• Tue, Mar 13 2012

When Wooing A Client Encourages Unwanted Sexual Advances

I wanted to endear myself to Rick. I knew if I didn’t impress Chick’s clients, I’d never be invited to another dinner. I figured stroking his ego was a safe bet. Innocently, I added, “I hope I’m able to have the same kind of success you’ve had. Do you have any advice for a young person starting out in the industry? Chick’s an amazing mentor, but I’d love to get a client’s perspective.”

“Well, there are lots of ways to get to the top in this business. I guess it depends on how hard you want to work.”

Rick reached up and fondled the blue topaz pendant that dangled from a silver chain around my neck. My parents had given it to me for my twenty-first birthday. “Beautiful necklace. Beautiful girl.”

Ew. “Thank you,” I replied, nervously. He released the pendant and ran his finger lightly along my clavicle before returning his arm to his side. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach.

The above excerpt was from the book Bond Girl by Erin Duffy. It is about a young woman named Alex Garrett, right out of University of Virginia, who lands a job as an analyst at one of the biggest firms on Wall Street. It has been her life long dream to work on Wall Street but when she finally gets there she realizes it is quite different than she thought it would be. One of those realizations is that she now has to deal with unwanted sexual advances. Except unlike with her coworkers who she can put in their place if they say something sexual or offensive, she can’t do that with clients. Especially big deal clients.

Now most people would know that this is just a friendly, young woman trying to network with her boss’s client but this man has taken it the wrong way or is just choosing to take advantage of his powerful position. A few lines after this he tells her he has a hotel room at the Gansevoort and later on in the book when he becomes her client, he literally says if she sleeps with him he will make her job very easy and if she doesn’t, her life will be over.  Now, this is the worst possible scenario but do aspects of this happen in real life with clients? Is the line between wooing a client and inviting unwanted sexual advances a thin one?

Jamie Joffe is the owner of a mostly female public relations firm. She says she sees this happen all the time:

“By nature, those in our business are outgoing, amicable and tend to work very closely with clients. Because we work so closely in their everyday lives, many become friends and confidants… asking my recommendations on everything from hairdressers to dry cleaners.

Recently, we have been put in situation where the client has mistaken our gregarious nature for something else – stopping by the office unannounced, inappropriate emails and actions, passive aggressive behavior when we push back (i.e. – just stopping by an office to say hi – especially when people are working  two to three times a week is not okay). Calling at inappropriate hours, the list goes on…

Unfortunately we will probably NOT have our contract renewed, and even more unfortunately, I had heard that he was let go from his previous organization for this type of behavior – but I need to protect my employees (all of which refuse to be alone with him because he makes them so uncomfortable).

So, there you have it – we don’t treat him any differently (at least we did not in the beginning of the relationship) and it is so FRUSTRATING, because we have done a great job, and we are going to have to walk away. Many have mad recommendations to make a fuss, but I am not sure I want to take that on. (I know Gloria Steinem would not be happy.)”

According to a study done a few years ago by Harper’s Bazaar, 70% of women thought that socializing outside office hours brought them more influence at work. The survey questioned 500 professional women with top jobs in finance, newspapers and healthcare about their attitudes to their office environments. A study from the Journal of Bisexuality found that “Young women (and young men) seem more apt to use their sex appeal to form connections with superiors and advance through the chain of command.”

The author of the study, Chelse Benham, cited Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women, calling flirting “a short-term strategy in this culture. In this culture attractive means young. And you will only be conventionally attractive – that is, your flirtiness will only be considered interesting and intriguing, rather than pathetic – as long as you are still young and conventionally attractive.”

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