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Quid Pro Blow: Sexual Enticement To Close The Deal

August 29, 2009

Before I share with you a possibly sordid tale of sexual innuendo and manipulation, let me make clear that I am as far from prude as you can get, in both the boardroom and the bedroom. I think that many cases of sexual harassment are totally inane and the last thing I want is to work in a place where puritanical ideals and a childlike inability to stand up for yourself mean we all have to walk around like pilgrims with blinders on. It’s just stupid.

That said, the idea of any man saying to a woman, “come on Cookie, loosen up and give me a bite, that’s easier than earning a promotion the hard way,” makes me want to hurl and scream. Likewise, however, the idea of some girl engaging in salacious banter with a potential client in order to close the deal offends me just as much.

Thing is, while sexual harassment is getting easier to define – although with perhaps too wide a net – the nebulous idea of “sexual enticement” is virtually indefinable. But, as they say with art, I may not  know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.

Therein lies the rub. We all see things differently. And some things are a bit blurry in the eye of the beholder. Especially if such beholder is a guy who thinks he might get laid – those beholders have notoriously cloudy vision.

That was that was the preamble. Now the problem at hand.

Getting a startup funded is damned near impossible. Getting recurring revenue as a startup without proven metrics isn’t any easier. That said, the job of an entrepreneur is to do just that, whatever it takes.

We have all sorts of tools: PowerPoint Decks, testimonials, spreadsheets, projections, promises, promotions etc. And some of us have great tits.

I was recently hanging out with some friends of mine who are successful businessMEN who both invest in and advise startups –  NOT in Seattle in case you’re trying to figure out if you know the players here. They wanted me to meet this chick they’ve been advising and are considering investing in. Solid enough business, but something about her sent my red flags waving as if in the winds of an impending storm. Talking about it before I caught a plane home, one of the guys told me I was crazy. “There’s nothing wrong with her.”

Okay. My chick-instincts disagreed, but I couldn’t explain why.

He then proceeds to tell me a “funny” story about how this chick is leading on a potential client, the kind that could make or break her startup, and how funny it is. Quick tales of dinners involving too much wine, just her and the sale she’s trying to make. (Again, he is the gatekeeper to a make or break deal.) Hysterical chain of emails in which he’s really hitting on her hard, being very sexually forward and she’s “letting him do it.” He’s even going to fly across the country to meet her and continue these meetings, with “too much wine” explicitly stated. Yup, hysterical.

I’m not laughing.

“But, I don’t think she’d actually have sex with him, I mean, she has a boyfriend,” one of my friends tells me.

Pardon me, but what’s the difference? How is, “if you give me what I want, you may get laid,” any different than, “if you do it with me, you may get a promotion?” In my mind, they’re both gross.  The female version is no better than the male version. And before anyone declares “feminine empowerment” and “fighting fire with fire,” let me make clear that idiots with blow-torches can burn the whole thing down – in the end,  it makes no difference who had the bigger torch.

And what does that do to the rest of us who will neither “put out” nor let you think we might “put out” to close the deal?

Let’s take a quick gander at sexual harassment law. According to Dave Bowman of TTG Consultants:

“There are Federal and State laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. The common denominator among all of these laws is that a legal decision about workplace harassment is NOT based on the perception of the perpetrator, but rather on the perception of the receiver. In other words, a workplace sexual harassment case will be decided based upon how the person being harassed thinks and feels about what’s happened, NOT whether the harasser intended any harm.”

Alright, then in our scenario, the guy certainly is not feeling wronged in anyway, though he may when he does not actually get laid. (And I guess, if he does get laid, then, no harm no foul?)

But all of our radars should be going off, for several reasons.

1. We’re all a bit blinded from reality when our hormones start racing. And most of us girls learn, at about age 13,  that guys will do anything for us if they think they have a chance of “getting some.” As far as I know, they don’t outgrow it. Without the benefit of legal terms, I’m going to propose that Investing While Horny is the rough equivalent of Driving Under the Influence. Fine, but the pusher here bears some responsibility for any impending crash.

2. This is still using sex as a tool. Even if these two people end up being honky dory with how this plays out, we’ve still thrown blatant sexual manipulation in there as an acceptable business tool. And I just don’t think it’s right. Say she and I are going after the same deal, and our business offering is 100% the same. Is it, then, necessary for business that I drink, flirt and let him think that I’ll pucker up in gratitude if he gives me the deal? And hey, if he is promised sex and doesn’t get it, that’s not any more ethical in my book – it is certainly bad business to let someone think you can do something for them and then not do it.

3. Women using sex as a tool is, in some ways, even worse – and they do it all the time! Generations of women have worked damned hard to make sure that we have an even playing field (and we’re still far from there,) we really don’t need to go down this way. (Pun intended.)

Now, my friends – the guys I was with – saw nothing wrong with any of it. Which freaks me out. Their tacit approval of this behavior is only a stone’s throw away from a tacit expectation of it. Sure, we can all go out, drink, be silly, tell crude jokes – that’s a level playing field, and I can play as well as the best of them. But until all of these MEN who are making deals are sending each other salacious emails talking about drinking too much wine together and wondering what might happen after dinner, well….  You let me know when the old boys clubs include sexual innuendo, banter and promise in their “three martini lunches” and I’ll tell you how easy it is to get me drunk and that as a bad girl I just may need spanking.

But until then, this crosses the line. Sexual Enticement to close the deal is no better than Sexual Harassment in my book.  Call it what it is, and if you can’t see it, it’s not just your problem, it’s a problem for all of us.
Maybe the worst part is that I felt kind of sorry for my friends. They genuinely didn’t realize they were being played. Not so much a glass ceiling here, as Wonder Woman’s invisible lasso.  You may not even realize how you’re being held back and played, because you’re so distracted with subliminal thoughts of getting laid. Poor guys. Maybe we’re fools not to use our tools? But I think we still have to use them with integrity.
PART TWO: Interviews with experts about Sexual Enticement in the work place.
PART THREE: Research showing that men think with their…..
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