It was about a year ago that I began my transition into the Tech/VR industry, and since then I have attended more events than I can account. I have been very lucky to have been met with welcoming smiles and the willingness of industry vets to answer my never ending list of questions.
Yet, a reoccurring theme has emerged in my networking experiences that has truly become a thorn in my side. More often than I am comfortable with, the new professional connections I make cross attempt to cross the boundary between business and pleasure. Not always in the initial meet & greet, as sometimes it comes later via email or even a hint laden text message.
As I am new to this industry and attempting to learn and connect with all sectors and experience levels, I will admit I may come off as aggressively friendly. Yet, friendly does not necessarily equate to sexual interest.
(Considering the context of a networking event, friendly certainly does not equal sexual interest, at least in my book.)
Having spoken with numerous women in the industry, I know I am not alone in this experience. In fact, the general consensus is that the nature of this male dominated industry it is just something women have to deal with…
I personally think that consensus is bullshit and feel that is very much a cop out in favor of the “boys will be boys” mentality, along with deeming the intelligence and savvy of women in the industry by focusing on sex appeal.
Even in conversations outside the industry, that pitiful consensus showed its head again. My mother suggested I wear a ring on my finger to dissuade interest. Other friends told me to use it as my advantage and to just take it as a compliment.
I have been struggling with how to navigate this issue without creating an awkward situation with potential business connections by rejecting them and then feeling uncomfortable developing a rapport as their interests were made known so early and openly.
Do I remove my cell number on my business cards?
Do I start every conversation with a member of the opposite sex with a disclaimer, “I have a boyfriend” or “Just an FYI this will go no where romantically and I would like you to keep that in mind…kay thanks…”?
Do I wear baggy clothing and dress more conservative so as not to attract unwanted attention?
I realized I don’t have to do any of those things because it is not my responsibility to correct this situation.
That responsibility falls on the men of the industry to respect boundaries and find value in an exchange with women while maintaining restraint and not taking it to that level (especially with someone you just met at a professional event).
I personally do not attend a networking event to pick up someone.
I go to bars for that…
So if you see me there, then by all means lay on the charm.