Published On Aug 03, 2017
in Leadership & Development
When I was a young marketing director at Horton Plaza shopping center in downtown San Diego, the property was a top visitor attraction in a downtown area experiencing a substantial growth spurt. A high performer in our company’s portfolio, the center required significant focus and team collaboration. Fortunately, I had the pleasure of working with Craig Pettitt, the property’s general manager at the time. We spent countless hours, including many 80-hour work weeks, late nights, early mornings and meals together working on the ‘jewel’ project. It was a fun and exciting time to be involved at the center. I learned a lot, and have fond memories of working with Craig and what we were able to accomplish at that property.
I never have given these types of relationships a second thought until the CEO of my current company mentioned an article in The New York Times that dealt with this very topic. The article, titled “It’s Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone with the Opposite Sex”, talked about an apparently pervasive notion that professionals are often reluctant to be in work situations that require them to spend time alone with opposite sex co-workers. I found this incredibly disappointing. With all of the advances that women have made, it is difficult for me to fathom this mindset and the fact that many women and men will not meet behind closed doors or share a meal with someone of the opposite sex because of the potential perception or the possibility of being put in an uncomfortable situation.
A poll conducted for The New York Times showed that around 25 percent of respondents think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Also, a majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse. Really? How many important decisions have been made during a business dinner meeting? These survey results imply that gender should play a role in business interactions.
Safeguarding against impropriety or the appearance of it has never been an issue in my 25+ years in the real estate industry, which has included many meals and meetings with men. Professional, respectful behavior outside of closed door meetings leads to not being worried about the appearance of impropriety. In other words, it’s about consistent professional behavior at ALL times, even in outside-of-work events, and treating people the same – with respect, courtesy and professionalism.
If a female or male is concerned about sexual harassment – that is a serious and separate issue, and should be dealt with through the HR department – not by avoiding meetings with the opposite sex all together. Male and female colleagues must have mutual respect for each other and a relationship built on trust so that attendance at business meetings or meals is not based on gender.
Many years after my time at Horton Plaza, I still consider Craig a mentor and a good friend. As a mother with a daughter who will be embarking on her career in the next few years, I’m frustrated by the opinions expressed by survey respondents in The New York Times article. I want her to learn from, work with and form relationships with professionals in her field without gender bias. The one thing that I have always taught her is to treat others how you want to be treated – male or female. I hope that as she embarks on her career that we can continue to progress beyond these types of issues.
What are your thoughts on this topic?