Strategic Flirting At Work: Does It Really Help Advance Your Career?

August 14, 2013  |  

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From ladies flirtatiously winking at their male co-workers to incessantly batting their eyelashes, we’ve all seen how women try to get ahead in the workplace using their feminine wiles. We hate to burst their bubble, but according to a new study of 281 female lawyers, “strategic flirting” actually causes women to regress in their careers, reports Quartz.

Strategic flirting, according researchers who looked specifically at law firms, is using socio-sexual behaviors such as seductively flashing your pearly whites or sending tempting emails to male colleagues to advance one’s agenda. But all that sensual activity for personal gain are done in vain. In return, flirtatious women are subtly tyrannized at work.

“Just as flirting is a somewhat subtle behavior, we believe it will have a subtle negative consequence,” the study’s authors said. “This mistreatment may include being ignored, treated rudely or excluded from work activities,” Quartz added.

Provocative schemes not only backfire in terms of respect in the office, but the flirty offender could see their salary and career progression suffer as well. According to previous studies by the same authors, women who claimed they did not flirt at work earned between $75,000 and $100,000 a year. Conversely, women who did flirt reported earning $50,000 to $70,000.

“Displays of sexuality are not consistent with what managers do,” said Arthur Brief, the study’s co-author. In the end, women that sneak “come-hither” glances at their co-workers aren’t seen as qualified to take up more demanding positions. “When women use their sexuality at work, they are viewed as more feminine, and thus less than equal,” said Suzanne Chan-Serafin, co-author of the previous study.

The new study also found that women were more likely to use strategic flirting in the workplace if their firm was considered “masculine.” In this case, the number of male employees in the organization had no significance to masculinity. “A masculine organization could be described as ‘assertive, aggressive and competitive’ while a feminine one may be seen as nurturing and warm,” Quartz added.

Competitive firms often encourage employees to use whatever strategies necessary to move up in the company, which, for women, could mean a little flirtng. But another study, titled “Feminine Charm: An Experimental Analysis of its Costs and Benefits in Negotiations” shows that “if we are perceived as being too strong in negotiations it can hurt us and if we are being perceived as being too warm and friendly, it can also hurt us,” Forbes said. So ultimately, women in the workplace need to find the right balance between friendly and flirtatious to score a deal.

This brings up other questions: Don’t men resort to strategic flirting to get what they want, too? Do their flirtatious schemes, like women, cause their career to regress as well?

The study questioned nearly 300 female attorneys at 38 law firms in the Southeast.

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