In all the coverage about sexual harassment in the startup ecosystem, I think this is one of the most honest accounts from a woman’s viewpoint that I have read. I love Perri Chase’s honesty and candour about her own experience with a potential investor.
She openly admits that she’s “not the first or only woman who has ever used being a woman to get time with a man” and that this is where we, as women, need to take more responsibility for getting our lines crossed.
I have personally seen how women flock to powerful men in the startup ecosystem, knowing full well that there are no free lunches. Many of these women are very willing to put out, to get that all-important introduction to a potential investor.
The problem is that these willing women end up creating an untenable situation for women who are not interested in being sexually propositioned.
In that sense, we need to admit that, by tolerating and giving into an investor’s sexual advances, we are part of creating and enabling that exploitative culture.
Also, as Perri notes, different women have different abuse thresholds. While those who have never been abused in their lives might take offence at the slightest hint of impropriety, others who have a higher abuse threshold may not find a similar come-on offensive.
Part of the problem, she notes, is that “in an ecosystem where socializing and happy hours are a big way to meet or get to know investors, there are no real clear lines about what is personal and what is professional.”
Looking for a mentor? Here are some ways that you can learn to navigate the tricky world of meeting colleagues and investors at work and outside of it.
1. Take responsibility for what you create
Like Perri, I believe in taking radical personal responsibility for my life. This means I buy into the concept that I alone am responsible for whatever I create in my life.
Blaming others is a waste of time and gets you nowhere, except deeper into the victim mentality.
Like her, I also believe that I am powerless to change anyone but myself and that I alone control the choices I make. Her statements that resonate most with me are:
“We can talk about changing men until we are blue in the face, but the only person who is ever truly responsible for my safety is me… It’s not pointing the finger of blame at him. It’s finding the places where you have control and taking it back.”
That does not mean that men don’t need to learn how to behave better. They very much do! But until then, take responsibility for your own safety.
2. Have a value proposition ready
Don’t assume that people will have your best interests at heart. Most people go through life looking out only for themselves and their loved ones. Very few people are truly altruistic in their intentions.
The truth is that most people only care for their own interests. Especially if you’re a stranger to them. Approach them keeping that in mind.
All relationships involve give and take. So if you’re hoping that someone powerful will mentor you or introduce you to their contacts, you’d better have a value proposition for them too.
This applies as much to women investors and mentors, as it does to men. No one is going to be motivated to help you out if they see no benefit in it for themselves. A mentee must be able to add some value to a mentor’s life, too.
Whether this involves giving them a larger share of your stock or helping them deal with some aspect of their business that they are having problems with, it’s up to you to do your homework and find out where their interests lie or what they need help with, and then offer to help them out with it.
In other words, if you want something from someone, make them an offer they can’t refuse (preferably one that doesn’t involve sexual favours or violence).
3. Teach people how to treat you
I believe that we teach people how to treat us. This is one of the biggest issues we need to address if we are to create a safer environment for women in business.
We, women, need to get out of the victim mindset and take our power back. It’s up to us to start setting very clear boundaries on the sort of behaviour we won’t tolerate. And it’s a good idea to do that even before you meet up with a man.
Then, if he loses interest when you’ve set clear boundaries, at least you’ll know that your business was never what interested him in the first place.
If you’ve already met up and want to get out of it, all you have to say is, “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’re on the same page here,” or “I think I misunderstood what this meeting was about,” and part on friendly terms (or not, depending on how he takes rejection).
Should someone constantly disrespect your boundaries and keep making unwanted sexual advances, don’t feel guilty about it. It’s not your fault that he’s a creep. You have every reason to report him to the authorities.
But, I believe that if we learn to be more assertive, are willing to take responsibility for our own expectations, and walk away at the first sign of trouble, there’ll be no need for hurt feelings and accusations.
4. Trust your instincts
If you feel there’s something off, cancel the meeting or leave if you’re already there. Trust your gut.
Never second-guess yourself or put yourself in a vulnerable position where the lines can get blurry. If you know that drinking alcohol clouds your judgment, avoid drinks altogether or sip a mocktail at a business meeting.
We can all teach men to treat us with respect… as human beings who are not interested in being pawed or propositioned when we approach them for advice, mentorship or funding.
Let’s start by taking responsibility for our own expectations and actions so that we can create a better environment for all involved.
What did you think of these tips? Did you find them useful or were you offended? Let me know at @PriyaFlorence
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