No Appearance of Impropriety

One of the things I have been thinking about is that serious business people often want no appearance of impropriety. It isn't enough for things to be all above board, they also need to look above board. They don't want there to be rumors, even if those rumors are completely unfounded.

I previously told an anecdote about a powerful man I worked with at BigCo. I had planned to write more about it, but life got in the way.

In reading through it again, I think it fails to adequately convey the detail that I won this man's trust in part because I wanted no appearance of impropriety.

I was comfortable talking with him. He was a warm, genuine person and very approachable.

Had we known each other under other circumstances, I could well imagine we might have dated. However, I felt confident he would not say or do anything inappropriate. He wasn't the sort. But I still did not want to engage in behavior that other people might misinterpret.

I was a military wife for a long time and high ranking people do not intimidate me. My ex husband was very good at his job and it was not uncommon for him to work directly with much higher ranking people. I never hesitated to make chit chat with his bosses, regardless of their rank.

I had spoken with this executive alone on a few occasions (by "alone" I mean we were the only two involved in the discussion -- I do not mean we were physically alone together at any point). Once was while working overtime on a Saturday. The break room was busy and the tables were mostly full. He had one to himself.

So, I asked if I could sit with him while I ate something. He very graciously shared his table with me and tried to make small talk.

But there came a point at which he wanted to enthusiastically greet me at a departmental meeting a mere two days after another man had been fired for sexual misconduct. I turned aside to avoid engaging him. He was savvy enough to get the cue.

But there was never going to be any means to explain my behavior to him. I wasn't rejecting him. I wasn't angry at him. I didn't have a problem with him. I just didn't want an executive to be overly friendly with an entry level employee of the opposite sex while the entire department was still under the pall of this recent scandal.

I was able to clear the air with a well placed smile as I was passing him in the hall one day. After that, he was at ease with me. But he got the memo that during departmental meetings, he was a representative of the company and he was to be no more and no less friendly to me than he would be to any other entry level employee.

I was happy to make friendly conversation when there weren't too many people around. But I wanted no one to think I was getting special treatment or to think we were overly "intimate."

Some business people already seem to understand this. But some don't.

Some people want to imagine that gender equality means that gals can comingle with guys in the exact same way that men have mingled together when business was much more The Old Boy Network, No Girls Allowed. I think that really doesn't work.

I have a really high tolerance for ambiguity and I am pretty comfortable around men. But when people imagine that guys and gals can comingle and pretend that gender does not matter, it both muddies the water and opens the door to opportunity for bad behavior. People who are genuinely predatory can use this ambiguity to try to arrange situations that make preying upon someone fairly easy.

In my teens, I had lots of guy friends because I was a girl gamer. I was often the only girl gamer there, but it was a group of people and I was not usually alone with any of them.

I did not drive and it was common for some guy to give me a ride home. I was usually one of two or more teens who did not have their own transportation who was being driven home in the same car, but it was common for them to drop me off last. This allowed us to have long private conversations about life, the universe and everything into the wee hours of the morning.

The people who drove me home were adult men. But none of them ever tried to take advantage of me. We were friends and we talked and that was it. Sitting in a car in the driveway of my parents' home let us have a verbally private conversation, out of earshot. But it was not that visually private and I never feared for my safety.

At some point, my mother said something that made it clear she assumed I was probably making out with these men in the driveway. She didn't approve of me talking with male friends in a car in our driveway.

Insert eye roll. If I was going to hookup in a car, I wouldn't do it in the driveway, 30 feet from my parents' bedroom where my father could potentially come out with his shotgun to check on me. (Insert teen attitude: Give me some credit for having two functioning brain cells.)

I apparently have a long history of making distinctions that other people fail to make. I apparently have good radar for how to hang out with guys and have platonic relationships with them and feel safe and be safe. I make choices other people -- like my mother -- don't really understand as being platonic and safe.

The piece above that I linked to talks about glass walls and makes the distinction that to establish trust, you need the ability to have private conversations, but you do not need visual privacy. I apparently began making this distinction in my teens: That I wanted private conversations out of earshot of other people, but the way to do that safely was to be visually out in the open with other people nearby who could have come running had I screamed.

I still make that distinction -- that talking with someone privately (out of earshot of others) is how you make personal connections, and doing it where you are physically safe and visually out in the open with other people nearby in some manner is how to keep it platonic. That is the way a woman can make business connections with little risk of being sexually assaulted and also keep things looking above board as well.

The Dave McClures of the world want women to agree to drinking alone with them "to do business" because they want to blur that line between business relationship and personal relationship. The blurred line and the kind of visual, physical privacy it fosters serves their predatory goals. It helps them create opportunities to engage in inappropriate behavior.

But I don't want to blur that line and I don't want to foster such opportunities. My approach serves my goal of trying to establish a business only connection while keeping myself safe.

I will briefly note that the standard of no appearance of impropriety can be misused as a means to, for example, discriminate against women. This standard is only a good thing if it aligns with a standard of no actual impropriety as well. I am generally trying to do my best to do right by other people, so this sort of goes without saying for me. But that isn't always the case.


This is a part of a de facto (totally unplanned) on-going series. Previously:
Sex, Drugs and Muddy Waters
Status Quo is Not God
Deal-making and Implied Sex
Not Drinking Alcohol in Stealth Mode

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