Last month, Forbes published an article and corresponding guide called “Flirting Your Way to the Corner Office: Are you ignoring one of your greatest career assets? A guide to professional flirtation” in the Forbes Woman section online. In the article, writer Jenna Goudreau debates the pros and cons of flirting in the office, quoting Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success, as the article’s primary expert.
In the article, Williams unabashedly endorses women using their feminine wiles to get ahead in the workplace. Her argument is that it works, and so it should be done—if you want to be “smart” about advancing your career. The headline given by Forbes’ editors is more sensational than the article itself; in the end, many of the tips Williams gives are about how to connect with co-workers in a genuine way. This part of the article is palatable, and could be even helpful to those looking for some pointers for networking. However, the slideshow that accompanies the article painfully reads like a dummies guide to not dressing or acting like a fool in the office (for women!).
The implicit understanding in Williams’s advice assumes that a woman’s skills and leadership aren’t enough to get ahead. In a way, she’s right—it’s not enough, but I say touching your male supervisor’s hand and giggling a lot isn’t the way to go either. What many women are lacking is the confidence and assertiveness they need to move up.
Readers’ comments on the article and this blog post on Workpolis.ca express anger that a publication as respected as Forbes would publish such as article (sort of suggesting that this advice would be somehow less atrocious in Cosmo). But, hey, let’s not forget that Forbes isn’t exactly a bastion of female power in the business world.
Finally, what really makes me want to cry about Goudreau’s piece is its the ending that warns against this type of behaviour producing unsavoury results. The article relates William’s story of an incident that happened early in her career:
She’d been in a meeting with superiors, frequently emphasizing points by touching one on the hand. Later, the group went out for dinner and drinks. When she came out of the restroom, one of the men cornered her and said, “I’ll give you something to touch.”
I cringed when I read this, and even more when I re-read the sentence that precedes this recount. “[Williams] crossed the line.”