How to Deal with Unwanted Advances as a Female Entrepreneur

If you’re a woman in the business world, you’ve almost certainly been in situations where men have made inappropriate advances. It’s just something that happens, unfortunately, and dealing with it is a pain in the neck, at best.

In the entrepreneurship world, dealing with men hitting on you when they should be conducting business is just as common and can be even tougher to deal with than in a corporate environment because you can’t expect your company to protect you (you are your company) and there is nothing illegal about someone who isn’t a boss or a coworker trying to use his position as a potential client, mentor, or partner to try to “get in your good graces.” Yet it can have a huge affect on your business if you need to pass up opportunities because of someone else’s inappropriate behavior.

I do not claim to be an expert on this in any way and I would love for other women (or men) who’ve come up with strategies to deal with this type of behavior to share below so that I can learn. I’ve just found that this behavior seems to happen way too often and is incredibly annoying and sometimes threatening, so I wanted to address how I usually deal with the situation.

My number one tip for women entrepreneurs is to just never be alone. Try your best to bring an assistant, a colleague, an employee, a business partner – whomever – with you when you’re having meetings. Usually, if a man can’t get you alone he won’t be so bold as to make suggestive statements or get handsy when there is someone else around.

I also often simply make myself look a bit less attractive than I’m able to try to discourage the behavior. Now, do not twist what I am saying. I absolutely do not think that anything a woman might wear means she “deserves it,” but sometimes it just takes less energy for me to wear loose-fitting clothes and tie my hair up than to deal with certain men coming on to me.

Another suggestion is to always wear a wedding ring – whether you’re married or not. I have a lot of friends that use this technique to stop unwanted advances while they’re at work as only the boldest of men still try to hit on a married woman. If you’re not married, just get a cheap, simple wedding band and slip it on your left ring finger before heading to meetings where you think there’s potential for some unwanted attention.

The fact that I feel I have to do a video like this is beyond annoying to me, and I know there are a number of women who will say that I am playing into the man’s game by coming up with any strategy other than being myself and putting an inappropriate man in his place if he crosses the line. That’s something that I struggle with, however, I’ve found that in the world of business, you sometimes need to sacrifice a little bit of giving someone what they deserve to maintain your reputation and professionalism. If I told off every guy that hit on me when we were supposed to be talking business, I would probably get a reputation as “that crazy, hot-headed chick” real fast.

And to all of you gentlemen out there that are not like this – and I know that you exist – please don’t get offended by this video. If you think this doesn’t happen, I’m glad that you spend your time around a group of classy guys, but it does happen and we ladies need to deal with it. So if you have any suggestions for how to fend off the creeps without looking “overly sensitive” or “bitchy,” please share your tips in the comments section below.

 

11 Replies to “How to Deal with Unwanted Advances as a Female Entrepreneur”

  1. Wear the wedding band and play them for total fools. Make them think it’s on and dump them after they do what you want with “My husband and I are reconciling” “It’s just the timing of it all” If they are going to be a creep they deserve the bad treatment.

  2. Some excellent tips Cate. It’s unfortunate these things happen but you’ve provided with some handy tips to get around it. We especially liked the wedding ring one 🙂

  3. Hi Cate,

    This is an age old problem and one that’s been around before you were born. This isn’t about being less of a person — it’s about putting your work into perspective. I have some experiences that immediately jump to mind that I’ll share with you what I did.

    1. One man was coming on strong while I was trying to focus on my business. After a few of his attempts at charming me, I turned to the family photo on his desk and said “Is that your family? I wonder how they would feel about what you are saying to me?”

    2. This statement I used many times. “I don’t understand what you are saying. The only thing that I’m here to sell is my company’s product (service).”

    3. I used the wedding ring trick too, but many times, that was even more attractive to some men.

    4. But mostly I ignored their flirting and just stayed focused on the business. Eventually everything worked out fine in the end.

    Some men may think we are the weaker sex, but that’s just one of the ways where they are underestimating women.

    1. “I don’t understand what you are saying. The only thing that I’m here to sell is my company’s product (service).” I love that.

      Thanks, Cindy, for sharing your experiences!

  4. This happens to me alllll the time too. Wedding rings do not stop a thing, neither does a conservative pant suit. I have freckles and have been told that I’m approachable, warm, and open. That doesn’t mean it’s an invitation to more. Germans understand this. That’s why I love working with them.

    This year I decided to say something to a groper’s peers after, directly telling the man to stop didn’t work. He won’t come near me now and my hope is that he will think twice before he reaches out to feel up some other woman. As a leader I could not let this behavior be acceptable in our business group.

    My Swiss banker friend had a great idea for the business social environment since we are often expected to drink with the guys. You will gain their trust faster that way, so she pays the bartender 2x the normal price of a drink to ensure that he always sends non-alcoholic “cocktails” over to her. And then she leaves when the guys have had enough to not really notice her early departure.

    I’ll be watching for more great tips. This is a consistent, pervasive, and totally unfair undercurrent that has been a part of navigating business for me for the last 15 years.

    I could go on for ages about this topic.

    1. I’m not glad to hear that you have to deal with this, but I am glad that there is a conversation about it! I have used the same tactic as your friend when it comes to the drinks…I’m a small girl and there is no way I would be able to keep up. I’ve never actually tried the wedding ring technique myself but, as I said in the video, I have a number of friends who’ve used it and thought it worked. That’s disappointing to hear that even that doesn’t stop some guys.

      It’s interesting that you say people say you’re warm, open, and approachable…my friends and I are always talking about how men seem incapable of telling the difference between someone just being a nice person and someone hitting them on. Apparently, unless we act cold and mean we’re inviting the wrong kind of attention. It’s definitely frustrating!

  5. Hi Cate,
    This is indeed an old problem. It has improved over the past 15-20 years in Europe. You also see less alcohol being served on events or after work drinks. You can’t network while under influance of alcohol.
    It shouldn’t be that woman have to dress “badly” out of fear of being harrased by some uneducated peasant whith a high ego.
    The best tip I can give is to ask a male colleague or co-worker to keep an eye out and come to the rescue. This can happen in a friendly though very clear manner. Your colleague might impose as your boyfriend if you’re harrased by a stranger to your group, or show the peasant how to behave at after work drinks by refering to business. If this doesn’t help, use the very direct way: stop it or I kick you where it hurts the most! In this case, next time you meet this person, make it clear you are waiting for an apology.
    The best way to educate these people is to respond in group. This shows teambuilding or the result of it. Keep in mind that you’re also evaluated at these events. Who’s next in line for promotion?
    Personally I dislike people who are drunk and let them know!

    The opposite happens also! It happened to me that a secretary asked me to drive her home because she was over the legal limit. Once in my car, she wasn’t over the limit and started to play with her blouse. I dropped her off at the next busstop with the words: “Pray to God I’ll be in a good mood next time I meet your boss. This is not the way to get promoted or to join my team.”

    Hope this helps.

  6. Thank you so much for posting this article Cate! Vendors used to act much more professional and less flirtatious when I was in my corporate job as I worked closely with the founders. Ever since, I started my own business – men setting up meetings to discuss business, have often left me felt like I was wasting my time! Even if I am picking their brains and consulting them from a marketing point of view, I still sense that they an attraction. Most of the times they are respectable in the meetings, as I would have never agreed to meet if I felt otherwise. But then they find you on social media and start following you and it leaves you sick to your stomach! Thank you for the tips, I will bring my gay assistant, whenever I can to meetings. Or try to steer towards video/phone conferencing.

  7. Thank you so much for posting this article Cate! Vendors used to act much more professional and less flirtatious when I was in my corporate job as I worked closely with the founders. Ever since, I started my own business – men setting up meetings to discuss business, have often left me felt like I was wasting my time! Even if I am picking their brains and consulting them from a marketing point of view, I still sense that they an attraction. Most of the times they are respectable in the meetings, as I would have never agreed to meet if I felt otherwise. But then they find you on social media and start following you and it leaves you sick to your stomach! Thank you for the tips, I will bring my gay assistant, whenever I can to meetings. Or try to steer towards video/phone conferencing.

    Cheers,
    Alpha-female-entrepreneur

    1. You’re very welcome. It sucks we have to deal with this but that’s the world we live in. I’m glad you’ve found some tricks to keep things comfortable and safe.

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