Does LinkedIn Sexism Really Exist Or Are People Just Becoming Hypersensitive?

Flirting on LinkedIn Isn’t Sexist…Or Is It?Young couple working in the office

It says a lot about society that we have reached a point where simply saying, “You’re beautiful!” or “Hey there handsome” is a sexual crime.

Years ago, people took such compliments to heart, even if they weren’t warranted.  Of course this could be because back then society was far more innocent than we are now.

These days, when someone compliments you, you have to consider a number of unsettling questions that likely wouldn’t have come up during the golden age of civility.  For instance:

  1. Am I giving this person false hope by smiling and accepting a compliment?
  2. Is this person a psychopath who’s going to stalk me, thinking I really like them?
  3. Am I going to get in trouble for dating someone at work?
  4. Is dealing with this person going to cause me drama and emotional turmoil?

Maybe two generations ago, people just knew how to bow out respectfully when their request for a date was rejected.  Maybe we had more pride back then and that stubborn persistence (introduced by the “Never Say Die Player” mentality of the new age) just wasn’t inside us.

Whatever the case, we now live in a society where it’s considered rude, dangerous and politically incorrect to flirt with someone—unless of course you do it perfectly, with perfect timing and in the perfect moment.

If you screw things up, the rejection isn’t enough.  You could also find yourself smack dab in the middle of sexual harassment claims and an anti-feminist label.

Take the workplace, for example.  It’s never appropriate to compliment someone on their looks or ask someone out, right?  Not even on business networking sites like LinkedIn, where everyone goes to smile, connect, exchange pleasantries…but of course, NEVER to flirt.

Accordingly to prevailing opinion, LinkedIn is obviously a place of business and anyone who breaks this code is a sexually harassing pig of human being, belittling women in the workplace, and setting back women’s rights 100 years.  Take the recent controversy over an attorney who complimented a woman via Linkedin, for example. Was it really sexist?

Maybe, maybe not.  Could it be that people are just becoming hypersensitive about this sort of thing?

Consider these five points that may challenge your belief that flirting on Linkedin perpetuates sexism in the workplace:

1. It’s not against the law to ask someone out from work.

Sure, many companies advise against it and some may have HR protocols to follow in the event of an office romance.  But it’s usually not against the law, especially if you’re co-workers and not in a manager-subordinate relationship.  Therefore the idea that you can NEVER compliment someone and ask them out after work, or on lunch break, is pretty much a myth.  LinkedIn is sort of like your virtual office.  As far as we know, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner hasn’t forbidden LinkedIn romances from developing.

2. Simply asking a person out is not sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment laws were put into effect to protect women (and men) who were being consistently harassed and made uncomfortable—after rejection was made abundantly clear.  It was also instituted to protect subordinates from feeling obligated to accept their boss’s proposal.  The intent behind sexual harassment laws was NEVER to turn the office into a sterile work environment, devoid of all kindness, smiles and quirky dialog.  So no, approaching someone on LinkedIn is not inherently sexist.

However, in the interest of saving face, do not publicly flirt with someone on any professional social media page, in the event that they want to use their timeline or wall for business purposes only.  A private message is the most respectable way to approach someone.

3. Asking a woman out is not anti-feminist.

No, daring to step out of “your league” and ask out a woman is NOT anti-feminist, it’s NOT rude and it’s NOT illegal.  It is a risk, yes, and if you get shot down, that’s that.  You took the risk and you failed – welcome to dating 101.

But taking the initiative is not wrong.  It’s not belittling to women.  Unless your Linkedin advances insinuate that she is unqualified in her position or that her looks or gender somehow limits or enhances her hiring / promotion potential, you shouldn’t worry about being anti-feminist.

4. Of course, some people are idiots and abuse their rights and the workplace.

Naturally, there are always some bad eggs among us who are going to use some means of coercion or aggression to get what they want.  They obviously do make everyone uncomfortable, and some of them do proceed well beyond sexual harassment, perhaps even to the point of bullying.  This is when it becomes a real, serious issue of legal sexual harassment.

LinkedIn obviously is not a managed environment and so everyone networks at their own risk.  However, LinkedIn also has protective measures you can pursue, such as blocking someone who is pestering you, or simply not connecting with someone whom you don’t know.

Women have all the tools they need to get rid of unwanted male attention in most cases, and thus there is no sexual war going on just because someone asked you out.

5. Women aren’t the only ones who are being approached.

Face it, many gay or bisexual men get together after meeting each other at work, or from a networking site like LinkedIn.  And frankly, it’s not a huge deal to most men when that does happen.  Men tend to be more open to accepting compliments from other men, even if no relationship outside of work develops.  They simply take the compliment politely, and then out of courtesy, let the other person know they are taken or simply not interested in a date.  It only becomes a problem when someone doesn’t know how to accept “No” as a final answer.

Maya Jordan, a psychotherapist and dating coach says, “The idea that LinkedIn is this super PC-place where everyone fake smiles and talks strictly business is kind of a drag.  Even at work, no one is that stuffy and if they are, they quickly become the office joke.  LinkedIn may actually be a more productive way to meet someone compatible than other social media sites, since it’s easier to find a romantic match among colleagues or acquaintances that work in the same field as you do.”

Being a jerk about this sort of thing and crying sexual harassment every time someone says something nice or tries to initiate a date, is not helping any feminist cause and takes away from legitimate feminist issues.  All it really does is alienate co-workers who will quickly learn that you have no personable side and it takes important attention off from real cases of sexual harassment and discrimination.

A simple “No, but thank you” is all that’s needed to stop the romantic talk and get back to work.  So why the fuss?

What do you think?  Let us know your thoughts on LinkedIn sexism.


Blair Nicole is a PR & Media Relations guru by profession and a writer by choice. She’s a contributor at Elite Daily, Social Media Today, Examiner and Inquisitr, among others.

She’s a full time traveling nomad and sits on the Board of Directors for 3 non-profits. Her motto is ‘kick ass, don’t kiss it.

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