Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Real Reason You Weren’t Invited Along on that Consulting Trip

Last month, The Savvy Reader Book Club, read Debora L. Spar’s book Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. In an earlier post, I revealed a perfume commercial from the 70's was responsible for shaping my life’s vision. Then we discussed whether greater sexual freedom meant a loss of power for women and why women opt-out of their careers.

Today I want to tell you the real reason you weren't invited along on that consulting trip. In Wonder Women, Spar recounts a conversation she had with a senior executive who openly joked he would never take a woman on a consulting trip. 

"My wife would kill me!" (Pg. 238)

I wonder how many women were not invited to lunch, out for drinks or on overnight business trips because of what others may think. These missed opportunities result in another advancement strategy not available to women.

Spar recommends two thing that will prod the evolution along:

1. We need to get a larger critical mass of women into the organizations dealing with these tensions. The more women there are in an organization, the more openly gay men and women - the more diversity - the less potent the sexual pressures will be on everyone.

2. The senior men in any organization need to engage actively and professionally with the women around them. They need to bring them along on trips, take them to lunch, invite them for golf and to meet their wives.  If there is a hint of sexual attraction involved, so be it. Deal with it, and move on.   

In my position as accounting manager, I am almost never included in management meetings held off-site. For many years I was the only female manager at my company.  I had assumed I was required to stay back to manage the office while my boss was out, then one of my employees pointed out I should be at those meetings - all of the other departments seem to make it through the day with their manager absent. Also, by not attending these meetings I miss out on critical organizational information no one thinks to share with me not to mention the relationship building opportunities I miss out on. It is interesting to note my female predecessor was not invited to those meetings either.

I have a female friend who works in HR. In her first job she was regularly invited to lunch by her company’s CFO.  She often comments that she learned more about finance during those lunches than she ever did in the classroom. Unfortunately her co-workers spread rumors that the two of them were having an affair.

Then there is my former female co-worker who in the 80’s claimed she had been propositioned for sex while on a business trip with her boss. She refused.  Upon returning to work after the trip, working for him became so unbearable she had to leave.

Contradictory to Spar's advice, Anna Runyan in her book The Professional Woman's Guide to Managing Mensuggests:
Be aware of one-on-one meetings with the men you manage at restaurants and coffee shops. These can quickly turn into “date” types of situations.  Try to bring along another work colleague to these meetings. Try to hold the meeting in the office or where there will be a lot of people around.  If you need to leave the office, recommend breakfast or lunch meetings over happy hours and dinners.  You don’t want a business meeting to turn into an uncomfortable situation. (Pg. 38)
She then gives the following advice if a male employee makes an unwanted sexual advance:
The most important thing you can do is to catch this immediately before it turns into sexual harassment.  Try to resolve the situation right away with a conversation.  If you feel comfortable enough, you can use humor to try to keep the working relationship on a positive level and say something like, “Were you flirting with me? I hope not, I really like working with you.” If humor is not working, be clear and straightforward.  Tell him that you are not interested and your relationship needs to stay professional.  If he continues to hit on you, contact Human Resources. (Pg. 44) 

What is your experience? Are you or the women in your workplace given opportunities to network with men at lunch, on business trips or on the golf course? Were they positive or negative experiences?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on Femme Frugality and Savvy Working Gal*


  1. Holy crap, another barrier in the workplace I would never even have considered. I think I've been lucky so far in my industry and in the companies I've worked for that they're reasonably unstuffy and none of these particular things have been issues for me or any women I know. That said, at the highest levels there is definitely a lack of females and while I don't want to be up there myself I would love to see more diversity, and I really admire the few who are - I imagine it hasn't been an easy road.

    I'm definitely becoming more conscious that I may be holding myself back out of a lack of confidence and impostor syndrome. I look older than I am most of the time and I have some decent work experience behind me, and now that I'm officially mid 20s I need to get over this feeling I have of being young, being the most junior and keeping quiet, feeling I don't have much to offer. We just got a fairly new junior male at work and I'm pretty stunned by how confident and comfortable he is at voicing opinions (way more so than his female predecessor) and I definitely need to channel some of his mojo!

  2. I have gone on the business trips with male bosses in various capacities but I've also always been aware of that possible weirdness, from the get-go, so have always tried to keep a cordial, decent distance between myself and other colleagues (male or female) while traveling and where possible, getting to know their spouses. It's extra effort but I'm super cognizant that I don't want to have any trouble of the personal sort affecting my professional life. I also kept my personal life way the heck out of my professional life for years.

    I think the character of the person you're stuck with makes a big difference as well, of course, b/c the partners are likely to know whether their spouses are philanderers and I suppose they are more likely to be the ones putting the extra pressure on the untrustworthy ones.