Harassment in the Least Expected of Places
I’ve been working a long time. A lot longer than most people I know in my age range. Part of that was due to a strong penchant for disliking boredom and work kept me busy. When I was a kid, my mother managed a warehouse for a fulfillment company. I used to go to the office with her, get bored after linking all of her paper clips together and wander off to see what was happening on the line. And usually, the workers had no problem letting me help out. It made their shift easier and kept me occupied.
As a teen, my mother and stepfather had their own real estate business. My mother, having graduated top of her class at Grace Institute, seemed to expect that I would follow her footsteps in the business world. I learned to answer phones, draft letters and contracts, schedule appointments…the types of things that easily landed me my first job in a swanky NYC boutique investment company as part of their typing pool.
From there, I took on various administrative roles. I worked for an AIG subsidiary (not knowing they’d soon help cause a financial crisis) and a United Nations affiliate and even a company that made thermal cameras for the government (and ya know, for construction workers, which was how I justified it).
And then I fell into the pharmaceutical world. As an admin, I found that it didn’t really matter what type of company I worked for. I could take my strong organizational skills and put them to good use anywhere. I was quickly taken under the wing of someone who saw much more potential in me. So now I find myself in a supremely niche market. I am absolutely not complaining! On the one hand it means that I’m constantly being tapped for jobs while I still have one and the one time I was laid off in my career (due to a product being discontinued), I had a job lined up in three weeks.
But what it does mean is that job aggregate sites like monster.com, careerbuilder.com and indeed.com are practically useless for me. The types of roles I can step into are rarely advertised in those places. My career development is almost entirely dependent on networking. And I hate networking. At least in the traditional sense.
So when I joined LinkedIn (back in 2007, mind you), it took away all of the things I hated about networking. I no longer had to go to functions, gripping business cards in my hand and swallowing my fear. I could just connect with the people I’d worked with and get immediate access to their networks. It was a dream!
Until it wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had people that I’ve blocked from other means of contacting me (i.e. blocked their number, email addresses and FB accounts) try using LinkedIn to contact me. I don’t bother responding. I simply block them there too.
But yesterday, that changed.
I accepted a connection from someone I did not know and with whom I shared no direct connections. LinkedIn said he was a 3rd level connection. I didn’t see the harm in connecting, despite the fact that he’s in an entirely different industry and lives 1,000 miles away. I mean, you never know. He could know someone in pharma.
Except that as soon as I accepted it, I received a message that read:
Hi how are you doing today. Thanks for accepting my connection request. I know it is not very professional but I gotta say you have a very sweet smile and you are a beautiful woman. Do you always smile like that? I would love to be your friend and get to know you more, if that’s okay with you. Take care and have an amazing day.
I was appalled. And I was angry. “Wow, lighten up,” you might be thinking. “It was just a compliment.” But here’s the thing…I’ve learned the hard way that compliments almost always come with a price. Taking all of the things that I’ve accomplished down to one photograph and a paragraph about how pretty I am reduces the hard work it took to get to where I am. And I wouldn’t expect most men to understand that.
Hi, We appreciate your reporting this message and apologize for any inconvenience it has caused. LinkedIn is not intended to be a tool for sending such messages, which are inappropriate and violate our User Agreement. Please know we will investigate your case and act upon our results.
Sounds good so far, right? Keep reading…
Please keep in mind that when you establish a connection, you’re sharing your profile information, email address and network updates, so we recommend that you only share this information with people you know and trust.
Oh, thank you LinkedIn. I’ve been a member for almost eight years, but I clearly had no idea that accepting a connection request shared my personal information (/sarcasm). That isn’t the point. He didn’t email this to my personal email account. HE SENT IT THROUGH YOUR MAIL PROGRAM TO MY LINKEDIN INBOX. He used your program to send me a message that you admit violates the User Agreement.
So why am I still in an uproar? Because the way this email response was worded essentially placed the blame on me. I was wrong for accepting a request from someone that I do not know, even if they might have had a connection that somehow benefited me. This is akin to telling a sexual assault survivor that they were wrong because they wore that dress or they drank too much that night. No, wrong is wrong. And accepting an invitation to connect on what is supposed to be a professional resource does not imply that I should accept this type of behavior from another user.
Just like accepting a drink from a stranger in a bar doesn’t give him the right to assault the person he bought the drink for.
We live in a culture where it’s become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that people have a right to shroud harassment by calling it a compliment. And we live in a society where, as a woman especially, I am expected to be flattered by it.
Want to flatter me? Strike up a conversation that implies you value my contribution to it.