To flirt or not to flirt…. why is that even the question?
Hold on to your hats ladies.
A new study has revealed that women who combine charm and flirting can benefit in the workplace and in negotiating successful business outcomes.
At last, as reported in The Independent, ‘feminine charm is a measurable phenomenon.’
Not only that, but the more we have of it – and depending on how cleverly we use it – the more ‘economic’ benefits women can reap. And if that were not enough, flirting can also improve women’s chances of closing a successful business deal by as much as a third.
And, according to Dr Laura Kray, lead author of the study and Professor at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business, just being friendly doesn’t cut it.
You need some va va voom.
‘Just being friendly, women run the risk of people thinking they’re pushovers,” said Kray. ”But when friendliness is balanced with flirtation, which is a signal of dominance and confidence and self-regard, then they actually do better.’
To sum up, simply being friendly conveys weakness – it implies that you are a pushover, and that you care more about someone else’s needs and interests than your own.
Add a little flirting and you are seen as assertive and invested in your own goals, ergo, more like a man, without actually being masculine (heaven forbid).
Researchers at the University of Berkeley, including the aforementioned Dr Kray, carried out a series of experiments in order to try and measure the success – or lack thereof – of women who used their natural ‘charm’ in a series of negotiations.
For example, one scenario involved negotiations between car salesmen and women, some who turned on the charm, and some who remained neutral (or dare I say it, were just themselves?).
Given that we are talking about car salesmen here, it’s little surprise that the former category of women paid less for products than the latter.
Conversely, other studies also found that these economic advantages were not forthcoming when a woman was seen to be simply friendly, rather than flirtatious. In fact, they often experienced more negative outcomes.
So…. now that we have unlocked this gem of knowledge, should we be bracing ourselves for a flood of newly successful – and fabulously flirty – women to take their places in board rooms across the country?
I suspect not.
Isn’t it ringing alarm bells that the behaviour of a woman who flirts to get ahead may be misconstrued by her male colleagues, and subsequently expose her to unwanted sexual advances or harassment? (And, no doubt, the usual tirade of male insults that would go with a rejection…)
And why is the news coverage of this study littered with mentions of Joan Holloway, a character from the US hit series Mad Men?
She, apparently, has just the right balance of flirtatiousness and friendliness, sexiness and savvy, to get exactly what she wants.
Hasn’t anyone noticed that Mad Men is set in the early 1960s, a patriarchal age when women were predominantly secretaries (or office managers in Joan’s case – clearly the flirting is working) or housewives?
As a matter of fact, jaunty Joan does go on to greater things with the advertising firm she works for and negotiates like a real pro. (The firm’s partners persuade her to have sex with a client they are trying to secure a deal with, offer her $50,000 to do so, which she then negotiates into a 5% share of the company instead. You go girl.).
As to the benefits – or indeed justifications – of women flirting to manipulate an outcome, the voice of reason we can leave to Chloe Taylor, assistant professor of women’s studies at the University of Alberta, who penned a piece in response to the study.
‘To exercise ‘feminine charm’ or to flirt with men, one has to cater to a man’s ego, flatter him,” she said.
“This is a subservient position to be in, not a position of power. This kind of feminine charm – or ability to boost a man’s ego by flirting with him – is also obviously more available to women who are young, conform to social norms of feminine attractiveness, and pass as heterosexual.
“Thus, needing to exercise ‘feminine charm’ in order to counter-balance other penalties against women as negotiators means that women are incited or compelled to attend to debilitating gender and beauty norms and to pass as heterosexual. The need for women to submit to systematic sexualisation in the workplace in order to excel is a form of gender discrimination”.
There is another downside to this latent superpower we call charm. Dr Kray does warn in her research that, while these techniques may work on male colleagues, they are unlikely to do so with female or other colleagues who you are not trying to disarm with charm, and who may in fact find you untrustworthy and false.
Kray also acknowledges that taking ‘flirting’ too far and being overtly sexual can have a derogatory effect on how colleagues view you and indeed on your professional reputation.
But, she argues, there are certainly ‘shades of grey’…
Now don’t get me started on that …