February 12, 2013
Female flirting: how it can hurt AND help your career
To flirt or not to flirt at work? There aren't many studies on this topic, and the few that exist show conflicting information. What the results do show is the need for women to tread carefully when it comes to flirting in the office.
The negative side
A 2005 Tulane study demonstrates how flirting at work can adversely affect a woman's career, and the results should cause you to pause and think twice about being overly flirtatious:
• Of the respondents, 50.6 percent said they used flirting as a tool to get ahead, while 49.4 percent said they never flirted.
• Those who did NOT flirt at work reported earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year, while those who flirted averaged from $50,000 to $75,000.
• Women who did NOT flirt were promoted three times in their career, while women who flirted were promoted twice.
According to Suzanne Chan-Serafin, a co-author of the study, "When women use their sexuality at work, they are viewed as more feminine, and thus less than equal. Research shows sexuality is really a short-term power source."
The positive side
A study released last July by UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business demonstrates how "flirtatiousness, female friendliness, or the more diplomatic description 'feminine charm' is an effective way for women to gain negotiating mileage."
The study examined "feminine charm" as a perception and impression management technique to determine if women who flirt are more or less effective during negotiations than men who flirt. The authors found there were benefits for women who could strike the right balance between friendliness and flirtatiousness during negotiations.
It's important to remember this study refers to the "feminine charm" characteristics of authentic playfulness, flattery and confidence with the goal of making the interaction partner feel good. Flirtatiousness did not mean overt sexual advances on the negotiating partner. Notes study co-author and professor Laura Kray, "The key is to flirt with your own natural personality in mind. Be authentic. Have fun. That will translate into confidence, which is a strong predictor of negotiation performance."
Can women use flirtation as a tool to help them in their careers? Yes, but it should be used with caution. Avoid sexual flirtatiousness to specifically obtain power or curry favors in the workplace. Use authentic friendliness and confidence instead.
What do you think about women using flirtation as a career advancement tool? Share your thoughts in the "Comments" section.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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