A Woman Walks Into A Bar…She’s there to network, meet clients and make contacts. All being well, she’ll enjoy it and get some good business contacts, but what does she do if she comes across a client, or potential client, that she wants to do business with, but who makes inappropriate comments about her or other women, or even makes a pass?

Firstly I would say if anything physical occurs, all bets are off – get support from your boss, the organiser etc.

What if the client makes sexist/rude comments or tells you you’re pretty or gets a bit too personal? If you don’t mind it then that’s fine, though maybe it’s not supporting your other Lead5050 women, but sometimes you just need to let these things go, don’t beat yourself up. However, if you want to call him out on it, let’s look at that. Let’s assume you need to maintain a relationship here, that you need their business and don’t want to burn your bridges.

Number 1) act professionally. Don’t sweat the outfits (short skirts really aren’t to blame for sexism) but take stock of your body language. Then once that’s done – don’t apologise, if you get unwanted comments, it’s not you! Also check for cultural differences – there’s plenty of cheek kissing in our industry for example, so perhaps check you aren’t misinterpreting them. If in doubt, or you’re uncomfortable, hold your hand out for a handshake first.

Number 2) use humour. A well raised eyebrow and a ‘wow’ can work well. Smile as you ask him when he took misogyny up as a hobby. This is helpful if you want to keep the atmosphere light and keep the client happy, you don’t want them so embarrassed they can’t do business with you. But equally they need to know your boundaries. I’ve recently used the ‘Wow, did you really just say that?’ to someone that said he’d got a badge to an event by ‘banging the totty on the door’. He blushed and blustered and his boss wasn’t too impressed. I didn’t assure him it was alright, it wasn’t, but after a few more minutes I moved on.

Number 3) a more direct steer – move the conversation back onto the professional. I’ve seen many women being hit on at networking events. Now, that’s all fine if it’s mutual but if it’s unwanted you may need some other tactics. I favour the polite steer – a ‘thank you, but back to business, my job is to send you great students/look after your clients when they get to our school/make sure that x, y, or z happens’ Or ‘thanks, being pretty won’t get you too far, I’m lucky enough to have a boss/team that appreciate (insert professional skills here) and take back control of the conversation direction. Has anyone else got any useful lines here?

Number 4) when you really can’t deal with the guy! If it’s worse than these scenarios – I’d say just get away – tell your colleague/manager what’s happening and let them deal with them. If you are the boss, ask yourself if you really need to work with this jerk – if not – trust your skills and let him slip away. If you do, either ask someone else to take over, or you can approach his boss and ask to deal with them directly. If that’s not an option, be very firm in saying that these comments make you feel uncomfortable, can you go back to discussing business please.

How can our Lead5050 champions help? Please do call out the sexist comments in a group of men. Move the focus on to the woman’s skills, professionalism etc, particularly when she is not present. We don’t need knights in shining armour to run and help us when we are on the receiving end of sexist remarks, but if you treat women as professional equals and make it clear that the sexist stuff is antiquated, hopefully the comments with slow down and stop. That’s the dream anyway!

I hope this gives some helpful tips – there must be many more that you have to share, though I hope that we don’t need to use them.