Like almost everyone else on this planet, I hate networking. Networking is really easy to hate on because it combines so many things that make us feel uncomfortable: small talk, asking for favors, building superficial connections, talking about ourselves in a positive manner, and more.
For me, I hate networking because I spend most of my time trying to let down guys who think I want to date them without coming across as a cold, heartless monster.
In an era where we’re constantly hearing about sexual harassment scandals from powerful men, some men have begun to worry that anything could be construed as harassment and are avoiding interacting with women in professional settings. It doesn’t have to be this complicated. There’s a definite difference between being nice and being creepy at networking events, and it’s actually quite quite easy to avoid the latter.
If you’re reading this and want to know what you can do to make our community a better place for professional women, here are ten simple tips for how not to be a total creep:
1. Don’t hit on people at networking events. Just don’t do it.
This simple step could save you from being the focus of derision at the next Sunday girls brunch. It’s just not cool to mix in your personal desires for a partner with an event where people are trying to build professional connections. That should be reason enough to avoid this behavior, but if it’s not, you need to know that the women you hit on at a professional event will trash talk you to all of their friends over bottomless mimosas. Do you really want the wrath of 4+ boozed up women focused exclusively on you? I think NOT.
2. Don’t waste a woman’s time at a networking event by using half of the conversation to find out whether she has a boyfriend or not.
Think this isn’t a real thing? Single women frequently wear engagement rings to networking events to avoid this conversation. There are only so many leading questions you can ask in order to find out whether the person you’re talking to is single or not, and all of them are irritating.
Look, I’m sure the woman you’re talking to has valuable professional insight regardless of her relationship status, and since this is a professional event, not a singles mixer, that’s what you should be focused on.
3. Don’t drink if you can’t interact with women without hitting on them.
In my industry and many others, grabbing a drink is a perfectly normal way to interact with coworkers and other professionals. It’s a great way to loosen up, and we’re fortunate to be living during an awesome time for craft beer. However, if you can’t interact with a woman while having a drink without viewing her as your romantic/sexual partner, you shouldn’t drink. You’re probably dehydrated anyway, so stick to water.
If I got a free drink for every dude who said, “Let’s grab a drink and continue the conversation,” and then assumed we were going on a date, I’d never have to buy myself another drink again. And, as an Irish Catholic, I drink a lot.
4. If a woman has short hair, don’t ask her if she’s gay.
Once again, this is a professional event. You have absolutely no right *or need*to inquire about anyone’s sexuality — even if “you totally have gay friends and think it’s, like, really cool that she seems so comfortable in her skin.” First of all, there’s not a physical trait that separates the straights and the gays from each other. Women look how they want for a myriad of reasons that often have nothing to do with whom they want to sleep with. None of these reasons are relevant to the professional relationships you are trying to start.
And for the love of all that is holy, if a woman does tell you that she is in fact queer, DO NOT MAKE A JOKE ABOUT WANTING TO WATCH.
Jesus Christ you pervs, keep it in your pants.
5. Don’t compliment a specific part of a woman’s appearance and then follow it up by saying you “really have a thing for X.”
In general, you’re going to be better off if you don’t made oddly specific compliments about a woman’s appearance the first time you meet her in a professional setting. If you do make these compliments, don’t ruin them further by saying that you have a thing for whatever you just complimented.
Example: Aleisha has blonde highlights. You say, “Wow, Aleisha, your highlights look great! You know, I really have a thing for blondes.” This is creepy. Don’t do this.
6. Don’t stare at one woman across the room for the entire night.
Watching one woman’s every movement at a networking event is a great way to come across as creepy, especially if you do this at a distance all night. You’re not in a primetime drama. There are no cameras capturing your pensive stare and overlaying it dramatic orchestrals that make you seem somehow both misunderstood and relatable. There’s just you and the drool running down your chin. Please stop.
7. Don’t bring up a woman’s dating history or that you might have seen her on a dating app.
Yes, Karen might have a Tinder profile that you’ve seen. Sarah might have gone on a date with your friend Mike a while ago. Now is not the time to bring either of these things up. Before you comment on a woman’s romantic history when meeting her for the first time at professional event, take a deep breath and ask yourself if this would be appropriate to do to someone interviewing you for your dream job. If you’re unsure, the correct answer is “no, no it would not be appropriate.”
8. If you see a man and a woman talking at a networking event, don’t make a joke about them being on a date.
By making these judgemental comments about people, you contribute to a culture where people think any interaction between a man and a woman is automatically sexual. This makes networking events miserable for women and men alike because they think they can’t talk to each other without it being viewed unprofessional.
9. Don’t touch her.
The kindergarten lesson of keeping your hands to yourself absolutely applies in the business world. You can absolutely shake hands with the women you meet at networking event — or whatever sort of fist bump is cool these days — but there is no need to put your hand on their waist.
10. Treat every woman like you would treat Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
And, finally, if these tips aren’t enough for you to feel comfortable not being a creep, Anne Victoria Clark put together a simple visualization exercise that can help you begin to treat women as people without fear.
Wow! Networking without being creepy isn’t that complicated! All you have to is assume that women have professional value beyond being a potential sexual partner. Now that you’ve heard the good news, send this article to your friends who struggle with interacting with women in professional settings. You’ll be doing them a favor.
Also published on Medium.