Let’s Keep It Professiona​l​

Navigating the professional world as a young, “attractive”, female-identifying individual means walking a straight line of politeness and amiability without ever veering into the territory of flirtation- which is nearly impossible as a simple smile can be, and is often, misconstrued as a come-hither invitation.

I work as many things- an engineer, a Program Manager, Event Manager, Organization Founder, among others- and in all these positions, I have to meet with men of all kinds and negotiate business arrangements with them. When I meet men professionally and occasionally see that predatory look in their eyes that drives them to “own” or “conquer” every woman they meet, I cringe and wish fervently that they don’t say anything explicitly untoward, so I don’t have to be blunt in my refusal and ruin our business relationship. At least if their come on is subtle, I can pretend like I don’t see or understand what they’re doing.

In my jobs, I have to sell myself and my organization to people and I simply can’t do that while frowning and seeming unapproachable. I have to smile, laugh at corny jokes and pitch my organization with all the charm I can muster. But what happens when this is misconstrued as me “asking for it?” This is a question that I’m always conscious of. When a man I’m pitching to asks for my number, I give it because it seems unprofessional and rude not to. When he goes further and says, “We can have dinner and talk about something other than this boring work stuff”, I half laugh and say “I just find the work stuff so fascinating so let’s stick to that.” Then I continue to do my job, politely albeit uncomfortably, because I still need him to do business with me.

Take an example- on one occasion, we were expecting potential investors at my job for a tour. One of my bosses came and told me about the visit and just as he was turning to leave, he looks at me and goes, “And Shari, smile with them when they’re here ok? Be nice and open so they want to give us the money. And if they ask for your number, no need to say no la.” Then he nervously chuckled. I was shocked. “So, I’m officially being pimped out now?”, I thought incredulously. But as offensive as it was for him to say that, it is the reality of what uncannily happened. The investors arrived, I put on my best marketing smile and gave the tour, fake-laughing at dad jokes like a pro. At the end, two of the investors asked for my “personal” number and said they’ll reach out soon. I awkwardly smiled through it and said, “I’m here to answer all your work questions.”

At another instance, I had a colleague ask for my number and being that we work in the same company, I couldn’t very well say no because he might need to call me on work-related matters. So, I gave my number and said clearly while giving it, “I’m open to you calling for all WORK-RELATED MATTERS.” It’s either he didn’t hear that part, or he told himself I was only saying that and didn’t really mean it because that very night, I got about 4 calls from him and text messages wishing me “a good night rest, sweetie” and “good morning, beautiful.” I was tired and unwilling to do the whole back and forth, so I just blocked him the very next day. He took to calling me on other numbers “just to see how my lovely self was doing.” I went from a cold demeanor to telling him my imaginary husband didn’t appreciate him calling, but no matter how brash and unwelcoming I sounded or how intimidating and hostile my imaginary boo sounded, he never stopped. How does one not see that all that is harassment?

All of this tedious navigating is extremely exhausting, and it’s unfair that I have to do it at all. It’s unfair that men put women through all this. Another boss of mine has had to say in a meeting, after mentioning that my colleagues contact me if they have issues, “But only call her for work issues” and that made me so sad. The fact that he felt the need to say that just highlights how bad of a problem this is.

The fetishizing of the female form and person is so ingrained in our society that some males cannot seem to move past the idea that said form does not exist just for their use, pleasure and/or consumption, and that, my friends, is at the crux of most women issues.

Shari Raji, Author

Shari is a graduate of The National University of Malaysia with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree (with honors).  A mechanical engineer with a passion for writing, Ms. Raji is also a social justice advocate. She is passionate about equal opportunities and rights for all irrespective of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation. She believes that a world where people are provided with platforms and means by which they can better themselves is as close to utopia as we can get; therefore she is continuously working towards making this a reality.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. I feel compel to commit not because I’m a father of two girls and a brother to two girls; I’m just upset to know this bs is happening! My advice is, tell others who will protect you against such harassment.

  2. LOUVETTE says:

    This is a really great piece. As a woman, I am constantly battling friendships with Male because it always ends with an awkward message that I can not politely reply. The question is how do we keep it professional when our nature is misconstrued as come-hither? How do we even socialize without the fear of flirtation and discomfort? It’s crazy that most men don’t even realize that this is harassment. Sarcasm doesn’t work for most Liberian men, we can not stay amiable, we have to be blunt! Sadly, this our reality. It sucks guys, we want to be your friend and colleague not the other way around. We continue to strive for better. #balanceForBetter
    Happy International Women’s day to every woman reading this comment! Thank you constantly defeating the odds and withstanding the barriers. Onward we go!

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