Should local celebrities be encouraging people to find romantic partners on LinkedIn and other professional networks?

A woman uses her preferred professional networks to advance her career and not romantic prospects
A woman uses her preferred professional networks to advance her career and not romantic prospects

We know men still largely dominate in the workplace when it comes to ownership and management in a number of career fields. And one result of that can be a pervasive issue in work spaces - harassment, particularly sexual harassment.

And despite the inception and growth of movements like #MeToo, many women hardly realise justice, when it comes to reporting related cases. Harassment is normalised to such an extent that people considered to be leaders even ‘jokingly’ promote it.

This reminds me of a social media post a local celebrity recently shared, which ‘encouraged’ their followers to romantically pursue people on LinkedIn. Now LinkedIn markets itself as a social networking website for professionals and people in business to connect.

And many women are already often harassed in their LinkedIn private messages by men who ignore boundaries. It's a practice that not only happens on online professional platforms but happens in physical work environments as well.

Owethu Makhathini, the founder and CEO of Makhathini Media, says she, like many other women, face this phenomenon in her line of work.

READ MORE: Nearly all sexual harassment at work goes unreported – and those who do report often see zero benefit

“Men in general are uninterested in reading social cues and very often believe women are in their space as opposed to seeing social and professional spaces as shared. Once a man finds you attractive, it becomes an uphill battle to keep the conversation around the job at hand,” says Owethu.

“My personal experience when facilitating digital skills workshops is men tracking me down after a workshop to comment on my appearance. It is often presented as innocent, but these advances are both unwelcome and unprofessional,” she adds.

She says women are framed as a distraction that takes away from men doing the ‘real work’ and this enables discrimination from both a micro and macro level.

READ MORE: If you're a woman looking for a promotion and you're funny, studies show that you should stop cracking those jokes at work

She says: “LinkedIn is not a dating site. If anyone DMs in order to pursue romantic interests, then people are well within their rights to alert their HR or office. It shows the company in a bad light as this behaviour is highly unprofessional and borders on harassment.”

Reputable companies have sexual harassment policies that govern the place of work but often misconduct slips through the cracks and this impacts the progress of women immensely.

According to the International Labour Organisation’s report on gender equality in the workplace, violence and harassment have a detrimental impact on women’s participation in employment and the quality of their work.

The report states: “Unfair treatment, which includes abuse, harassment and discrimination, is among the top three challenges facing working women, especially young women between the ages of 15 and 29.”

READ MORE: Women are now 26% less likely to find a job than men - and get hit by motherhood penalties

This and many other forms of sexism are a daily struggle that women have to constantly manage. Narriman Richards, a life coach for women at Life Coaching with Narriman, shares a few ways women could handle such instances should they find themselves in this position.

“The struggle for most women is when the pursuer is in a position of power or has some kind of management control over her. In the interest of good relations I would suggest that she first tries to address it directly with her pursuer and state clearly her lack of interest and discomfort about the advances. If this does not deter the pursuer, the best way to deal with it would be the HR process way,” says Narriman.

READ MORE: This smart dress experiment shows how often women are harassed at night clubs and the results are alarming

She adds that this type of challenge has the potential to throw some women off their game and shift their focus. She suggests it would be wise for you engage someone who you can use as a sounding board during this time and someone who can help them to keep their own career goals in focus consciously – this could be a career coach or another professional.

She says competence in emotional intelligence and finding new ways to interact with the colleague could be useful as well.

“It is most unfortunate that we as women have to fight so much harder and do so much more in the working environment to receive the recognition that we deserve. At the root of this fight is inequality, gender discrimination and sadly our own belief system,” adds Narriman.

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