Flirting in the workplace: an unfair advantage or valuable asset?

Both articles from this chapter addressed the concept of women using their sexuality as a tool in the workplace.  The first article, by Ellen Pollack, addressed the fairness of women using their femininity as a tool in the workplace.  Some people thought it was fine while others viewed it as unfair.  I personally would fall on the side of thinking it is okay; at least to a point.

People use different aspects of their personality or skill set to get ahead all of the time.  If no one used their natural gifts, along with their technical ones, it would be difficult for anyone to set themselves apart.  As long as women are only using their sexuality to get a “foot in the door”, and then use their business skills to actually advance in the business, it seems totally okay.  Another example of someone using an inherent advantage that other may not naturally have would be a worker who’s first language is the same as that of a client.  If a firm is trying to create a relationship with a potential supplier in South America, an employee who speaks Spanish as a first language may be able to use their inherent skills to get a key negotiating position over another, possibly more qualified, employee.  However, that employee would then have to use their actual negotiation skills to make the deal.  If femininity is used like that, to get a talented, if under qualified employee into a position where they can perform well, then it seems okay to me.

The next article was based on a study a group of management professors from Tulane University that found that flirting in the workplace could lead to a lower amount of success.  This was based on findings that women who said they used flirtatious activities in the workplace had lower salaries and had been promoted less than women who did not use such measures.  At first glance, this seems to contradict the logic put forth in the Pollack piece.  However, looking at an anecdote from the first article may shed some light on the conclusions in the second article.  In Pollack’s article, she mentions that older women are less likely to use flirting to get ahead in the office.  She points to the conservative female dress of the 1980’s as an example of this.  It stands to reason that the more tenured employees would have been promoted more and would have higher salaries.  Is it possible that generational differences in women’s approach to office flirting skewed the results of the study.  If it was primarily younger women that admitted to any of the ten “sexual activities”, than the correlation made by the Tulane study may be meaningless.

There are two questions I found myself pondering after reading these articles.  The first: is flirting as a means to get ahead ethical?  I believe that it may be acceptable to some point, but relying on it over skill is not only dishonest but will probably not lead to any long term success.  the second question: Are women who are seen as more “flirty” not respected as much as their more conservative counterparts?  Does allowing themselves to be objectified by men lead to them being viewed more as office party favors than as productive members of the organization who just happen to be attractive and personable?  I’m less sure about this one than I am the other. It seems like it may depend on the person with which they are flirting and the culture of the company they are doing it in.  But, like so many things it is unclear.  What are your opinions on the matter? On either of the questions?


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