related to your field might help.
    Even if it’s a 1 off, like volunteering at the big event held at the regional science olympiad or the local sci museum’s yearly fundraiser if you’re in the sciences.
    But also helping 1x per week in the library (librarians can be amazingly connected outside and inside their fueld) or with the jaycees (which are marginally less a boys club than, say, the lions-IME, which only is in 1 location)

  20. Environmental Compliance*

    I’ve joined professional societies for the most part. I’ve also seen an uptick in some of my connections (and connections’ connections) on LinkedIn calling out people who are doing that kind of crap, which is nice to see.

    However, after I followed a few vocal LGBT+ people, and posted more and more on environmental ethics, environmental racism, etc., it has drastically dropped off. Now all I get are weird bitcoin mining sales pitches.

  21. Lora*

    If there is a “Women In (your field)” organization, join that. If there isn’t one, start one! I have a group of women colleagues from past jobs and we try to get together once a month (well, did, pre-covid) for beer and wings and just chat, even if it’s only a few of us who can make it. One of my colleagues started a good tradition too – once a year in the fall, we go clothes shopping together for new work clothes.

    Other networking has come from volunteer-ish type things: I sit on grant review boards, used to tutor kids in STEM (workplace at the time had a paid volunteer time off program for this, the kids all had a science fair in our work cafeteria afterwards), now do fundraiser-y things for local public health efforts and fine arts (a local museum, performing arts). There tend to be more women, LGBTQ and older folks at such things who are somewhat less predatory.

  22. queen b*

    Is there people you trust that could facilitate warm connections to men? Like, a friend says hey here’s a dude I trust to not be a creep how about meeting them?

  23. QED*

    I second the idea to find a professional network, ideally one focused on women and/or Black people in your industry. There may be one as a sub-group or sub-committee of a more general professional network. If there is some kind of accreditation system in your industry (like accountants, lawyers, doctors, etc have), your state board group may also have a relevant subcommittee. You could also ask your current limited pool of contacts if they can introduce you to other people in the industry, making it clear that this is about professional networking only (to be clear, you should not have to do this in a just world, but alas, in this world, I think you do). You also say that you’ve had trouble meeting more senior female colleagues. If this is because there aren’t any in your company, your workplace sucks, but probably there’s nothing you can do. However, if there are senior women in your company, but you just have trouble meeting them, if this is possible, find out what projects they’re working on and if those sound like things you want to do, ask if you can help on those projects or if there’s any way to get to work with them on those kinds of projects in the future. Then you can build those connections. I know some jobs don’t allow for that, but many might.

    1. The OP*

      Thank you for this advice!

      I have attended Black conferences: I actually did meet a woman who put me in contact with another woman, and that is maybe going to lead to something (but don’t wanna jinx it!)

      In my workplace, I am the highest-ranking Black person in general. So. That says it all.

  24. Oh no*

    This is going to be a really unpopular opinion, but I went along with casual dates when networking – nothing physical, just some dinners – in order to network and I got a job out of it. Sure, it really sucks, and it’s kind of exhausting to have to humour men to get jobs, and this takes on epic proportions where men then cross the line, so very bad not good – but it does work. Not rejecting them and being pleasant and carefully managing their expectations does work unfortunately. I dont like it anymore than the next woman but seriously going for dinner works. Yuck right?

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I won’t judge you for it. It sucks you felt you had to play that game to get ahead.

    2. Georgina Fredrika*

      I’d rather say no so that it sets up his expectation of what he can ask “the next woman.”

      I am glad it worked for you ! It really sucks that anyone has to put up with this though and I think if we collectively gave it an “ew” reaction it might not happen as much…

      I think from the tone of the letter, also, this person isn’t going to be able to “humor” them on a date. Because if you go on the date then act the entire time like you hate it, that probably won’t lead to a job.

      1. The OP*

        Yeahhhhh, my personality is not conducive to this strategy at all. But get it how you live!

    3. deesse877*

      Honestly, I worry that white men hitting on a Black woman are more likely to (a) get physical no matter what, and (b) resent rejections in a way they wouldn’t from a white woman. Lots of middle-class white people genuinely believe that Black people are 1000% DTF 24/7. Lots also believe they’re doing some kind of favor by expressing interest. It can be really ugly.

      OP likely knows this already, but it’s worth underlining for all. It was something I didn’t know myself (I’m not Black) until a friend had some truly hairy encounters.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I can confirm that this is correct. White men feel very entitled to black women’s bodies and attention. Every negative encounter I’ve had at networking or industry events have been at the hands of bigoted older white men who have slave play fantasies.

        1. Lora*

          Oh god. I need to go wash my brain.

          Like, I am very aware of Rule 34, and I can vaguely recall a Rule 34-like saying even when I was at university and the entire Internet was only newly open to the public and you got those AOL CDs in the mail. But certain things just…don’t occur to me (thank goodness, I guess?) until someone says them out loud.

          Jesus. JESUS CHRIST. I’m so sorry, this sounds just. Awful. JESUS H CHRIST people are nasty.

    4. Ms. Marple*

      I’m not going to judge you for it, but the thought of doing that myself makes my skin crawl.

    5. Picard*

      OP has already informed us that shes queer so no I dont think the date thing is going to work for her!

  25. Lily B*

    OP, it sucks and you are not alone. Not sure why so many men in their 40’s-50’s think LinkedIn = the new Ashley Madison and networking events = speed dating but they do. And I have found that getting engaged/married and wearing a ring is sadlynot that much of a deterrent, sadly.

    It feels gross, but I will also admit I have leveraged male attention for job leads, professional introductions and access I probably wouldn’t have had otherwise. Idk if this is helpful, but thinking of being a young woman as a career asset rather than a liability at least made me feel less discouraged…

  26. Sad Mentee*

    I don’t have advice, but had a different kind of bad experience with a “mentor”. He was my former boss’s-boss, and gave a presentation to our company’s Women-in-Leadership group on how important it is to find a mentor. I reached out to him to find out more and he offered to mentor me, so we had a series of monthly meetings.

    I later found out he was sleeping with my boss (both of them were married to other people at the time) and mostly wanted me to provide him dirt on my new boss’s boss, who was his romantic rival because he was also trying to sleep with my boss.

    1. this broke me*



      1. Roy G. Biv*

        There needs to be a reboot movie of “9 to 5” with this as the basic plot point. Because I really want to see that kind of guy get his comeuppance, preferably in a highly comedic, public manner!

      2. Gazebo Slayer*

        Maybe he wants to encourage women to seek out mentors so creepy guys will have more targets. Or specifically he wants to encourage women to seek *him* out…

        I mean, it’s probably just plain old-fashioned hypocrisy, but I like to imagine additional ulterior motives.

  27. Oh no*

    This is going to be a really unpopular opinion, but I went along with casual dates when networking – nothing physical, just some dinners – in order to network and I got a job out of it. Sure, it really sucks, and it’s kind of exhausting to have to humour men to get jobs, and this takes on epic proportions where men then cross the line, so very bad not good – but casually it does work. Not rejecting them and being pleasant and carefully managing their expectations does work unfortunately. I dont like it anymore than the next woman but seriously going for dinner works. Yuck right?

    1. cmcinnyc*

      It works until it doesn’t. I actually tried this once upon a time–going along a bit and acting like the sexual gambits were going over my head. There are men who won’t let you get away with this, and it can take down a whole swath of your network if it gets ugly.

      1. juliebulie*

        I am glad Oh No was able to make it work, but the same summer when I was starting out, there was a big rape case in my state where the defense was that the victim’s skirt had been too short. I wasn’t willing to take a chance on some obvious horndog who could help my career, because if something went wrong, he would not only get away with it, but I’d get blamed. And if I had to risk being raped, blackmailed, etc. to get a job, it would have to be one hell of a job!

        I think the world is a little better now than it was 30 years ago, but I don’t know if it’s that much better. I would definitely not advise anyone to try their luck that way unless they were sure they understood the risks and were prepared for them.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Was once sexually assaulted by someone I thought was interested in giving me a job. It’s really soured my view of most men.

        (I’m cool, otherwise. And it was 16 years ago and ‘only’ a bit of forced kiss/grope. I think I got out lucky.
        No repercussions against the bloke though ever happened. Very rich white guy got away with anything.)

  28. Steveo*

    No good help on the men issues unfortunately, but one part stood out “and then one of us is leaving the company”. This is the best thing that can happen for your network, it opens up more and more options for other places to work!

  29. Happy Pineapple*

    Unfortunately this is definitely a “thing,” so it’s not just you. One the one hand, I can understand people wanting to find a partner within their field, but on the other it’s often sexist, unwelcome, and entirely unprofessional. I will preface my advice by saying it’s nonsense that women have to change to be taken seriously, but that’s the world we live in. My advice is to be what these people are not: scrupulously and unflappably professional. Be one track minded as far as business; bring all the conversations back to work or end them if you feel uncomfortable. I’d also recommend joining some sort of professional society or networking group (bonus points if it’s mostly women!) where there will be similarly-minded people.

  30. DataGirl*

    No advice, I’m sorry. I had the same problem when I was young. I didn’t have a single job where I didn’t experience some sort of sexual harassment until after I turned 40, then magically it stopped. This sucks to say and is totally anti-feminist but things I incorporated to reduce harassment: wear less revealing clothes- never show cleavage and avoid button up blouses that gap. Not be friendly- learned this one the hard way, some men seem to think any friendliness at all = I want to sleep with you. Wear a wedding ring, it won’t stop all men but some.

  31. Scarlet*

    Hi OP – is there perhaps a Women’s Network you can look into? Meetup has a lot of groups like that, even if you only join one pseudo-related perhaps that can give you a great “in” to other networking opportunities.

  32. cmcinnyc*

    Honestly, my networking success really took off in middle age for exactly this reason. While there is still the occasional guy who wants to turn a networking coffee into a date, the combination of not being no longer young plus years of experience with this crap has made me much better at navigating it. My best advice is to focus on networking with women and to look beyond one-on-one. I have worked hard to be a connector in my niche, introducing people to each other and (pre-COVID) even hosting happy hours.

    But yes, this limited career opportunities for me when I was younger, no question. One of THE major ways that men gatekeep professions is by putting their literal bodies in the way.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Yes, and this brings up a good point– women lose a ton of advancement potential and years off our careers to this culture of predation. When young men start their rise in their early twenties, ours is inhibited by this careful dance crap until we reach middle age. All because of men behaving badly. It’s a problem with our culture that we, the innocent targets, end up paying the price for.

      1. emmelemm*

        Ooof, I never thought of it like that, but it’s totally true. It ties into “no one taking you seriously when you’re a young female” – their first priority seems to be figuring out how they can date you, and their (not even second, but let’s pretend) priority is listening to what you have to say.

  33. CynicallySweet7*

    Thank you so much for asking this! When I have time I’m reading every single comment. This has been a real problem for me to!!!

  34. Princess Leia's Left Hand Bun*

    I’ve have the same issue trying to network is a very male-dominated field. Furthermore, when I did manage to cultivate a mentor/development relationship with a male colleague, the amount of commentary I got from coworkers was astounding. Never to him though, and he was horrified when I pointed out what people thought was going on.

    The layers to this horrendous attitude just goes on and on.

  35. Lizzo*

    Agree with other folks re: getting involved with a professional association–either one that is woman-focused, or one that has a good community with a solid code of conduct.

    Do you have folks you are already connected with who could introduce you to good people in your industry?

  36. Sleepy*


    When I was younger, I would put a cheap band on my ring finger to make it look like I was married if I needed to talk with lots of older men (and that still doesn’t stop everyone). That was mainly for social situations though.

    1. LawLady*

      Yeah, it’s frustrating to have to say this, but I think getting married really helped me. Yes, some men will be creeps no matter what, but a broad swath of men aren’t actually looking for an affair– they’re just bad at recognizing that single women might be looking for career connection, not romantic connection. But once I was married and wearing a wedding ring and could casually throw husband and family into conversation, I was transported into the “not date material” category and found it easier to connect with men.

      That is so not satisfying as an answer though.

  37. AnonToday*

    As a man, I’ve been introduced to women at networking events in the past and we spend the first 5-10 minutes of them telling me stories of lecherous men they have encountered at these same events. I’m starting to realize it’s probably done more for their protection (I’m a possible threat) and to reframe my mindset to not even go there. Wish I could short circuit this in the past knowing now what I know, but all I can do is try to exude professionalism at future events.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Drop a upbeat mention of your current relationship into the conversation early (ie, “my wife’s told me some horror stories, it really sucks that you have to navigate that.”); I’ve found when guys say something pleasant about their wife or kid they rarely hit on me after. Not never, but it’s definitely less often.

      1. Amy Sly*

        I was at a con meeting a semi-famous sci-fi actor. He’d just had a special released that included some fictitious scenes of his home life. After the paid photo-op, he started following me as I was leaving. I mentioned that it was wonderful to get to see his wife and daughters in the special. His comment? “That was probably a good time to remind me of my family.”

    2. CynicallySweet7*

      Ud be surprised how often it doesn’t work. Before I gave up trying to network/asked not to go on trade shows anymore I would do this. Like when someone said ‘let’s go to dinner and talk it over” – I’d tell a story abt how gross it was when someone said that to me and spent the entire dinner trying to hit on me instead… He did not get the hint (can I even call it a hint) and spent most of dinner trying to get me to take tequila shots and talk abt my personal life while I tried to sell him software. This was not an isolated incident and it’s also why I decided there were certain areas of my field I just straight up didn’t want to explore at all

      1. AnonToday*

        Ouch, sorry you had to endure that for your job. Software sales is a strange world of wining and dining that I have been on the recipient of as the client. That’s terrible you have had to deal with that behavior.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I know telling the men about our happy home life doesn’t work. This was advice for how AnonToday (presumably a man) can set women at ease quickly. Doesn’t work 100%, but it is a signal he can try.

  38. nnn*

    In a fictional alternate universe where we have time and energy and aren’t in a global pandemic, I’d want to go to all these guys: “Listen, I was hoping you could give me some advice. Every time I try to network with male colleagues, they try to turn it into a date. How do I stop that from happening?”

    1. Lizzo*

      Why wait until the pandemic is over? Now seems like the perfect time to take this “zero f*cks given” approach to things. (Sort of kidding on that…)

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      I find it entertaining that your comment is directly below one about women actually doing something like this to a commenter.

      1. nnn*

        LOL, I didn’t see that at all! I think we were both typing out our comments at the same time.

    3. Undine*

      Nothing works. Now you are confiding in them, which makes them different and special, so they can’t be one of the guys you’re complaining about, right?

  39. stickynote*

    also an early career WOC in a male-dominated field. Echoing commenters above, I have benefited hugely from “women-in-my-field” groups and events and also from having a few really awesome senior mentors that I trust and who introduce me to their networks.

    Basically, senior people – look out for young people in your field, especially women. Introduce them to your colleagues and help them make connections.

  40. Third or Nothing!*

    I wish I could somehow transfer my vibe to you. IDK what it is, but I’ve only been hit on by 5 men in my life, and I ended up marrying the last one. My BFF, on the other hand, encounters it almost daily. So I’ll be reading all the comments to give her some suggestions for what to do when it happens at work!

    1. Fancy Owl*

      Same! I basically never get hit on and I don’t know exactly what it is either. All the guys I’ve dated have started out as my friends (and they weren’t just my friends to date me I don’t think, I could tell when the energy started to change a few months or even years in), and I have no problem making guy friends. Maybe I should ask them what they think about this sometime. Personally, I think it might be a combination of my adult acne and tremendous resting b-face. I have another friend who got her acne under control as an adult and noticed an immediate uptick in male interest. But this isn’t really helpful to the OP unfortunately.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Yeah, “change your appearance” is not actionable advice, nor is it particularly good advice. I guess OP could work on her McGonagall glare to shut down that noise quickly when it does happen, but I don’t know what else would help aside from that. And I HATE that she feels like she needs to change anything at all about herself! I mean, yeah, YOU are the only variable you can truly change, but darn it can’t people just not be terrible?

        1. Fancy Owl*

          Yeah, exactly! For a second I thought about suggesting the OP fake a skin condition but she really, really shouldn’t have to do that.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            New product idea! “Creepatrol, the prosthetic makeup that keeps the creeps away at work!”

            1. No Tribble At All*

              There are leggings that are printed to look like hairy legs — but I wouldn’t call those professional, and this would start to be off-topic :P

      2. Amy Sly*

        Same. Granted, being 5’10” helps a lot.

        Honestly, I think what may have helped me the most was my experience riding and taking care of horses when I was young. If you’re going to control an animal ten times your weight, you have to have confidence in yourself. You must be willing to back up polite requests with forceful commands, because the horse will test whether your now means now and your no means no — and a horse that doesn’t think you’re in charge will quite literally walk over you. You have to respect the power they have, of course; horses can quite easily kill you. But respecting their power does not mean giving them authority.

        There was a great example at a horse show where my trainer’s six or seven year old son was competing in a kid event where you rode the horse down the length of the area, dismounted, and ran back. The horse he was using for the event cooperated for the ride, but refused to go after he dismounted. So he balled up his little kid fist and punched her on the shoulder to remind her who was in charge, after which she cooperated and ran back. She had the power, but he reminded her that he had the authority. It didn’t matter that she could have killed him with one solid kick or by biting him and tossing him in the air; his confidence meant that things were done his way, not hers.

        That is the best reason I can come up with as to why this kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me. No clue if it’s accurate or how widely the strategy might apply.

    2. The OP*

      I was talking to someone about how often I experience street harassment, and they said something that was kinda illuminating: they pointed out that I’m small. Of course random men looking to shore up their fragile egos target small women more often: it’s the easiest way to make themselves feel large!

      A lot of what makes men feel like they can approach us is probably based on random and unshakeable attributes like that.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Even if the attributes weren’t unshakeable, it’s not your fault. It’s on the men to not be assholes, not on you to perfectly prevent any assholery.

      2. lemon*

        Second that it’s not your fault. I’m large (5’7″, plus size) and also get street harassment all the time. If you spend all your time wondering, “what is it about me?!” you’ll drive yourself MAD (ask me how I know).

    3. Anonymous at a University*

      +1 I also have this vibe. I have never been hit on in a professional context. I do know that on one occasion in graduate school when it seemed like a fellow male graduate student might be flirting with me, but I honestly wasn’t sure, I made a big point of mentioning that I never intended to get married or have kids, and that stopped it. The surrounding culture of the region there was very much, “Women who don’t want kids Are Trouble and probably won’t stay home with the babies As Is Right and Natural.”

      OP, I second the advice to join professional networks, but I’m sorry you’re having all this trouble. You’d think at least some men would have an easier time seeing women as human beings.

    4. only acting normal*

      I used to think I never got hit on. Turns out I was just oblivious (yay autism). Friends started pointing out “he was really into you!!” and slowly I learned some of the cues.
      Probably *safer* that I did learn, but once I was aware, ugh.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I see we’ve discussed the height thing. So that’s been covered. I out-grew a large majority of guys by 7th grade. Bless their hearts. Part of my dating and social interactions being limited is due to my demisexuality but the other part is that I’m quick to just say “nope, over this, bye.” They know I don’t need them, I never needed them, hell they don’t even think I like them most days ;)

      Flip side! One of my colleagues is small in stature and male, he gets targeted for harassment as well. Predators seriously do target those who they think they can intimidate. Which is why many target the youth and literal children.

    6. generic_username*

      Same…. Although my vibe has a weird twist: I’ve always been very friendly with and had tons of “guy friends”, but they’ve never hit on me. Then usually like a year or two after I move away (to college, to grad school, to a different job, to a different town, etc…) they’ll send me a message online about how they had always loved me and I’m the “one that got away” and they wish they’d had the guts to say something. I’ve literally gotten about 10-12 of these sorts of messages. It is so flipping bizarre….

      1. londonedit*

        Oh yeah, I had those. What tends to happen to me is that I’ll be introduced to a bloke at a friend’s birthday drinks or something, it’ll come out that I know about football, we’ll have a nice chat about football and I’ll assume we’re just having a nice chat about football (because I am oblivious and I have a long-term partner so my brain is totally switched off from the whole flirting thing) and then two days later they’ll find me on Facebook Messenger or something and I’ll get a ‘So it was soooooooo great to talk to you, I really felt like we hit it off, you’re sooooo cool! I love a girl who knows her football! Do you want to go out’ message. It really depresses me because what I take from the conversation is ‘Hey, he was fun, that was a good conversation’ and 90% of the time what the bloke takes from it is ‘OMG girl talked to me, she must be interested’.

  41. J*

    I’m really sorry you have to experience this OP. I want to re-iterate that these guys are creeps and unfortunately this is a very common experience for young women. (Men seem to be particularly aggressive with women of color).

    I’ve found that asking for introductions from a mutual connection is the most effective way to not be creeped on– for some reason guys want to be on their best behavior when their is the possibility that they may be accountable for their sketchiness.

    If I start to sense that someone is beginning to hit on me, I try to redirect the conversation. If that doesn’t work, I will pretty explicitly call it out with a tone of, “Well, of COURSE this is only a professional conversation because who would be so inappropriate to try and angle this otherwise?”

    To be clear though if it gets to this stage I tend to write this “connection” off as something that is not compatible.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Men seem to be particularly aggressive with women of color

      Yup, especially with black women due to stereotypes about our alleged hypersexuality (the Jezebel narrative). They know that if they harass us, especially white men, no one will believe us.

      1. mreasy*

        And unfortunately re the harassment, they’re right! True for all women but so much truer, with reporting even more likely to backfire for a Black woman.

      2. emmelemm*

        I think also, and this is a really, really gross thing to say, so I apologize in advance, but: with [some] men, there’s the echo, the remnant lingering there, that “women are property” – like, even a white woman, one’s wife let’s say, is property. No one would state this as fact in this day and age, but the idea is still there. And if the hint of an idea is still somewhere in their mind, it goes doubly, triply so for women of color. They’re not just property, they’re Property – and you can do whatever you want with them, however badly you’d treat a white woman x 1000.

        Our society disavows this with words, but the nebulous, unverbalized feelings remain and we can’t seem to get rid of them.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Well, considering that black women actually were white men’s property to do with as they pleased not too long ago, I’m not surprised that that mentality has persisted.

          1. emmelemm*

            Right, that’s what I’m saying. White women were property in ye olden days in the sense that their lives were governed by the benevolence of the men they were tied to (husband, father) since they couldn’t work, have their own money or their own property, etc. Black women were LITERALLY property, like chairs or tables. Hence, they’ve still got it way worse.

  42. MPS*

    Is there a women’s networking group in your field? Could you host a women’s networking chat/lunch/seminar/zoom call?


  43. olivia*

    I’d recommend seeing if your industry or a group of people in similar roles to you have an online community (many are moving to Slack workspaces). I’m a part of a few for my field with codes of conduct, an engaged group of admins, etc. which encourages appropriate behavior and provides a clear path to reporting people (of any gender) behaving inappropriately.

  44. Elle by the sea*

    Well, that’s horrible.

    I’m a female in a male dominated industry myself and I can actually feel lucky that it hasn’t happened to me yet. Maybe because I always have highly unattractive or boringly professional profile pictures and I’m not very social. What I would do is tell them upfront that LinkedIn is a professional site and is not meant for dating. However, that’s only possible when trouble has already happened. I would be severely put off by anyone who starts networking with this line (believe it or not, I know many people who do, based on previous bad experiences comparable to what LW described). I would also be interested in how these people reveal that they are fishing for dates – is it always their clear intention or they just communicate awkwardly with the opposite sex?

    Despite having escaped this problem so far, I do run into irritating networkers. People who demand that I should refer them for a position and when I refuse to do so, they go on a rant saying that I don’t know how LinkedIn works. The funny part is that I’m an ex employee on the tech side, so I know quite a bit about how it works.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Their intent is always clear. They try to cloak it in a veneer of plausible deniability so that if you call them on it they can say “WHAAAAAAAT? Noooooooo I wasn’t hitting on you, pshhh, ego much?” But we can ALWAYS TELL.

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Okay, maybe my social skills are not that great, I can’t always tell. And I was told by men and other women a couple of times that I’m flirting, apparently. I’m just talking normally, so maybe that’s why I’m not able to suss out when a man is trying to fish for a date. :)

        1. Koala dreams*

          Sometimes it’s good to be a bit oblivious to these things. There’s a freedom in not watching out for flirting at every moment. Of course, it’s only good until you end up on that awkward coffee where you expect professionality and the man expects a date, so better keep a few excuses in your back pocket (and remember that you can leave at any time, even if the other person gets “disappointed” or “don’t understand” why you want to leave so soon).

        2. Arts Akimbo*

          Ugh, it’s the WORST when people think you’re flirting when just being friendly. I used to be an arm-toucher. Boy do people take that the wrong way! I had to un-learn that behavior.

          So yeah, I amend my earlier comment to say that we are often confused about social cues especially in our younger decades. Then the scales and illusions slowly fall from our eyes, ground off by the hard stone of bitter experience, LOL. I laugh lest I cry.

  45. Bend & Snap*

    I met a guy at a networking event, we talked shop and how we might work together. Arranged breakfast and when I got there, I found out he thought it was a date. A) I was married and B) we never talked about anything but work. WTFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF

    Honestly I think men need a lot of education and increased awareness that networking does not equal dates. I still get hit on via LinkedIn all the time by total strangers.

    Dudes, please don’t go into professional situations with anything but professionalism.

    1. Lizzo*

      Men need education about a lot of things, including the idea of “no means no”. No does not mean “maybe” or “not yet”. Ugh.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        It really needs to be more than ‘no means no’. Men really need to internalize the idea that there are some situations where they should not ask (networking mtgs; elevators; lonely car parks…).

        It’s hard because we’ve got forty years of ‘met my spouse at work’ to push back against, but it really needs to happen.

        1. Lizzo*

          So we’re asking men to be empathetic? And self-aware? And make it “not all about them” sometimes?

          I would also like to have a unicorn who sings, tap dances, makes me dinner and cleans up afterwards.

          Joking aside, I agree with you, but I am also trying to be realistic about my expectations.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            I am working *very hard* to drill this into my son’s head, as is my husband. Mr. Jules delivered the best ‘it’s not about you’ a few weeks ago re: a BLM issue.

            On the unicorn front: Mr. Jules sings and is a better cook than I am, but our agreed distribution of labor has the kid and me cleaning up, and me doing the tap dancing. (I took several years of ballet / tap and will occasionally pull something out to entertain the kid, but Mr. Jules thinks tap is the most boring dance ever, despite Gregory Hines)

            The times really are changing: in my liberal bubble of 30 – 50 yos, in the hetero relationships about 40% of the men are the primary cooks. I don’t know any men in the social group who can’t at least put together spaghetti, including my tween son who’s the oldest of the next gen.

            1. Lizzo*

              THANK YOU for the work you and your husband are doing to make sure your son “gets it”. On the subject of that unicorn, men who cook are great! (I’m married to one!) Men who are willing to share the emotional labor of the household are…much harder to find.

              I have much more to say, but it will take us way off topic, so I’ll just say it again: THANK YOU.

  46. Blisskrieg*

    This is all helpful to see, as I’ve just joined a diversity and inclusion council at my company. I am a white woman, so I get the gender difficulties associated with networking and I can only imagine that being compounded if your profession is not racially diverse. I don’t have any answers, but I am eager to learn from this thread.

  47. BeeBoo*

    Reading all these comments makes me so sad/angry/want to scream at the world that its not just happening to the LW and me; but to so many women in the workforce. It’s NOT ok.

    While I don’t have an answer on how to solver it overall– I found it helps to be extremely picky with which networking events I go to. For example, my local chamber of commerce hosts monthly breakfasts, lunches, and ofter work networking happy hours. I have the best luck with actual networking staying professional at the breakfasts (which tend to be older people higher up in their careers, although that doesn’t describe me as an early 30 woman), and never go to the happy hours (I went once and was so uncomfortable I left after 20 minutes). I also joined a BRN (Business referral network) through my chamber of commerce. We are about 20 people who meet weekly once a week, and that’s really helped since its the same people every week, and they are able to connect me to those in their network who are actually looking for business, not dates. I stopped doing any “young professional” networking events, since those always resulted in guys just looking for dates (even when I was the staff person putting them on!).

    1. CynicallySweet7*

      Yeah I have to say the number of people here talking about scenerios that are eerily familiar is really enraging

  48. No Magic Bullet*

    No great advice here either. All my life I have been “one of the guys” and that has helped tremendously with interacting with men in professional settings as well. I don’t play into “male” and “female” stereotypes and have running jokes with male co-workers about how I could take them down in arm-wrestling. On the flip-side, I am getting feedback (from men) that any assertive woman inevitably does about having to be “softer” and “less authoritative”.

    It all sucks, but as far as any hints at dates or other inappropriate comments – I deflect, pretend not to catch them or make them into a joke. Anything other than a direct “no” kind of works. At that point, of course, the whole idea of “networking” with that person is tainted, but at least it does not end awkwardly where I can never talk to them again.

    1. Not So Little My*

      Interesting. Sometimes I wonder if the reason I didn’t get as much of this behavior from men when I was younger is because I did not dress “feminine” and may have presented some autism-spectrum-like traits in my communication style (being very direct and assertive). Of course, now that I’m fat and fiftysomething, I’m mostly out of the woods as far as being a creep magnet.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I consciously styled myself in masculine clothes (pants, suit jackets, even vests for a few years) and using a very direct style of communication. I’m also a very tall, sturdy woman, and I never ever ever dated a co-worker. Being ‘one of the boys’ helped, but didn’t eliminate getting hit on at work / by co-workers. It didn’t really slow down until I gained weight after I had a kid.

      2. The OP*

        I’m also very direct, and work-focused, but… here we are!
        Also, the whole aging out thing doesn’t seem to work for Black women, from what I can tell. My mother is in her 60s, and dealt with men being wild at work up until her recent retirement.

  49. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    As a man, I apologize for all of the jerks out there….

    I hope I was not that bad when I was young but I admit I probably was. This was in the days before Social Media but I know that I would have asked a couple of coworkers out if they were available.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        … and “hit on” is a bad choice of words, flirt is a better word. In all honestly, I have never even asked anyone out that I worked with.

    1. nnn*

      Do you have any insight into what those coworkers could have done to either pre-empt your inclination to hit on them, or to spot in advance that you would have hit on them so they can avoid trying to network with you?

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Regretfully, no.

        I didn’t flirt with anyone once I found out that they were involved with someone. So for in-person as others have said, wear a fake wedding band or at the very least put up pictures of you with male relatives arm in arm or something and just don’t let them know that it is a relative…

        As far as for sites such as LinkedIn, maybe not putting your picture (or put a very unflattering picture). Don’t connect with anyone you don’t know (or if you really want to) ask a mutual friend what that person is like before connecting with them.

        1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

          Another thought for in-person is to be “super professional”. Don’t ask about their personal life. Stick to work questions. Avoid even small-talk. It is a shame that you can’t be friends with your male co-workers or that you may earn a reputation as a “b**ch” but it my be necessary.

          1. pancakes*

            It’s very hard to network with anyone without making small talk, though! I suppose it can be a fine approach for trying to avoid known creeps in one’s own workplace, but for mingling at a conference or getting to know a client better or whatnot that approach would put women at a big disadvantage.

        2. FloraP*

          But…why the assumption that if a woman wasn’t ‘owned’ by another man, then she was up for grabs, regardless of her own preferences?

          Why should woman have to fake that they are a possession in order to simply be allowed to work?

          And, seriously, I should not have to hunt down a picture where I look less like myself so that I’m treated as an equal and a professional. There shouldn’t be an entirely different set of rules for women at work and in professional settings so that they can be ‘allowed’ to just do their work without dodging advances from men who refuse to think that women exist as independent beings.

          1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

            I agree with you 100%. nnn asked me if I had any suggestions on how to prevent men from hitting on women. I was just throwing out suggestions. Just because I made suggestions does not mean that I don’t think that they should not be necessary.

            Also, I did not say “owned”. I would never consider that I “own” my wife. The pictures were only an indication that someone was involved with someone else and therefore unavailable. Yes, I could have suggested that she have pictures of her with other women but I would think those would be less of a deterrent. Not that I agree that it the way it should be but that is the way society is today. Maybe one day, it may be different.

            I would also never say that I woman is “owned” by another woman or an man by another man even if they were in a romantic relationship.

            1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

              To clarify above statement:
              “Just because I made suggestions does not mean that I don’t think that they should not be necessary.” There are too many negatives in this sentence for it to be clear so I want to clarify what I meant.

              By that I agree with you that women should not have to go to such measures.

            2. FloraP*

              I would argue that, while you didn’t use the term ‘own’, by saying that your younger-self refrained from flirting with coworker once you found out they were involved with someone, you were defining the level of acceptability not on the setting or on any indication from her, but on her relationship status. You were determining whether it was acceptable to flirt not based on the fact that the woman was at work and may not want to deal with being hit on, but her-in-relation-to-another-man.

              It’s the idea that a picture or ring would indicate whether she was “available”.

              Even if she is “available”, that doesn’t mean that whatever man takes a fancy to her can claim the right to flirt simply because she doesn’t happen to be in another guy’s cart.

              You are getting the push back because you are (as far as I have seen) the only man brave enough to admit they have done this. So, while I’m directing my comments in response to you, it is not personal, but a generalized rage at how women are sometimes perceived and treated at work.
              You were responding to a question about what would have prevented you from treating women like you did or how a woman would know to avoid your flirting, but really men need to stop assuming that women in their presence are either ‘available-if-I-want-them’ or ‘unavailable-because-claimed-by-someone-else’.

              1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                So are you saying that people can’t flirt at work and therefore date someone they work with?

                I am not going to flirt with someone who is in a relationship. I just don’t do that. Maybe some men do but I don’t.

                Are you saying that it is up to the woman to initiate flirting?

                1. FloraP*

                  I believe the entire point of this post is that for a man to assume a woman wants to be hit on because she shows up at work or a networking event is really presumptive and entitled behavior.

                  How about not just checking whether or not she’s in a relationship but also checking whether or not the flirtation is actually welcome? Or maybe be radical and treat women as professional colleagues?

                  People certainly do find partners and spouses at work, its often a concentrated group of people with similar interests. Work is also a place where women should be seen as capable professionals not just dating opportunities.

                2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                  I guess my question is how do you find out if the flirtation is welcome without flirting? Maybe we have a different definition of flirting?

                3. The OP*

                  It would be nice if cishet men waited for a green light of some sort before approaching. IME, they just bulldoze their way in, regardless of overt signs that a woman is uninterested.

                  And by “overt,” I mean I’m holding hands with a woman, we’re walking our dogs, the woman I’m with is wearing Birkenstocks, and I have a chunk of my head shaved.

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Honestly, given how overwhelmingly often it’s unwelcome, men should just assume women in professional settings aren’t up for being hit on, unless the woman clearly and directly indicates otherwise.

                5. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                  First, what would a “green light” look like?

                  Second, WOW! How dense can someone people be? Men who have seen you (or a picture) holding hands with a woman, walking dogs, she has Birkenstocks and part of your head is shaved and they still hit on you? These guys are clueless or arrogant as hell in thinking that you would still be interested in them!

                  Yea, none of the suggestions that anyone made would be helpful in this case. Either they are jerks or totally clueless or both. Sorry you had to go through that. Heck, in this case, I don’t think even telling them you were not interested would help.

              2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                Alison, what would clearly and directly look like?

                Also, would it also work the other way? I know it isn’t as common and probably not as unwanted but would a man have a right to not be hit-on/flirted with by a woman or by another man or a woman by a woman?

                1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                  My apologies for the last paragraph. I hit post without thinking it through. It was insensitive of me.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Clearly and directly: says “would you like to go on a date?” or “would you like to have dinner — socially, not to talk business?”

                  If men genuinely aren’t sure when a woman is expressing interest, they can default to not hitting on her. It’s really not a huge sacrifice when it’s in exchange for helping women not be harassed in professional spaces, right? (And if she is devastated by this, she can let you know.)

                3. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                  Alison, thank you for being so specific.

                  I still disagree with you that the woman has to ask the man out and that a man cannot ask a woman he works with out. However, not ever being in a position where I was unwantingly asked out/flirted with/hit-on while at work, I must admit that I am not an expert on the matter.

                4. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                  Alison, I fully understand what you are saying.

                  Just because I do not believe that something is right does not make it justifiable. In other words, men should not have to not wait for the woman to ask them out but given the circumstances, it is necessary and justifiable. In other words, in an ideal world, this would not be the case but we do not live in an ideal world.

        3. Lizzo*

          I’d like to push back on the “not putting your picture (or put a very unflattering picture)”. Not having a high-quality, professional photo on LinkedIn puts you at a significant disadvantage when job searching. Why should I–or any woman–put myself at a disadvantage professionally, when the real problem here is men who don’t understand boundaries and/or can’t “keep it in their pants” in a professional setting? Don’t ask women to do the emotional labor here.

          1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

            I did not realize that not having a picture in LinkedIn would put someone at a disadvantage while job searching. It should not. With few exceptions, a person should be hired regardless of what they look like.

            Yes, I agree that the effort should not be on the women. However, again as I stated before, nnn asked for suggestions. I was just giving suggestions.

          2. juliebulie*

            That’s an interesting claim (no photo on LinkedIn puts you at a disadvantage). The LinkedIn people certainly would agree with you. But I wouldn’t. It is not customary in the US to provide a photo with a resume; I’m not going to put a photo on LinkedIn just because I can.

            1. Lizzo*

              It’s a claim that has been backed up by data (and it’s relevant to my line of work, which is why I looked into it a while back).

              1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

                Interesting to know. I guess I may just have to put a picture on my LinkedIn account.

                However, I still stand by my comment that it should not be relevant as a person should not be judged by what they look like. Regretfully, that is not the case.

                1. Lizzo*

                  My criteria when looking at LinkedIn profile photos and considering whether I want to hire/work with someone: do they look professional, confident, competent, and friendly?

                  Yes, it *is* possible to be all of those things in a photo regardless of your gender, race, size, sexual orientation, or other attributes.

                  Good hiring managers use the photo to assess (not judge) the candidate based on that first list of attributes.

                2. AMT*

                  More than once, you’ve commented something in this thread that would be relevant if we lived in an ideal world, but is totally irrelevant to the actual situation. For example, a few comments up, you stated that men should be able to flirt with women at work, even those who don’t express interest — and then when Alison told you why that was a bad idea, you said that while you still feel this *should* be the case, you understand that we don’t live in a world where that’s possible. Now you’re saying that while you understand that women *are* judged on their profile pictures, you don’t think they should be.

                  How are any of these comments relevant? The original letter-writer and the women commenting here were asking for advice on living in a world full of creeps, harassers, and (much more commonly) guys with unconscious biases and inadvertent sexist behavior. How does saying “this is the way people should behave in a world where none of these problems exist” help? To me, this is basically saying, “I don’t understand even the first thing about the problems that non-male people face at work, but I feel comfortable giving advice anyway.”

              2. Sandi*

                I would be curious to know if that varies based on gender and skin colour, as well as ‘attractiveness’ (which is harder to quantify). It is also shown that in male-dominated workplaces it is worse to be female and/or POC.

                Years ago I got a job where a photo was still requested on the application, although I knew the hiring manager so I didn’t include one. When I had been working there for a while, I commented on it, and one of the experienced cynical guys said that they didn’t really expect anyone to have the photo but he’d still recommend it to any unusually good-looking women as it would increase their chances. He didn’t agree with it, yet from what he had seen it was likely that that was the way it worked.

                1. Lizzo*

                  That’s a really good question, and I don’t know the answer (but I will investigate to see if the data exists). In the meantime, if a hiring manager looks at a candidate’s LinkedIn profile photo and is judgmental about it to the point that they don’t call that candidate…well, they’d probably be judgmental about the candidate when they’re in the job, too, and so I’d say the candidate has saved themselves some time by avoiding that hiring manager.

                  (Yes, I recognize that viewpoint is infused with various types of privilege.)

          3. Kat in VA*

            Yeah, all I’m seeing with that (well-intentioned but bad) advice is “Change your image, your looks, your LI profile pic, and if that fails, try to unobtrusively let men know that you’re ‘owned’ by another man and then it will stop.”

            Because obviously it’s way too much to ask for some men to just not be Creepy McCreeperstons.

            (To be clear, I’m not slamming Mr. Cajun2core personally, but it seems like the advice a lot of men give is CHANGE ALL THESE THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF instead of “Yeah, dudes gotta work on that…”)

    2. Batgirl*

      I dont see anything wrong in asking someone out if you work together but there are few people who know who do something as simple as ask a question and cheerfully accept an answer.
      The problem comes in when there’s loads of wooing without being given the opportunity to say nope, or in ‘secret dates’ that you thought were casual hangouts because, again you weren’t asked if you wanted to have a date. Or in being asked, but doing so in a really creepy way like waiting till you’re on your own in a darkening office. Or being subtly pressured with hints that they lack confidence and will fall apart if they hear the word no. One guy told the office I was quitting and moving to London with him, but didn’t have the balls to actually ask me out, so he could avoid me directly rejecting him. That plan failed him as I was more direct than I otherwise would have been. I think I was supposed to hear the rumour and believe it?

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        Thank you for saying that you do not think that there is anything wrong with asking someone out.

        Yes, regretfully some guys are very clueless and even more lack confidence. I can tell you that the guy who asks a woman out in a darkened office only did it because he wanted privacy, because he did not have the confidence to ask her out in public. While I of course can not say for sure, I would think that the “darkened office” was the first private place he could get to and that he truly did not realize the creepiness of it.

        1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

          I can’t believe the guy who said you were moving to London with him! What a jerk!

          Also, I am sure some of the “secret dates” were unintentional. I could see how when I was younger and less confident that I would have maybe asked someone out to what they thought was a “hangout” but I thought was date. Now, if the man said that there were going to be other people there and intentionally lied about that – then he is a total jerk.

          1. Batgirl*

            I think you do yourself a disservice assuming you can empathise with their intentions. I get it; I’ve tried too. They are unintentional in that they are thoughtless. But they’re intentional in that the perpetrator gets to protect their own feelings and ignore checking on others’. That’s the only intention they have which is a curious way to connect with others. I can forgive the very young quite easily, and I often still forgive men in their 30s for this stuff too easily, and then he escalates from dark office lurking (assume the best!), to telling people I was moving cities with him (Yep, same guy). Then the alarm-o-meter swings to ‘potential stalker’ – but I’m wrong again and he goes away quietly. Possibly the most exhausting part is constantly assessing and appropriately responding to intentions, until you decide; you know what? Intentions don’t matter.

  50. Another worker bee*

    OP, are there women’s groups for your field? I work in tech and thankfully there are women’s groups for my field – I live in a mid-to-large city and there are probably a couple of dozen for tech overall and a handful for my subfield. I’ve had similar results trying to network with men – all the good ones are former coworkers.

    Re: junior women. Don’t go to the extent that you get burned out, but please keep doing this. For every person above you that helps you out…think about giving it back. The more those junior women interact with women more senior to them, the less of them will drop out.

  51. Batgirl*

    I’ve really struggled with this too. The only genuine contacts I’ve made, aside from former co-workers are from partner agencies where you’d visit workplaces at the outset rather than networking events or social venues. As a reporter, I was expected to make contacts with key people in my news area and industry specialism. After introducing myself, I would then do such people a solid in terms of exposure so they would reciprocate with stories. I’ve had job offers off the back of that sort of relationship. It would typically involve visiting a workplace to see what they do, but after that I would just call them up to ask what’s new (but the goal of good PR was hanging in the wind) or even get coffee and somehow remain on a professional setting. However if I tried to gaìn contacts for me, Batgirl, rather than for the Gotham Gazette it got sleazy fast. But that was the same with co-workers. One co-worker decided notice period + cool new job meant he could buy my affections by promising me a job there too. Ick.

  52. The OP*

    Hi Everyone,

    This was my question, and I’m really appreciative of your advice, and words of encouragement. It’s also… I don’t know if “nice,” is the right word because I hate how common this behavior is. But it’s helpful to be reminded that it’s not just me!

    While I can’t respond to every comment, I am reading and chiming in as I can. Thanks so much for the support!

    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Thank you for asking this question.
      I would love an update in a month, year, decade on how you navigated this and what really worked for you.

    2. cleo*

      Good luck and it’s definitely not you.

      Not sure if anyone’s specifically mentioned LGBTQ+ networking groups yet but most are open to allies (assuming you’re not queer) and they tend to be better – there can still be issues with harassment etc but they tend to attract a lot fewer straight dudes. Lesbians who tech is the organization I’m aware of.

      1. Tau*

        I had great experiences with Lesbians Who Tech, and am sad my local group seemed to go silent even before Corona. Although I’m queer myself so can’t speak to what it’s like as an ally.

  53. Not Alexis Rose*

    With very big caveat that I am white…I’ve found that having a very short / pixie haircut has dramatically cut down on the amount of romantic attention I get from men. (I’m straight, but people have told me they stereotyped me as a lesbian based on my appearance.) This is not intentional; I’m living the gender expression I’m most comfortable with which happens to not be super feminine. I’m sure not everyone would be comfortable looking the way I do, and they shouldn’t have to. The lack of male attention has been a side benefit though.

    1. un-pleased*

      Pixies are interesting re: attention from men. I got attention from different guys with a pixie, but not fewer. The ones who seemed to like the pixie seemed more self-assured or further along in their life plans. It was a great dudebro blocker, though — probably because I also seemed more self-assured and not into their shenanigans.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        I look better with short hair. My first pixie was a magnet. There is really nothing you can reliably do deflect male attention.

      2. Not Alexis Rose*

        Interesting. Although I was single when I first got my pixie cut and saw a drastic drop-off in the amount of interest I was getting, the smaller number of men who were still interested were much closer to who I was looking for, and since then I’ve never stayed single for long (and now am married), whereas beforehand I got a lot more casual interest yet rarely ended up in a relationship. I think I just got better at projecting who I actually am, and the people who stuck around were into that.

    2. The OP*

      I change my hair a lot!
      Nothing seems to cut down on male attention: just varies the nature of it.

      I went blonde a few years ago, and that was an experience.

  54. Erelen*

    I’ve worked with all men since I was 18 (woman in IT). I’m not sure why, but I’ve never experienced any of this. Of course, I’m the average-almost-pretty shy-but-friendly assertive-if-you-mess-with-my-system type. I am also totally oblivious in the rare occasion if someone IS hitting on me. I just jump on the assumption that OF COURSE this person has zero interest in dating me and remain professionally friendly. So if for some reason a man is interested in me, he can’t beat around the bush, he either must explicitly state what he wants or give up. Don’t know if that will help at all, but may be worth a try.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Wide-eyed and clueless can help get out of an ambush date with no negative professional impact, but doesn’t help avoid them in the first place.

  55. Running & Coffee*

    Ugh, me too. Especially when I was younger and more junior in my career. But even now, in my 40s, and it feels doubly sketchy when you’re being hit on as a woman AND as a sales prospect.

  56. nonprofit writer*

    Ugh this makes me so glad that the majority of men in my professional circles are gay. There are certainly straight men, but the ones who are drawn to my field tend not to be sleazy in this way. I’m a freelancer now and all my work comes through networking–people I used to work with full-time have hired me, linked me up with others, etc etc. OP, maybe make a point of staying in touch with colleagues who leave your company, who may be able to help connect you with others? Good luck and I am so sorry this BS is happening to you.

  57. Bobina*

    This is probably not the easiest solution, but if future development is important to you and you work in a field with big (ie more than 20,000 employees or so) employer, you could consider looking for at least one job at a company like that. They are likely to have internal employee networks and formal mentoring schemes you can use which can help you establish a good network that can last you quite a while. In my previous company – internal networking with various employees was also very much”a thing”. It was expected particularly for younger employees, but the good thing about this being company culture was that you knew that if you set up a networking chat with a male employee, thats all it was. And the fact that you’d be doing this in the office on company time helped cement it as a purely professional discussion. And if they did make a move, you could choose to report it to an ethics hotline/HR rep and there would most likely be consequences. But I’m also not in the US, so not sure if culture is at play here (or the fact that as Im in engineering 90% of the people I work with are old enough to be my parents/grandparents).

    But alas, I cant help you more than that because like someone else mentioned, I seem to strongly radiate “leave me alone” vibes, so men hitting on me is a rare occurrence in life. Thank goodness for small mercies!

  58. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    I’m a young-ish woman in a tech-ish field. I have One Weird Trick that has helped me connect with higher-up women a couple of times. It’s for people you already have some form of channel for: they’re members of your professional association, alumni association, or employees of the business you work for. Goes like this: 1) Pay some attention to those announcements of “Valerie Warbleworth has joined the board of the Wombat Society/will be joining the Tomatoes Inc Salad Division as a senior flavor manager/etc. [Summary of career highlights and all the glorious experience Ms. Warbleworth brings to this position.]” 2) If you see one that makes you say “ooh how fascinating! I wonder how she got from there to here! I would love to get where she is in 10 years!” drop Ms. Warbleworth an email that says something like, “Congratulations/welcome/etc. I was so interested to read about your career arc in [notification]. [Some specific thing about it that intrigued you.] I’m early in my career in Flavor Management/am looking to move from Pest Prevention to Flavor Management, and would love to hear more about your career and any advice you might have for a young woman in my position. Would you be willing to have coffee next week?” Sometimes they ignore it! Sometimes they have coffee with you and you get some useful info. Sometimes they have coffee with you and you end up working on a project together.

  59. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    I do NOT recommend this tactic for obvious reasons, but I’ll straight up tell you it’s effective. I was already “curvy” but I gained 40 pounds (due to a medical condition) and it was kind of miraculous. Suddenly all the “out of the blue” LinkedIn requests stopped, so did the unsolicited offers of ‘dates disguised as networking coffee’. Oddly enough, I began to be taken seriously at the office, my “friendliness’ towards male colleagues was suddenly just that, because “there’s no way the fat girl would have enough confidence to hit on us, right?” It’s incredibly sad, but also hilarious that that’s all it takes for men to lose interest.
    Again, I’m NOT endorsing unhealthy weight gain or suggesting it as feasible option for OP!!! Just sharing my experience of dealing with the same issues OP has. Please do not take weight loss/health advice from the comments section of a workplace blog!!!

    1. Amy Sly*

      Oddly enough, I began to be taken seriously at the office, my “friendliness’ towards male colleagues was suddenly just that, because “there’s no way the fat girl would have enough confidence to hit on us, right?”

      Eh, probably more like “Now that I’m no longer interested in her physically, I’m not nitpicking her every word and act looking for confirmation that she’s into me.” It’s still shallow, sure, but more the female equivalent of being “friend zoned” than the venom you suggest.

    2. BlackBelt Jones*

      You make a very good point!

      Some years ago, I got sick and was out of the office for about 2 months. I wasn’t particularly “curvy” before I became ill, and I lost somewhere around 20 lb while out. When I returned, I was shocked at the unwanted attention. I felt as though I *looked* sick. Apparently, it was somewhat “come hither”.

  60. Batgirl*

    Does anyone even find LinkedIn useful? I use it sometimes as a reference of where people are now, or to keep tabs on company changes, but for messaging and connecting it’s dire. If anyone uses that site to find me, its either a con artist or a skeeve.

    1. Hillary*

      It’s useful for keeping track of old coworkers – I’ve gotten a couple jobs through people that I’d otherwise lost touch with. I’m not very active because I don’t want to get any more sales cold calls than I already do, but I keep up with it.

      I also use it to share my employer’s press releases etc about my department because some of my contacts are very active. Seeing that one of their competitors won our award is a great motivator.

    2. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      I agree that it has not helped me one bit.

      However, I still keep it because when I have interviewed people, I do check their LinkedIn and Facebook accounts to see if we know anyone in common that I can speak to about that person. It has yet to happen. If it did, I would speak to that mutual contact with extreme caution and discretion.

      1. Lizzo*

        But it is helping you: you’re using it as a resource as part of the interview process, even if the results show you’re not connected to the person you’re interviewing. That’s still important information.

        Leveraging LinkedIn as a tool for your hiring purposes is just as valuable as using it when you’re job searching. In fact, you could probably be leveraging it more if you promote job openings via your LinkedIn network and ask your connections to refer people to you who might be a good fit.

        Also worth noting: meaningful networking usually requires that you unselfishly *give* something first, and then that generosity will eventually be repaid in some way. Consider it professional karma.

    3. PX*

      LinkedIn tends to be quite industry and region dependent. But yes, I use it for industry news, seeing what competitors are doing, I saw the job I’m about to start advertised on there, I’ve had recruiters reach out to me there and I’ve used it to find people at specific companies to ask about company culture etc when I was considering applying for a particular job. So basically all the things LinkedIn is meant to do.

    4. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      LinkedIn is mainly a job posting site for me (computer programmer). 95% of the messages I’ve received have been either a recruiter or an “sponsored” ad that feels a lot like spear fishing. Every recruiter has switched over to real email after the first 1-3 messages to see if I’m remotely interested.

      The other 5% are two former coworkers that I enjoy keeping touch with. One used to be my trusted voice to call me out if I started going crazy.

      I’m really not a fan, but in my line of work it’s too big to ignore.

    5. juliebulie*

      I don’t use it much. Last time I was job searching (~8 years ago) it was slightly useful. However, a couple of years ago, LinkedIn let me know that a Man From My Past (20 years ago and 1200 miles away) had “found” my page a half dozen times within two months. So there, LinkedIn is good for something.

    6. pancakes*

      I once got a job based on the employer doing a targeted search of profiles for local people with very particular experience, so, yes, it has been useful for me.

  61. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I hate this so much for everyone struggling. I hope that others can help you out. I unfortunately benefit from being one of very few who are not sexualized, which being on the asexual spectrum means that I’m not even mad about it [most men assume I’m a lesbian, ah that life].

    I think it’s also about empowering yourself to just full on shut them down. It’s okay to respond with “Woah, I’m not looking for anything more than networking and a business relationship, Jim.” The more you bluntly shut people down, the more they realize you’re not just playing with them. [Ick, argh, ew.] Do not worry about becoming a “bitch” because anyone who lumps you into that category was never going to help your career in the long run. If you make an enemy out of someone you put back into their place, that’s them and they would have found a way to turn on you regardless.

    1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

      Excellent suggestion as a man, I know that would definitely shut things down for me.

      1. Amy Sly*

        I’ve had a couple men (including my husband) note that they appreciated me being, and I quote, “subtle as a thrown brick.”

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is the one thing that my dense AF uncles taught me. Don’t hint, don’t tip toe, don’t try to soften it. They need the “No. Not ever. Not tomorrow. Not next week.”

          It’s the age old “So………….you’re saying there’s a chaaaaaaaaaance??” situation with a lot of people [not just dudes, women can be as bad at taking hints but lots of times as women, we’re programmed by society to be nice and tip toe and tread light. NO. Throw truth bricks.]

          And I get a lot of respect from “good ol boys” just because I don’t understand the art of being subtle. A very cute bull in this china shop!

    2. R.*

      I love this clear boundary setting! It’s consistent with what Allison has said here many times: set the boundary clearly in words, and then continue to engage in a warm (not tooo warm!) manner afterward (if you want to keep the conversation going). If they say “I’m not hitting on you; ego much?” you can say “Great! So how about that [work topic]?” and brush past it. Staying upbeat and refocusing could help his momentary pain of the “shut down.”

  62. LadyByTheLake*

    I agree that this is so gross and so common for younger women. It’s really stopped now that I’m older. What really helped when I was younger was relying less on cold outreach and much more on introductions. Guys were less likely to be skeevy if Other Professional made the intro.

  63. Ann O'Nemity*

    Expect it, and have a plan to deflect it.

    What generally works for me is to prevent it and set expectations early. Meet at the office instead of a coffeeshop, restaurant, or bar. Meet with more than one contact at once, so it’s definitely not a date. Hang out with safe allies at the really bad conferences and networking events. Mention my husband and kids if I can do it casually in the initial conversation -“Oh, you work at Microsoft? My husband used to work there. Dan O’Nemity.” If the hint isn’t taken, have some retorts at the ready, some witty comebacks and some professional brushoffs. And if it’s really bad, please consider reporting it.

  64. OrigCassandra*

    Some suggestions, OP:

    * Cultivate event buddies — people you trust that you can check in with at events. The affinity groups suggested by other commenters can be a source of event buddies. I suspect a lot of women and BIPOC in your field won’t even blink — they’ve dealt with it too and will understand what you’re asking.

    * Once you extra-special-trust your event buddies, you can arrange signals for them to interrupt a skeevy situation. (I regularly do this for professional friends and ESPECIALLY for my students and recent-graduate new professionals. “Interrupt” can mean various things, from a surreptitious call to their cell phone that they “have to take” to actually walking in on the conversation — I can afford to be “rude” in ways newer professionals, women, non-binary folks, and BIPOC can’t always!)

    * I suspect you’re already mentoring/championing folks less senior than you. They, too, are fruitful contacts and can be event buddies.

    * Can you name the behavior as it’s happening, Captain-Awkward-style? I’m asking (rather than just suggesting) this because I’m a white woman, so in this world I can get away with stuff you can’t. If you feel you can, though, returning awkward to sender via “I’m sorry, are you asking me for a date?” in an incredulous tone of voice might make some of these skeezeballs slink away… and get you a reputation as someone not to skeeze at.

    * Event codes of conduct (and associated processes for handling problems) are making inroads in some fields. In mine, I can even afford to have a hard line about that: I refuse to speak at or go to an event without one. If your field isn’t so advanced, though, establishing such a code might be a longer-term goal for events/organizations you are especially invested in. Your event buddies may well help you!

    I’m furious that this is happening to you. It is not right, and doubly not right that you have to work around it instead of the skeezeballs getting bounced on their skeezy butts.

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I guess I’ll add one thing: I seem to be particularly valuable as an event buddy because I am middle-aged, Quite Lorge, and utterly horsefaced. Put together, that typically adds up to very effective Skeezeball Repellent.

      Even if your actual event buddies aren’t horsefaced Mack trucks like me, locating likely skeezeball repellents at an event you’re attending might offer you a haven-finding strategy if you’re getting skeezeballed. Stroll over and join a conversation with a skeezeball-repellent person in it!

  65. Snorzilla*

    Someone mentioned professional societies, which are great, and I would add that there are a number of women-focused professional societies. I have a science background, and would recommend Women In Bio, Association for Women in Science, and Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association to name a few. I’m sure there are other professional societies for women in other fields too.

  66. Delta Delta*

    I like the advice of networking with women. Women will be able to help create a good, strong network. From there those women who you trust will be able to help network with men who are also trustworthy. As you become more and more of a star in your field (and you will, because obviously) your network will naturally grow.

    Here’s an additional thought. I am also a professional woman, and am likely a little older than OP. I went through some of this, as well. I decided that as I matured in my career I would make sure to reach out to mentor younger people in my field – especially young men. I wanted to reinforce for some young male professionals the importance of the work women do in our field, and that they can look to lots of different kinds of professional mentors and role models.

  67. Mimi*

    Alternatively, just gain 80 pounds and then you can become completely invisible to 90% of men :-/ (ask me how I know this works)

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      I have PCOS. I’ve always been the kid sister. One dude even asked me out to dinner and was *shocked* that I thought it was a date!

      This is why I have no real advice for OP on how to prevent male advances, only sympathy. And a reiteration that it is NOT HER FAULT.

    2. juliebulie*

      With big weight gain, I can’t say I’ve become invisible to men as a person, but I have become invisible to men as a woman.

      Sigh. I just wish there was a switch so that I could turn it on and turn it off.

  68. Calanthea*

    Eurgh, OP, I’m sorry this is happening to you. As the bazillions of other posts are saying, it’s not just tyou, it’s not that you’re doing something wrong or sending out mixed messages or anything, it’s just that this is so normalised by a lot of men. I won’t share my horror stories, we all know how it goes.

    Lots of people have suggested professional associations and communities aimed at women and/or Black people and I’d agree! these are specifically set up for networking and may also set up some mentoring type schemes.

    Would you consider networking through any hobbies you have? From my past roles, I’m part of an “entrepreneurs who run” group, a “female founders network netball group” and also a women in STEM book group. I found out about my current post through a friend who I cycle with. It can be quite a low key way of building relationships and also getting some connections through people who aren’t co-workers but who you do collaborate with.

    Good luck and I hope this gets easier.

  69. Pretzelgirl*

    My city has a facebook group called “Women’s Networking Group for Anywhere City”. There are many posts asking if any is a X professional would they like to Network. Often times there already is a sub group and they do meet ups. Look into it!

  70. Dee Mentor*

    Now is the time to try again!

    I’m also a black woman, and I’ve gone from 0.5 mentors to 4 mentors in the past month. (Three white men asked me to coach them too.) As America is reckoning with systematic racism, everyone is seeking to speak with more black people. Everyone is accepting my one on one meetings and introducing me to more connections within the company!

    Many people are more eager to network, partner, mentor, coach, and learn from black people.

    When your company leaders send emails about starting up a committee to improve equity, inclusion, and diversity, contact them and volunteer for the committee AND ask that leader for a 20 minute meeting.

    Strike while the iron is hot.

    1. Dee Mentor*

      A few more ideas:
      Here are some books, follows, and groups to take a look at for more practical suggestions

      Read this book by Minda Harts, and follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter for event announcements.
      The Memo – What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table

      Find your local Anita B for networking on Twitter

      Search for networking and opportunities, such as AfroTech, on LinkedIn and Twitter

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Thank you for this, I will be putting your advice out on my professional circle, especially Anita B an dAfroTech.

      1. Dee Mentor*

        If I could figure out a way to get a connection with you (without broadcasting my LinkedIn, Twitter, contact information to this entire group), I’d offer to work with you directly.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Thank you! I’m not much in a position to be a mentor or mentee, but I know several young black female professionals and I didn’t know about these resources for them.

          Once I looked into them, it turns out my employer already has both of these dialed in (we’re on Anita B’s Leaders list), and probably my younger friends / acquaintances are ahead of me on it, but some of them work for other, smaller companies so I’ll put it out there.

    3. Sandi*

      I also feel like this is one of the situations where allies (men, white, able-bodied, or cishet, etc) can support their minority peers. “What can I do to help?!”
      “Not be a creep, link up people who can help each other, and where possible be actively supportive.”

      I’m socially awkward in large groups, yet I try to balance it out by looking for minorities who are also on their own, and at the least introducing myself. I have had some great conversations as a result! I’m not a great networker so I don’t think they benefit much from talking with me, and I still feel weird for introducing myself to someone I don’t know solely based on looks, yet it’s nice to at least meet someone new at a networking event. And I have had enough creepy men introduce themselves to me solely based on looks, so at least I’m trying to do it in mutual support, so hopefully that makes it okay?

  71. misspiggy*

    I’m in a relatively female-dominated field where networking is huge. Being hit on has happened with about a third of my male networking contacts. Nothing scary but… sigh.

    However, depressingly I’ve just realised that the rest of my male contacts have been keen to use my support and connections, but all except one have never offered anything in return. Most of my female connections are great at being reciprocal, keeping in touch in lots of little ways and sometimes returning favours decades down the line.

    It must be lovely going around thinking that women exist to look after you in some way.

    1. Lizzo*

      Seconding female connections being more helpful than male connections. I work in a creative field, and the male professionals I’ve met have never wanted much to do with me (I’m competition, apparently?). The females, on the other hand, are psyched to be connected and we frequently refer business to each other. Do we do similar work? Yes, but we’re confident about what we do, and we understand how each of us are different so that we can find the best fit for a potential client (which may not be the person the client contacted originally).

      What goes around comes around.

      1. Delta Delta*

        This is really key. I often find myself referring clients to other women in my field. I can size up pretty quickly if a client may not be the right fit for my style but may be able to connect that client with someone who would be a better fit. I’d rather the client have a good working relationship to achieve their goals than take the client just because it’s money to be earned. I mean, this doesn’t work in every situation but where it can work it’s often beneficial because often the person I refer the client to does the same with me in the future.

  72. deesse877*

    Fourth or fifth vote for a wedding band. I work in a field (academia) where the younger ranks skew femme and predation at conferences is common, and it worked for me.

    Well, that and also giving up on a lot of ambition.

    1. Dee Mentor*

      Attention HR professionals:

      Wearing a wedding band when you are not married is an example of not “bringing your full self to work.”

      I’m exhausted from hearing the fallacy that we can all bring our full selves to work. Here are women saying they’d rather wear a wedding band that represent themselves as attractive, single women.

  73. BridgeNerdess*

    I wish I had something that would work. I’m a white woman in engineering/construction and yeah, this happens. A lot. I’ve also had the experience when I do find a woman above me, she’s hostile in the “there’s only room for one woman and it’s gonna be me” vibe. Which really hurts women in general.

    Things I have practiced and gotten comfortable saying in the moment to men:
    -Please stop touching me.
    -I am not interested in you.
    It’s harder to say in the moment than you think! And then they act offended. Resting b*tch face is also helpful in cases like this.

    I’ve also noticed when I go to conference, I have a disproportionate number of women and minorities that want to talk (after a presentation, for example), which I think indicates this is a huge problem for many people. White men aren’t interested, which is fine. I like to say “Be the mentor you wish you had” so when I have people approach me, I always try to be present and available.

    1. Gazebo Slayer*

      Ah, the queen bee mentality and the phenomenon of “pulling the ladder up behind you.” Such gross behavior.

  74. DrSusanCalvin*

    This is not an ideal solution (an ideal solution would include not having to deal with this dynamic at all), but one thing I have found works is leaning into the “daughter” role, which can take the wind out of the “romantic interest” role. My work environment is about 75% male and generally my supervisors and peers are 15-20 years older than I am. I have gotten the “skeevy” vibe from some, but have found the “aw shucks I am just a kid who wants to learn from you” really blunts that. Plus, it has the added bonus of them wanting to help, because they see me like they see their own daughters/kids. Once I get through the intro phase, I also have been very blunt about my feminism/hostility to sexism and bias, which I think created some healthy fear about crossing any lines.

    I second what a lot of the comments are saying, too, which is – find a few professional women contacts. It doesn’t have to be your exclusive network – nor should it be! – but those women can often point you to men that they have found they can work with, are willing to help women, etc., as well as other women they know. Because there are fewer women out there, it sometimes felt to me like some women were too high up for me to contact directly or weren’t close enough to my field. But having a few connections with women who were closer helped me get those introductions and I have found other women in my general field really want to help women advance and are willing to mentor outside of their immediate field.

    1. Lucia*

      Unfortunately, being seen by senior people as a “daughter” means that they won’t give you a good professional recommendation because they see you as “poor little girl” and not a talented and skilled colleague. This happened to me, and it’s a trap.

  75. Ms. Marple*

    ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh ugh, why do people assume every interaction is a potential romantic opportunity?! I’ve had the same experience – one guy even told me that he WASN’T looking for a date! I responded that I wasn’t either, fortunately for both of us. He tried to walk it back, but nope.

    This happens all the time, there is not often a lot of reciprocity when networking DOES happen, and men make me so tired sometimes.

    1. Batgirl*

      You’ve only heard the “What I don’t even like you, you ego maniac” walk back from ONE guy? I thought that line was printed out and handed round on index cards. What town and field is this so I can move? I shut down one guy who was trying to hold my hand at a mixer, then sending me late night facebook messsages about missing me (We barely knew each other) and yet he still thought that line was perfectly usable when he finally took me seriously.

  76. Btaylor*

    Sorry this happened. We should hang out sometime.
    Kidding. Sorry we men are a pain. A lot of us can be dense. Just ignore them and find better groups. Also, networking doesn’t work as good as you might think.

  77. Juniantara*

    This is a really minor trick, but it can sometimes help, in the initial meeting phase, saying something like “I’m so glad I met you and you’re so cool. Its so nice being able to just talk professionally without having to worry that the person might be angling for a date! Isn’t that so obnoxious?”
    It doesn’t solve the problem but it does lay out really clearly where you stand and puts the social pressure back on them to be “cool” and not ask you out, and it may scare away anyone just angling for dates.

  78. phdontdothat*

    I’m also young in a male dominated industry, but I’m white so my experience with this will be different. Most of my networking happens at conferences, so that’s the scenario I’m thinking about. In case it’s helpful, I tend to approach these in one of two ways. If someone is being extra creepy I just write off the possibility. I’ll probably mention the interaction to other junior women and some male colleagues I trust.

    If they’re being just a little too friendly I ignore the awkwardness and propose something I’m comfortable with. So if someone wants to get drinks alone after the conference dinner (which sometimes is fine! But sometimes my spidey sense will kick in) I just propose something I feel better about. Like “I wish I could, but I want to be fresh tomorrow- there are some great morning sessions. Want to meet at the coffee break?” Then when we do meet it’ll be day and more crowded so the chances of things going off the rails is less.

    It sucks that you have to think about all this. Good luck!

  79. Hillary*

    The good news is them hitting on me stopped when manager entered my title, which was also around age 35. None of my contacts are interested in alienating someone who can pull business or stop them from getting a job, which is just another indication that they know what they’re doing. It was already rare because I project scary vibes, apparently. There are some tricks in your posture and tone of voice that can help this. When I was younger I mostly went to events that I knew at least two people I trusted were also attending. I’ve never been afraid to be rude, and I knew they’d have my back if necessary.

    One thing that helps online – my LinkedIn picture is very innocuous. It’s a neck up head shot, and the only skin that shows is on my face because I was wearing a rain jacket and a scarf.

    I think some of it is worse because there are women who use LinkedIn for dating, or maybe they’re using their appearance to help their sales. I’m in a male dominated industry, I wish it surprised me how many linkedin requests I get from women with cleavage shot photos. One gal even included her picture in a cold-call pitch to our VP.

    1. The OP*

      *lolsob* I’m 30-something and in management.
      My LinkedIn photo is me, in a blue blazer.

  80. Malarkey01*

    One thing that helped me when I was younger- and that I now do on the other side as a mentor is to name it. I worked in a male dominated industry and after struggling awhile sent an email to 3 somewhat senior women in my company (the only 3 senior women at the time) and just said something like looking for help as a young woman in this field I’m struggling to find a network or mentor that understands the gender (you could also add race here if appropriate) dynamics in our field without people think I’m interested in a romantic connection. Is there any chance you’d have any advice based on your time in our industry or company?

    As soon as I bluntly pointed out the gender problem all 3 quickly responded and set up times to meet, connected me to not skeevy male colleagues (and did it in a way to make clear they were business connections) and 2 offered to mentor me. I feel like many (maybe most) people who have been on the other side of a gap feel a kinship to a younger colleague expressing the same and when directly asked for help go overboard in a positive way.

    Also-men knock it off.

  81. Cthulhu's Librarian*

    So, as a heterosexual presenting male who lives in a very deep closet with many compartments, I’ll offer one point of advice that jumps out to me, while, admittedly never having lived the woman’s side of this equation. It’s just an observation, based on things women have said to me, or other talking with men I know, that made it clear she wanted to have a professional conversation, and nothing else.

    I’ll preface this by saying this probably won’t work with all men (or maybe even most). Some men are just so desperately convinced of their own virility/desirability that a woman saying “Hi” is going to read as “she wants to bang” to them. There’s no reasoning with those – put them into your code ID:10T file and walk away.

    Be clear about the goals you have for the conversation from the outset, and make those goals about you.
    Good Example- “I want to talk with you about (my career goals/project X). Can we set up a time to do that?”
    Bad Example- “I want to know more about how you got to where you are. Can we get coffee?”
    It’s stupid, but being clear that you want to talk about yourself, not about him, can be pretty important. Asking to talk about him is an indicator of interest, and the last thing you want to do is indicate any interest (because he has a vested interest in misinterpreting it to be more than just professional).

    Also, avoid doing it over dinner or drinks. Both of those tend to be times when alcohol is acceptable, and too many sleazy bastards believe that gives them a license to try and get lucky. Stick to breakfast, coffee, or lunch – all options where alcohol is increasingly becoming verboten.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      No, I agree with these things, and these are the exact tactics I use when strictly networking versus going to networking events with the intention of meeting a guy for a date. It works more often than not.

  82. Employment Lawyer*

    The unfortunate reality is that folks spend a lot of their waking life at work, and a huge # of people meet their spouses/partners/dates in a manner which is at least vaguely connected to their job. So there isn’t much you can do to prevent people from being attracted to you and wishing you liked them too. And ironically, the networking types you want are often going to find you even more attractive because they have more commonality with you, and don’t have any of the “my girlfriend works on my floor” issues.

    So in all likelihood you’ll just have to use the standards, like everyone else* does:

    -If possible, use an intermediary for the intro, who can make it clearer that this is only about work and not personal;
    -Be unshirking in your dedication to professional topics and equally unshirking in your avoidance of personal ones, even when it feels impolite;
    -Pick meeting spots like “lunch in the courthouse cafeteria on a Tuesday” and not “drinks at the local bar on a Friday”;
    -Schedule all contact with the word “networking” and/or “work discussion”, i.e. “meet in the courthouse cafeteria to talk about work” and not “meet in the bar at 6 to chat“, and avoid the phrase “get to know each other” at all times;
    -contact them only during work hours; give them only your work phone; if possible schedule all contacts during work hours using work email;
    -avoid emojis and use professional language;
    -don’t smile too much or be too friendly, especially at first;
    -no touching beyond a single, crisp, professional, one-hand shake.

    It’s not perfect but it will help.

    *This applies to some guys, too. I’m not denying that lots of men hit on women–they do, and it can easily be a serious problem–but the also-unfortunate outcome for disinterested men is that it’s incredibly hard to start a new professional relationship with a woman without them thinking you’re trying to pick them up. So oddly enough, folks like me know all of the flip sides of the above list, and we are well-practiced at bringing up “wife, kids, happily married” within the first 20 seconds of talking to women, not laughing too much, suggesting said courthouse lunchrooms at 2:00 PM, etc. This is mostly to avoid them thinking WE are trying to pick them up, men obviously don’t get hit on nearly as much as women do.

    1. Delta Delta*

      And now we’re not even allowed to shake hands anymore, which eliminates ALL touching. Yay virus!

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I am a white woman in her mid-40s who hasn’t had this problem. I’m fairly certain that it is because my personality is stand-offish and vaguely unfriendly. I personally think I am somewhere close to the autism spectrum so I’m pretty clueless about hints and take everything at face-value. I’m not going to be particularity friendly (much less flirty) to new people I meet. This is not actually helpful to my career because while I have rarely been hit on by anyone from work or while networking, I also have trouble forming networking/mentoring relationships and I believe that negatively impacted my career progression.

      But I think this list from Employment Lawyer is pretty good way to go. Keep it professional.

      But who knows, I’m stereotypically not feminine in dress, body language, and manner so maybe most guys just weren’t interested. Or I was so standoffish, they didn’t feel they had a chance at a date. This problem seems to come about from men assuming any woman being friendly towards them is interested in dating them and is not just friendly to every new person she meets.

  83. Shaboygan*

    If you have female professional contacts, maybe reach out to them and explain your problem. Some of them may have men in their network who aren’t like this and they can introduce you.

    Many years ago I mentored a young lady at a previous job. She still sometimes sends other women in our industry my way if she thinks I could help. It is mutually beneficial, as they get a “pre-vetted” male contact and I get a diverse network of peers who can keep me grounded in a very white-male-dominated industry.

  84. lorij*

    Most chambers if commerce have programs for young professionals. These include mixers and the opportunity to connect with mentors. In Sacramento it’s called Metro Edge. Also, see if there is an association for your profession or university that will give you opportunities as well.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I’m a member of my chamber’s YP group, and it has always been 100% professional. They bring together a wide array of industries too, which is nice.

  85. PX*

    I’m not sure where you’re located, but you could try checking out BYP (Black Young Professionals) network. It skews to the UK as that’s where it was set up, but apparently there is some presence in the US and if not, you could maybe find a virtual mentor.

  86. drpuma*

    I am just curious – when you say “networking events,” do you mean things that are advertised as “Networking For Young Professionals!” or events that are more like “Technical Lecture With Networking Time After.” I’m a young-ish white lady and I’ve noticed that generic “networking!” events are rarely fruitful. I’ve had much better luck at events that are themed around a specific interest or group.

    1. Lurking Manager*

      100% agree. I have found that events that are really specific to my industry niche are valuable, but anything generic “young professionals” is a waste of time.
      Also, this might be super specific to my area and community, but in my area, events billed for “young professionals” code for singles events. Which raises the creepiness and aggressive behavior factor enormously without providing any value from a professional networking perspective.

  87. charo*

    Removed. We’re not going to blame women for having observable breasts. – Alison

    1. Jane*

      Dude, have you ever tried to find shirts that don’t show cleavage as a large breasted woman? Keep in mind turtlenecks are provocative too if you have large breasts.

      I managed it in two ways: 1) $100 or more per shirt, with a modesty panel underneath, and still occasionally flashed cleavage by accident. I was really good at it, but I spent a lot of money and a lot of energy to achieve “modest”, professional clothes with a non-cooperative body


      2) The sort of surgery that resulted in 3 linear feet of scars (and that I am thrilled with, but that’s neither here nor there).

      I mean, I got surgery for the back pain, not the office clothes issue, but the whole coworkers and randos no longer stare at my chest thing is a nice bonus.

      TLDR: you’re victim blaming. Knock it off.

    2. FaintlyMacabre*

      Nope! Cleavage is a red herring. That is not the issue, at all. If you think that a woman having a body is an invitation for you to behave inappropriately, then you are the problem.

    3. Not A Manager*

      Duuuude. Breasts are body parts. Your co-workers have bodies. “Slight cleavage” is just a woman wearing clothing. Cut it out.

      And don’t tell women who are being harassed or treated inappropriately that “obviously you can change something.” Why don’t you change something?

    4. Nanani*

      People’s bodies are not an invitation to be gross.
      Breasts exist. We can’t leave them at home.
      Your boner is your problem, not ours.

      Grow up and be professional in how you treat others.

    5. Vina*

      Or, you know, then men could just knock it off.

      Yet again, women are made responsible for men’s behavior.

      No. Just no.

      I should be able to walk in a room with my cleavage in full view and not have to endure men making unwanted advances.

      You know i’ve never had a lesbian or bisexual women hit on me in a professional context in a way that made me uncomfortable. I’ve had dozens of men do it. The attraction is the same, yet the behavior is different. I wonder why that is? Could it have something to do with relative privilege?

      I bet men who argue this would hate it if gay men hit on them at a shirtless basketball game while at a conference. Actually, I know they would cause I’ve seen this happen in the straight dudes get extremely upset. The same dude who think it’s perfectly OK for them to use the conference as a way of picking up women who they work with

      1. Gazebo Slayer*


        As a bisexual woman, I definitely appreciate breasts. Doesn’t mean I see visible cleavage as a signal for me to be a creep.

          1. Kat in VA*

            As a mostly-straight woman (with a large bust myself), I happen to also really like boobs!

            Yet somehow they don’t factor into the equation when I’m speaking/interacting with female coworkers (well endowed or otherwise).

            That’s…just not part of the office experience for me.

    6. MusicWithRocksIn*

      And there is the victim blaming. Men wouldn’t hit on these professionals if they weren’t clearly asking for it! After all, men are totally incapable of controlling themselves – boys will be boys!

      I need to go look at pictures of puppies now.

    7. Sinister Serina*

      Got it. No cleavage ever, no tight clothes ever. I guess I should just wear a burqua or not be a woman at work, right? Or just wear baggy clothes with no cleavage.
      By the way, clothes are not what gets a guy to hit on you. Watch the video of the girl wearing a baggy hoodie and jeans, clearly trying not to attract attention and listen to all the catcalls. It’s being a woman in public that does it, not what one wears, which has very little to do with it.

  88. Qwerty*

    Do you have a good relationship with any of your colleagues? Can you enlist any of them to help?

    I had the best luck with avoiding being seen as a romance option when attending networking events with some of my male work friends for the following reasons:

    1. Usually I was with 2 or more of them at a time so that I wasn’t seen as the “single girl alone” or “girl on date / having a flirtation”
    2. They kept the conversation on track so it avoided any flirtation undertones. Treating me respectfully as a work colleague resulted in newcomers being more likely to follow their lead
    3. Willingness to be my buffer. Guy trying to hit on me? Well my friend is about to start lecturing on the most boring of topics. Guy making some flirty suggestions? One of my other dude friends is going to jump on that and flirt back with him.

  89. Ash*

    I’m 100% not being facetious here. Does your industry have any events or groups for LGBTQ folks and allies in your field? This may be the way to go. Not saying there won’t be racism or sexism or unwanted flirting. But it’s kind of the same reason that a lot of straight cisgender women like going to gay bars and clubs. You can focus on what you’re there for and not on rebuffing advances.

    1. Ominous Adversary*

      This is icky for the same reason straight cisgender women flocking to LGBTQ venues is icky.

      1. cleo*

        It can be icky but it doesn’t have to be, as long as OP genuinely considers herself an ally and the networking group is explicitly open to allies and is explicitly about networking.

        I’m a queer woman and I suggested using LGBTQ networking groups elsewhere in the thread. Something like Lesbians who tech could be a useful option for OP.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yikes this wide generalization is not necessary and does more harm than good.

        Another queer woman who isn’t interested in tossing all straight cisgendered women out with the bathwater.

        There’s a big problem with some of those women acting like we’re pets but there’s a larger subset that seriously just want to hangout in a safe space, like the rest of us.

  90. Txag18*

    I’d suggest looking to see if there’s a professional organization you can join and network from. Perhaps the org has a directory where you can seek out other women in your field, build connections with them, and maybe they can help navigate male contacts? Similarly, if your school has a good alumni network, that could also be another avenue for meeting people. Is there perhaps a facebook group or some other group of black women in your field?

    I found that my field has a small but active facebook group of gay professionals that I joined to help me make connections because I wanted to avoid potentially homophobic environments and people. It was a good experience for me, and I hope you find something similar! I’m sorry you have to deal with this in the first place.

  91. Ominous Adversary*

    You’re making a mistake if you dismiss junior colleagues in networking. Some of them will advance up the ladder faster than you will. Then they will be “peers or above”. Some of them will themselves have connections to peers or to people senior to you, and you will meet them through those junior colleagues.

    In my experience, nobody will advocate for you harder than someone you helped out at a place in their career where you were helping them up.

    1. The OP*

      I don’t dismiss them at all! I actually really enjoy helping out younger colleagues. In fact, my absolute fave colleague at the moment is someone I helped train when they joined our org.

  92. HC*

    Agree with the comments about finding networks with some accountability. But it still comes down to the men, and it’s so common. I would add if you find yourself in this situation, or see a colleague doing it, CALL THEM OUT. One of my male colleagues in his early 30s has a blatant pattern of only meeting up with interested networkers who are young, attractive women right out of school. One day he was going through random LinkedIn networking requests and telling several of us about how he was only responding after looking at profile pictures and finding them “cute.” We called him out on it and made him struggle to explicitly explain himself. Not sure if it helps stop the behavior – but it’s worth clearly telling them it’s gross and predatory, letting them see the collective disgust and bewilderment of their peers, and letting them know they’re not fooling anyone.

  93. Youngin*

    I may or may not get some hate for this. But it works for me and has worked for me in the past.

    I am also a women in a male dominated field. Most of the time that men are flirting with me, its under the disguise of wanting to go on a work meeting lunch for a specific project. So, I started saying yes to the lunches if they were from someone that I thought would have good connections. Obviously once we got there they would turn it into a “do you want wine?” kind of deal and start flirting and would never be about the project. So, I kinda go along with it at first. I dont overly flirt but I act interested in their compliments , and eventually bring up needing to learn more about X, which lead to him knowing person Y and how much he would love to connect us. He shares their info, we end the lunch, I contact the person. When he eventually reaches out for date #2 I tell him I have a bf (not a lie)

  94. Roeslein*

    This is when I’m grateful for my resting b!tch face. I’m a 30-something engineer who was previously in academia. I’m told I am conventionally attractive when in a good mood, and I like to wear stuff like make-up, heels and tailored dresses (don’t @ me). I’m also an off-the-charts introvert which translates into 1) not going to many networking events and 2) coming across as cold and standoffish when I do (a relic of being badly bullied as a teenager). I generally don’t suffer fools gladly at the best of times and I’m pretty direct – I’ve been told I give off a strong “back off” vibe to those who don’t me well. The one positive outcome of this is that there is no way anything I say or do could be constructed as flirty or even approachable unless I feel very comfortable around the person. I’m told I actually have a “work voice” and accent that’s quite different from my relaxed voice, although I don’t do this on purpose. I’ve had some “interest” from a few guys over the years, but always the respectful kind, not the vulgar / “proposition” kind, and that only came out months later. I realise this does not help the OP and obviously that’s no excuse, but some men seemingly can’t tell the difference between extraversion and flirting.

  95. Chris*

    Removed. This is not okay here. Please read the other comments in this thread to understand how widespread a problem this is. – Alison

    1. TiffIf*

      To your first point: most women to some degree will encounter this type of attitude, but as Fiola pointed out above studies show that white women experience less sexual harassment than women of color. White women experience sexism, black women experience sexism compounded by racism.

      To your second point: If you are unaware than MANY MANY men take the slightest nicety as a signal that a woman is interested, please read through the thread. They will determine that a waitress in a restaurant, doing no more than smiling and giving good service in hopes of a nice tip and no different than the service a waiter would give, is into them. Please read through the strategies posted in the thread that women have used and try and say they’re giving “some signals.” Some men take “being a woman” as a “signal.”

      On the subject of more senior female colleagues–depending on the industry women in senior roles can be incredibly rare. She says she is looking for peers and senior but women in those roles appear to be limited in number. Only a certain percent of the available pool are going to have the time and inclination to network and when the women in the pool are limited to begin with there are a lot fewer to network with.

      1. Sabine the Very Mean*

        Yes, this. I smiled and waved at a colleague who I had only seen around here or there. It was a closed lip, you are my colleague so I’m going to smile as I walk by, kind of smile and wave. He followed me out to my car and asked how much I would charge him to let him sleep with me. (“How much to let me hit that thing?”) We are both highly educated professionals.

        This is only the most extreme version I have gotten of this not-uncommon behavior. Most of these stories will not be told as they are humiliating even to recall to you strangers on the internet.

  96. Some Lady*

    If there isn’t a women, BIPOC, or LGBTQ+ networking group in your industry or area, you could consider starting one. Yes, it sucks to have to do this extra labor to get the same benefits other people can get more easily. But, starting something like that could be a pretty awesome way to boost your own profile–not that you would do it for that, but it *would* be a a positive credential to those who do value DEI in your field. I would imagine that folks in other industries who have done this type of thing in your area would be happy to provide some advice in getting something off the ground, and again, that could possibly lead to other cool network expansion.

    I’d also echo the idea not to discount networking with more junior people. The best advice I got in networking was to focus on what you can do for other people. If the up and coming folks know you and sing your praises, they can recommend you to their higher-ups and reach out to you when they start getting chances to uplift others.

    Sorry you’re dealing with this. Boo to creepers.

  97. Galahad*

    Wear a ring on your left hand when you are at work or networking.

    I worked in a male dominated field. Think “Brewers Association Dinner”, or “Computer programmer awards” filled with lots of talented people (male). When I got engaged, this “misunderstanding” and dating focus went away and I still talked to just as many people, but the focus was on connections for work.

  98. What the What*

    Just exude an air of lack of availability!

    I got married young, so I’ve been married for as long as I’ve been professional, so this hasn’t been a huge issue for me.

    Since the OP has mentioned in follow up comments that she is queer, I wonder how practical it is to make sure to tell people that? Like when a guy says “Are you single/married?” you respond with “I don’t have a girlfriend right now.”

    Just put that signal out there that you aren’t looking for what they’re selling.

    That wouldn’t be helpful if the OP was straight though. I hate to say it, because I find the suggestion kind of insulting, but wearing a ring on your wedding ring finger is going to be helpful.

  99. Impska*

    What about formalizing your one to one meetings? Bring a notepad and pen and lay it in the table in front of you to signal you think this interaction might involve note taking. Even if you never write anything down, the signal is strong. If you want a stronger signal, write “Meeting with John Smith – 7/3/2020” across the top of the page.

    Keep to a schedule. If the meeting is an hour, wrap it up within an hour.

    Send a calendar invite with a description that includes networking and maybe topics to discuss.

    When you wrap up the meeting, have a canned question, like “To sum up, what do you think are the three most important things you’ve done to advance your career?” Jot those things down in the notebook.

    1. Cheerfully Polite Grey Rock*

      I really like this one. And maybe also have an ‘agenda’ in mind (or on the page), just as a list of points that you would like to discuss. This both serves as a reminder so you don’t get distracted and come out of the meeting without any information you were aiming for, and also gives you a great cue for bringing the discussion back to the professional topic at hand if it starts to get sidetracked by the other person’s not-so-professional interest in you.

  100. Mrl*

    Perhaps I am in a very different national or industry/workplace culture to the OP, but the concept of reaching out to strangers on LinkedIn in order to ‘build networking contacts’ seems, well, odd… On the rare occasion that I am approached by an unknown on LinkedIn it is invariably a contact-of-a-contact trying to sell me something. No-one has ever reached out purely to build a platonic professional networking relationship, whatever that is. If a young woman were to do so (I am a 40 year old man) I think I would presume it were a bot or some sort of spam. If it were a man, I would consider it to be at best misguided and at worst flat-out weird.

    In person networking is a little different, but even then relationships are built over time – or by serendipity. A case in point – my current social media consultant was someone I was set next to at a B2C fair several years ago. After 2 days of small talk we connected on LinkedIn then didn’t speak again for 1.5 years. Then, she started her consultancy just as I needed one – it worked out nicely. This, for me, is how networking works – it is a gradual and organic process, not a pokemon style game of walking into a room and a massing as many contacts as you can in the time allotted.

    Of course, I can’t adjudicate on the experiences of young women trying to safely navigate the shark-infested waters of horny and/or predatory men – all of that is cringey and infuriatingly sad. Guys in my position absolutely do have an obligation to do everything they can to not only stamp out the behaviour, but the culture which implicitly allows it.

  101. Erin*

    This is so annoying and frustrating! I’ve totally been there. Ugh.

    When I’m meeting with a man who seems to be taking things down a path that’s date focused, I steer it back to Subject X. If he does it again, I ask if he has kids/a wife/what their kids were for Halloween/where they are spending spring break. That usually shuts it down.

    One thing I am grateful for is the men who are very aware of sexual harassment claims/rumors of creepy behavior towards women. My ex-boss came from a company that was tarnished by a sexual harassment suit (not against him). It raised his awareness maybe a little too much….when we traveled together, and planes/trains were cramped, he would state out loud things like “I’m reaching my left arm over your right shoulder to reach X” to avoid any situations. I appreciated it, but he is the least creepy guy ever!

  102. JSPA*

    First: it’s a problem that so many men default, both in general (to many women) and in specific, to you, to the idea that it’s OK to presume that “interest from a woman on a topic” = “woman fishing for a date and open to a move.”

    Let me deplore that one, right up.

    Secondly: it’s a problem if you’re getting more than your share due to some tired old or gross new presumptions about black women being somehow different in their availability and appetites than anyone else.

    Thirdly: as people have mentioned, “hunh hunh hunh, she wants to network….with my schlong” remains common in some fields, and odious in all. Beavis and Butthead are alive, well, cleaned up, educated, and they have power.

    At the same time…

    Fourthly, I do have the sense that many of my black friends tend to lock eyes / hold a gaze just a bit longer than equally close white friends. Similarly, when it IS sexual, the “giving the look” is also proportionally longer.

    Of course, if one looks away too much, it can also be read as “flirty.”

    So the answer is, still, that people should never presume romantic intent is welcome, especially when the official reason for chatting is to discuss careers and business. If you’re being clear that the invitation for coffee or dinner is to discuss your career, and they take that towards relationships and the bedroom, it’s NOT something you’re doing wrong.

    1. Kat in VA*

      “Look too long” = flirty

      “Look away too much” = flirty

      Kinda feels like “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” that women have been slammed with forever.

      You basically did a longer version of, “Women shouldn’t be harassed, but…” with your comment.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s analogous to defensive driving. We should not HAVE TO drive defensively; there should not be people texting while driving, driving drunk, running red lights. All of those things are clearly inappropriate, and in most cases illegal. When someone’s T-boned by a texting drunk, we don’t victim blame them in the least. But we still share tips for defensive driving.

        OP asked if there’s anything they can do. The primary answer is almost certainly, “no, it’s not you, it’s the culture.” And we’ve all said exactly that. Which should make OP feel heard and supported.

        But that support still gives OP exactly zero suggestions, if she’s indeed getting even more of that BS than the other women she compares notes with.

        The question may not be only, “why does this happen to women,” but “why does it seem to happen extra often, to me.”

        I’d suggest reading Edna Ferber–who was absolutely not victim-blame-y, but who did, in her Emma Mc Chesney novels, provide a model for things women can do (that they should not have to do!) to project an unassailably no-nonsense persona as a shield, while remaining personable. She was very clear on the fact that this could not prevent a) men from presuming or b) violent attacks; but it could forestall some of the incidental importuning and ward off a significant percntage of potentially awkward moments.

        1. pancakes*

          Several commenters have posted good suggestions for OP, though, so disregarding this one bit of advice doesn’t leave here with zero suggestions at all.

          Can you not see any problems with suggesting that what works for fictional characters will work for real people the same way?

  103. gg*

    As a 35 year old white woman who’s also struggled to network with men, my advice: be more assertive with the senior women colleagues you want to meet!

    You don’t describe you experiences with women colleagues, so I hope this advice isn’t obnoxious or presumptuous. But I’ll share an observation: young white men are much more assertive than everyone else when it comes to trying to network with senior colleagues. That (along with racism and sexism, of course) leads to them getting more attention. So encourage yourself to be more outgoing than you maybe naturally are. Strike up conversations with women you see speak on a panel or who are sitting near you at a conference. Ask women colleagues for advice even if you don’t know them well.

    Keep in mind that women are socialized to be passive, so they might not seek you out for conversation even if they’re totally open to it. I’m the worst, because I’m always worried younger colleagues will think I’m hitting on them (I’m gay). It’s always amazing to read how unself-conscious straight men are about the same thing…

  104. Airkewl Pwaroe*

    So here’s my suggestion: community accountability. If someone knows he might get blowback for creepy behavior at a networking event, it’s so much less likely to happen. In practice, this means:
    1) Go to networking events where you already know someone, preferably several someones there. If you have connections in the room, you’re less likely to be harassed or otherwise treated inappropriately.
    2) Go to events with backup. Or if you hear about a networking event, email colleagues, local former classmates, or friends who might be interested and ask if they’d like to go also.
    2a) Best option is to be present with a mentor. I learned this when I noticed I never got hit on when my (highly respected, female) PhD advisor was in the room.
    3) Make friends at events, however casually, and make sure you reach out the next time you see them in person. This is standard networking anyways, and the better established you become, the more likely people will see you as “Person who does X and works at Y”, rather than “Person at this event whose most notable characteristic is being female”.
    4) If you want to network with someone in a one on one coffee or similar, try to get an introduction through a trusted friend or coworker. That lowers the odds of them trying to turn it into a date, because there’s always the chance that it could get back to their network.
    5) Network within your own company. At least there, you’ll be starting from a professional basis, and there’s always the lurking threat of HR. (If you can start something inside your company- a journal club, discussion group, etc. based on professional topics, that would be a whole new world of awesome.)

    I could also provide all the advice for not getting hit on (Be aggressively careerist in your conversation! Ignore/look baffled by all flirty comments! Wear blazers!) but I suspect you’ve got that covered, so to speak.

    I recognize that all of this is about self-protective behaviors against people who should be behaving better but, as my (working professional) mom would have put it, this is the world we live in. As the difference between her career and mine attest, progress is possible, but probably not at a rate fast enough to help you tomorrow. Let’s hope our daughters don’t have to put up with this BS.

  105. PJ*

    Just wanted to show support, and express disgust at how common this kind of behavior is, whether it’s networking in person or on social media.

    I’m a gay man and have lost count of how many women I work with have shared this complaint. I’ve seen it with my own eyes – and have called it out when I have (and have had the agency to do so).

    I don’t have any helpful suggestions, but just wanted to share my support.

  106. tired and cranky*

    How sad is it that in this day and age that all of these women have to spend so much of their time and energy just to avoid being hit on at work? Why the hell can’t men just fricking grow up already?

  107. Persephone Underground*

    So, having been lucky enough to not encounter this, I’ve been thinking about it for a bit. I’m also in a male-dominated industry, so wondered what inadvertant factors may have led to my unknowingly avoiding this phenomenon. Maybe trying some of these on purpose might help others, but I’m also including things that doesn’t apply to so it’s clear what my whole picture was: (1) I got lucky. (2) Because we’re in the same field and it wasn’t weird, I’ve actually attended some events with my husband. So hitting on me might have been awkward, even though he doesn’t actually wear a ring. (3) I have rarely networked 1:1, it’s almost always at group industry events with a specific technical focus like a “Code and Coffee” meetup. The structure of these events was also very different as an environment from anything we usually associate with dating, so the line was more clear. (4) I’m in an industry and area with a lot of Progressives who are aware of the issues, and a lot of these events still had a good number of women (say 1/4 people) and usually a woman was one of the hosts as well. (5) I’m also in an area with a good number of queer people, so generally more aware of all kinds of diversity. Plus the one mostly stranger I had a 1:1 coffee networking thing with happened to be gay, so obviously he wasn’t asking me out. So luck for that part. (6) I’m kinda oblivious, so men may have tried to float something and I totally didn’t get it and kept chattering about React vs. Vue and they gave up. (7) In social situations I sometimes mention my husband because he’s awesome and I probably talk about him too much, but occasionally as a preemptive defense mechanism just in case.

    I think #3 is probably the most useful part of the above to others. Maybe a little of #6 if you can play dumb. The situation in #3 is maybe a model to look for- recurring group events, where meeting people is secondary to the technical topic at hand, ideally in a situation as non-sexy as possible like coffee/morning events.

    I’m sorry anyone has to think about or deal with this. It sucks.

  108. I like stripes*

    Hi OP, I hope you got some great feedback here in ther comments, I read a bunch of it and saw you chime in.

    I know you’re looking for networking advice but I wanted to offer some advice that may help because it’s what I did when I encountered spaces that I felt were sexist/unfriendly/I can’t even believe I have to deal with this. I realized I couldn’t change others behaviors, and I was going to spend energy into getting support from where I could because I needed it. When I couldn’t find enough support it was lonely and tough.

    What helped me feel empowered again was actually mentoring younger professionals because it was like my chance to say hey I can teach you a lot but also don’t be a sexist asshole! “Did you see how that man talked over that woman in a meeting. He’s a nice guy, but do you know what that is? That’s sexist. And I don’t want to see you doing that to someone in a meeting.” I know there’s at least one more woman now in my field who will go to bat for working moms and she’s not a working mom. Because I pointed out countless examples of coworkers and colleagues being penalized due to working mom status vs working dad status.

    Again, I don’t know what your needs are, only you know that, and maybe you already do this and you’re specifically writing for networking at the same level and above because it’s the missing pieces. But on the off chance that this reframing would help, I thought I would offer it (with a success story).

  109. JerseyGirl*

    That sounds awful.

    Echoing all the comments about it probably being the area you’re in. I’m an unmarried, conventionally attractive extrovert from New Jersey, and this has never happened to me. Most of my professional contacts are men, and they’re all very, well, professional. The only problem I’ve encountered is the whole “South Jersey salt of the earth denigrating those uptight North Jersey suits” vs. “North Jersey sophisticates dismissing those dang South Jersey hicks” nonsense.

  110. Robin Ellacott*

    I’m sorry OP.

    I’m not sure if this will help you at all, but I wanted to reiterate that this is not on you or your behaviour. If they don’t want to see anything other than interest, they won’t. I now consider this a proven fact.

    Here’s how I fully realized this: a few years ago I was so tired of this Schrodinger’s coffee/date/meeting thing that I decided to be very, very blunt about my intentions. (This was easier for me due to the nature of my role and the fact that these are not clients who I need to like me; I know often this isn’t possible). So the next time I thought there was a good chance of a professional connection I gave him my business card and cell number and led with an open, plain statement that I wasn’t coming on to him or open to anything personal, I just was interested in continuing the professional conversation. He seemed cool with it.

    The very next morning I woke up to a slew of texts sent between 11pm and 3am, increasingly inappropriate, and ending with anger about my leading him on and not texting him to say goodnight. (??)

    This was someone I met in a context of my being the customer. I had more social and professional power than he did. I bluntly told him I wasn’t interested. I’m in my 40s and present as quite assertive. And his response was still an assumption that I was interested and anger when I didn’t respond.

    (Also, two people told me maybe I should give him a chance, which is a whole other rant).

    So while I hope you can follow some of the great suggestions in this thread re professional associations and so on, please don’t ever think it’s because you are too nice / not clear / handling it badly. A certain subset is just not going to hear anything other than “they think I’m hot.”

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