Networking with Older Men

male mentorsCan a younger woman network with older men without getting into questionable situations? My friend J told me of her interesting dilemma over the weekend…

She’s traveling a lot for business these days, and on one of her latest trips she sat next to an older businessman. She’s generally against talking to her seatmates, but wanted to have a bit of chitchat before she made him move to let her go to the bathroom — and she discovered that he’s the Chairman of the Board of a huge non-profit foundation (like, huge). They exchanged business cards when they got off the plane. Great contact to have, right?

Later that night, the text messages started. They were friendly at first (to which she replied warily), then turned slightly suspicious (to which she increased her delay before responding, then finally stopped responding all together). They’re no longer in the same town, but the question that’s left is: can she still network with this contact, or should he and his possibly less-than-pure motives be left in the dust? Call me an opportunist, but I’d hate to throw away a potential networking contact like that just because the guy was a bit skeevy. We’ve talked about how to handle it when a potential client hits on you, as well as how to network when you’re the low man on the totem pole, but not necessarily when a potential mentor/networking contact hits on you.

I’ve been in the situation myself, although in my case I think my defenses went up too soon — I vividly remember being asked “So what do you want?” when I took an older gentleman to lunch when I was around 23 (he practiced in a specialty I wanted to get into). Nothing but advice, I answered honestly, but I somehow still felt a bit dirty. I made sure that the next time I asked an older gentleman out to lunch (this time an adjunct professor whose specialty I was dying to get into), that I had a male classmate there with me at the lunch.

In my friend’s situation, though — this VIP could open a number of interesting doors to her. He’s a successful businessman with lots of contacts, and through his work with this big foundation he has even more contacts. His advice would undoubtedly be invaluable, and a very successful older friend is never a bad thing to have — you never know who will hear about the next big career opportunity. But how can she manage the relationship so it’s clear that she’s not interested in funny business?

For my $.02:

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– I think the relationship needs to be managed the right way from the start. One of my female mentors (who came up when there were few women in senior positions) noted that she generally encouraged a “father/daughter” relationship.

– Know a bit about flirting so that you DON’T do it — simple things like

  • shake hands with him (businesslike — firm handshake, ladies!) as soon as you exchange names
  • do not touch his arm or encourage physical closeness of any sort (for example: don’t show him your phone or magazine in a way that might make you two huddle together)
  • watch your eye contact — I’ve heard that “business” eye contact is between the eyes and nosebridge; “friend” eye contact is between the eyes, nose, and mouth, whereas “dating” eye contact involves, um, lower eye contact. Also, watch the duration of your eye contact.
  • perhaps put something between you and him — casually put your purse on your lap, or even an in-flight magazine.
  • don’t seem too interested in his personal life

– As a “rainmaking litigation partner at a Biglaw firm” noted in comments a while back, “There is typically an inverse corrolation [sic] between the female summer associates that I want to date and the ones I want to hire. The qualities in the ones I want to hire are: hard-working, thorough, intuitive, and detail-oriented. The qualities in the ones I want to date are: flirtatious, spontaneous, and fun. Know which category you want to find yourself in and act accordingly.”

– Shut him down quickly if it goes there. “I’m flattered by the attention, but not interested like that.” This is better done sooner rather than later.

– Realistically assess when to abort if the attentions continue. What do you really want from this guy, and how many awkward conversations are you willing to endure to get there? In my friend J’s case, I might suggest first studying the VIP’s resume (which should be publicly available, at least on the foundation’s website), and sending an email — from whatever email address is on her resume — to say it was nice to meet him, and then asking direct questions toward things she’d like to know from his background. E.g.: “After perusing your profile on the ___ website, I noticed that you had moved from <Field X> to <Field Y> — I’m interested in making a similar switch myself, and would greatly appreciate any advice you have on that point. Did you join any organizations, or find any reading materials to be particularly helpful?” And if his response is still a bit questionable — well, move on.

Readers, what are your thoughts? What would you do in this situation — would you try to salvage the contact or move on? What is your best advice for how to network with older men?

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  1. pink jacket :

    someone posted about wanting a pink blazer this weekend. I just saw a short news cap about the Casey Anthony case (what a mess) and the female prosecutor had a beautiful pink blazer on this Saturday. I couldn’t see what else she was wearing but I have to say I’m now on the pink blazer bandwagon. Her’s was somewhat bright yet still seemed professional and not too old lady (or too young)

    • Hey that was me. Still searching. The ones from Talbots looked horrible in person — very flimsy/wrinkly/old-ladyish on the rack, which suggests would be impossible to keep fresh-looking. If you do an image search for pink jacket and Sarah Palin, one of the first results is a paper doll drawing that is kind of the look I’m going for.

  2. anonx1000 :

    I might be wrong, but my instinct says questionable late night text messages mean this man is not taking her seriously, and in my mind, there is little opportunity to network here.

    Am I the only one who finds text messaging generally inappropriate in professional life? I would never text someone with whom I was hoping to network. It seems just as invasive as a telephone call on a personal cell phone after hours.

    • Diana Barry :

      I agree. Perhaps I am a dinosaur, but I don’t think texting is appropriate for business. Send an email!

      • This was going to be my exact comment!

      • devil’s advocate: is an email really that different from a text this day in age? I mean, they both go to my phone, and I’m going to get both pretty much instantaneously. It’s gotten to the point where sometimes I honestly have to I’m assuming texts were on the person’s work blackberry/other phone since the post says they exchanged business cards–I wouldn’t have my personal cell # on a business card.

        • Unfortunately for a lot of us, many firms require that our cell phone number be on our business card.

    • I agree too. Late night text messages (or flirty emails) = interest in fling, not business contact. I would probably add his linked in profile to keep the contact and then try to break off contact.

    • I agree. I think this particular older gentleman is a lost cause. Move on.

      And I have no clue why this woman would give her cell phone number to him in the first place! Maybe I’m a fuddy duddy as well, but maybe that contributed to his getting the wrong message?

      • I agree – ALWAYS carry business cards and use those to network. Never give out your cellphone number. It’s unprofessional.

        • Here’s the thing… you only have a business card if you’re employed, and even then you might not have one. I don’t.

          I understand what you’re trying to convey, but last fall when I was unemployed, I had to give out my cellphone. I don’t have a home number and I wanted to be able to be reached regarding employment at all times, even if that meant I was standing in line at the drycleaners.

          • This is slightly off-topic, but I think having business cards, perhaps especially, when you are looking for work and doing a lot of networking, is very important. You can have very simple ones made, for free or for not very much at places like Vista Print dot com, listing your basic contact information, even if that info is just your cell phone. It makes it much easier for someone to get in touch with you and projects a much more professional image.

          • DammitJanet :

            Having business cards printed up during my stint of unemployment was KEY. I had my email, cell, and website printed on it in addition to my “professional” title. My website is built like a resume. If I hadn’t had the site I would have put in my LinkedIn profile.

            I found my new job via a contact I met at a professional association meeting. I was able to give them my card after I introduced myself. They “tested me out” with some contract work, yada yada yada, and I’m now part of the firm.

            Of course I don’t credit the business card solely, but it certainly helped. Since job-hunting can be a full time job in and of itself, business cards just make sense.

          • anonymous :

            Get a Google Voice Account. You will get a number that you can use to forward to your real number. You can set it up so when the phone rings it will ring on your cell phone, another phone and your computer (you have to be set up for Google Talk). You will be emailed transcripts of calls and be able to send text messages from your computer if you wish.

            It’s free, at least through the end of the year.

        • I assumed it was a work cell phone, listed on her card.

      • My firm has our cell phone #s on our business cards.

      • AnonInfinity :

        Don’t some people use their cell phone numbers/blackberries as their “real” work number? I think that my (future) firm puts people’s cell numbers right on the card.

        • Silicon Valley in House :

          I agree — at my company, mobile numbers are included on our cards. My manager and I text regularly, as do the younger members of my staff. I have never thought anything of it.

          • anonx1000 :

            I do text with colleagues – but we have an established relationship.

        • My last employer required all of us to provide cell or home phone numbers on the intranet (that’s INTRA). An older man who was an internal contact would have your cell number anyway.

        • SF Bay Associate :

          Mine too – my mobile is right on my business card. One of the many reasons I am still paying for my own private cell instead of letting the firm blackberry be my only mobile phone.

          And I blackberry messaged with colleagues when we were in trial prep – it’s much easier to fire off an SMS to say “need 2 more copies of Exhibit 8″ than a full email.

        • Christine :

          I use a mobile number for work, but its my workphone, not my private number. Texting in itself is fine, but irrelevant texts or calls in the evening are not very businesslike.

      • Presumably because she was out of town and the number on her business card rings to her office? And many people who travel for work actually put their cell number on their business cards.

        • The no-texting comment was exactly my thought. I just don’t feel like it’s professional to text “serious business stuff” ever. I might text coworkers random friendly questions or when trying to find each other on a business trip, but if you’ve got something real to say, shouldn’t email be the medium? With blackberries, it pretty much shows up all the same and adds a small level of formality that I think is needed in any serious relationship.

          I would not have even responded to those texts, and maybe just sent a reply in an email that obliquely references any serious content in the them.

    • Stephanie :

      You’re not a dinosaur! I’m *almost* 30 and I completely agree: text messaging is not a professional form of communication. It’s both intimate in its immediacy and distant in its lack of real verbal or thoughtfully written communication. It think it’s a slippery slope, and we just need ask Congressmen Weiner about that.

    • I agree. Sounds like it already went South.

  3. This is such a hard topic–and very important to me, since my field is thoroughly dominated by men (thus the people you need to network with are even more majority older men than in, you know, almost every other field). The Catch-22 is that if you’re always 100% serious and totally buttoned up, you may not get invited out to the bar after hours–with a group!–at which discussions that could be very helpful take place. The young men you’re competing with are there, of course, talking about sports, dropping curse words, and fitting right in.

    I don’t have any all-purpose advice other than to know what you’re dealing with as early as possible. (Other women who already know the man in question can be helpful here, but you may not have any such contacts.) I agree that late-night texts just don’t seem appropriate. But I’d still email, as professional as can be, during daylight hours, and hope he takes that opportunity to change his tone.

    In my experience–and I had a senior colleague once invite me to go skinny-dipping in front of several other people–you almost never need to actually declare that you’re not interested. Averting your eyes, clearing your throat, changing the subject, excusing yourself, etc. all work just as well. The guy may very well deserve to be embarassed, but being the source of that is not going to help you in your career.

    • Anonymous :

      “you almost never need to actually declare that you’re not interested”


      • I wish something like this site had been there to warn me when I made so many avoidable mistakes…. attire and networking wise….
        When networking with a person whose intentions are suspect is it at all possible to put him back on the right track?

    • I agree with this. In my field the most experienced and connected are older men, and I’ve found connecting with them helpful. The first interactions should be strictly on-topic, although personal topics (not sexual) are fine once the relationship is established. Emails etc should be sent/replied during work hours. It’s always 100% non-flirtatious (good pointers, Kat).

      If the conversation starts to go awry, immediately return to the business at hand. Simply adjusting your posture and tone, saying “again, about the [insert the strictly business original topic here]…” should do the trick for anyone who is well-intentioned but misunderstood. If it doesn’t, they are consciously being sleazy and should be avoided.

      I also agree to feel out the other women with longer tenure. I’ve learned a lot by watching who they avoid, or who they feel comfortable joking around with.

      Although, I think this particular man is a loss. He’s not taking her seriously and won’t be any worth to her. If he is so bold, I’m guessing he has a reputation, and any introductions or opportunities he did provide would be eyed dubiously, and could potentially damage your friend’s reputation.

  4. Barrister in the Bayou :

    My comment is not directly related… Actually, it is a reaction to Kat’s mention of a firm hand shake.

    I hate it when I get the dead fish handshake from women (serious pet peeve). They offer as little hand as possible and there’s no actual “shake”. A limp hand is just placed in mine for the shortest amount of time possible and many times there’s no eye contact. I just don’t get it, it makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong by even presenting my hand. I don’t give the death grip, so I know they are not cowering away in pain.

    What is it with these handshakes?

    • Not just from women! The dead fish handshake from anyone is disconcerting – makes me feel like the person doesn’t want to touch me and is skeeved out by the idea, or possibly thinks they’re better than me and can’t be bothered to expend the energy for a proper handshake. Either way, ew.

    • I agree – I don’t get what women-or men- think they are doing with a limp handshake. I am a very firm hand-shaker, so much so that I get generally get positive comments about it. Not sure if that’s because there are so many limp-fish handshakers out there or because they are surprised when a woman shakes firmly and looks them in the eye.

    • Maddie Ross :

      I hate it more from men, than women. When it’s from men, I always assume they are giving it to me because they feel as though I’m too weak or gentile for their “real” grip. Au contraire, mon frere. I prefer a strong handshake as much as any guy/gal.

      • It’s true! A guy I work with actually admitted to me at one point that he does the weak shake with women on purpose! Because, he said, he assumed that’s what women prefer! Obviously, I immediately alerted him to the error of his ways and, I’m happy to report, he has since reformed.

        But, that’s only one less bad handshake in a sea of millions. I agree that it’s terrible from women and men alike. Although, based on my experience with my colleague, I think I find it less annoying if it’s coming from a naive guy than from a woman who should know better.

      • Please, PLEASE: “Genteel,” not “Gentile.” Normally I’m not a grammar nerd, but this one always sticks out in a particularly awkward way.

        I’m pretty sure they don’t think you’re too non-Jewish for their real grip!

    • There was a thread on this not too long ago. In any event, I have to say I have exactly the opposition reaction — A firm handshake (and I dont mean death grip, I just mean firm) to me is annoying and conveys that you are (a) trying to hard, (b) to act like a man, and/or (c) to prove something to me or think you are better than me.

      • AnonInfinity :

        Just for a firm handshake? If so, I think you are in the vast minority on this issue. I understand not wanting a death grip, but having a firm handshake conveys 1) that you understand how to shake hands and 2) that you are confident.

      • Shaking hands properly means I think I’m better than you? Really? That’s like saying “women dressed in suits are just trying to prove something.”

        • Well, first of all the fact that you think a firm hand shake is the “proper” way to do it rather than just one acceptable way to do it is exactly my point.

          But in any event, how is that my comment about thinking they you are better than me gets this scathing reaction from you, yet the commenter above who said the same thing about someone with a limp hand shake was apparently right on the money.

          And I also dont really think Im in the vast minority. Lots of people use a firm hand shake. Lots use a less firm, limp, or whatever else you want to call it. In my experieince, its probably about half and half. Its just that the firm hand shake people tend to complain about the others more often.

          • A firm handshake IS the proper way to shake hands. No one is going to teach a person in business school how to give a limp handshake. Just because many people do it incorrectly doesn’t mean that there are multiple “proper” ways of doing it.

            I mean, there are lots of people out there dressed improperly for work. If there weren’t, there wouldn’t be blogs like this one. But I’m willing to bet if someone came on here and said “I hold it against women when they don’t show lots of cleavage at the office. I think that means they’re trying too hard,” most people here would react the way I did to your comment.

          • This comment is meant for ADS — Get over yourself. you are not correct. People can shake hands anyway they choose. there is no right or wrong way to shake a hand. seriously.

          • Everything I’ve ever read or been taught (by Career Services at a number of different schools) is that a firm handshake is, in fact, the “correct” way of shaking hands. I guess now I know why some people still don’t do it?

          • I find this whole exchange absolutely bizarre. Sorry, Anon, but I doubt you’re going to find anyone who agrees with you. Google “proper handshake” and see if you come up with any links that say anything other than “a proper handshake is a firm handshake.”

          • And as for “getting over myself,” you’re the one who says you hold it against people (only women, though, apparently) who shake hands firmly. If you’re so convinced there are a thousand “proper” ways to shake hands, why hold the firm handshake against women?

      • anonymouse :

        I can honestly say that it never occurs to me that someone ” thinks they are better than me”, with handshakes or otherwise. Why not just say this person is seems arrogant?

        When I hear someone say that I instantly think: this person lacks confidence because they are expecting to be looked down on by others.

        I may well be the only one who thinks this, but my two cents’ worth….

    • The worst part about so many limp hand shakes out there is that my firm hand shake (which is how my dad taught me) gets many raised eyebrows or sarcastic comments, usually from men. It’s really irritating, as though I’m playing dress-up. Shouldn’t adults all expect firm hand shakes from each other?

      • Anonymous :

        Co-sign. A firm handshake from a woman shouldn’t be such a surprise. I’ve had multiple people comment (in front of my SO and myself) on the fact that my handshake is firmer than his (and he has a firm handshake himself!). Sorry, next time I’ll curtsy if that will make you more comfortable…

    • Totally! We just had an interview clinic for a non-profit group- we were doing mock interviews of disadvantaged young people the non-profit was training to enter the job market.

      Every single young woman I mock-interviewed gave me the dead fish hand. I think they think it’s ladylike to offer a weak hand.

      I said, “Honey, I’m not going to kiss your hand. Shake my hand. You don’t have to give me a death grip, but squeeze my hand back when I grab yours.”

      We also talked about it in the round-up session, so at least there are 20 or so young women who have been taught. :)

      • Anonymous :

        Ditto to all! I get annoyed with weak handshakes, especially from prosecutors. It is unprofessional to not know how to shake a hand.

    • Ok, there's a limit tho :

      I am a firm handshaker… always has been always will be. But, I have to say I can’t STAND it when people (men mostly but this AM it was a woman) squeeze the crap out of my hand and shake it like I’ve bet them $1M they can’t rip my arm off. Just give me a reasonably firm handsake so I know you are assertive and alive, and I will do the same. There’s no need to crush my hands and force me to hide what would otherwise be a wince.

      • I agree with this completely. I think I hate the death grip handshake way more than the dead fish one.

      • TheOtherCoast :

        And this is the reason I no longer wear rings on my right hand– I kept getting my hand squashed and the ring setting would actually cut into my surrounding fingers– yeeowch! Firm but not too firm, please!

      • My husband always complains about people (men mostly) that give the so-called “death grip” when shaking hands. I commented one time that they may not be aware that they are even doing it. I then shook hands with him and told him that his handshake could be interpreted by some as being a “death grip.”

        I think people over compensate and shake too hard in an attempt to avoid giving the limp fish handshake. Either way, practice with someone you know well so that you aren’t (unintentionally) going to one extreme or the other.

        • I’ve found that when someone gives you the “death grip”, if you squeeze back it helps to lessen the pain they inflict on you… and hopefully it teaches them a lesson too! :)

    • As I was being introduced around on my first day in my current office, I got the dead fish handshake from almost everyone, men and women alike. It was so disconcerting! I’ve been there for several months now, and I’m still cringing at the thought of it. ugh.

    • I am small and have a small hand. My husband is a foot taller than me and has proportionately larger hands. If we shake hands, I can’t actually get my fingers *around* his hand, at most my fingertips and thumb tip can grip, the rest of my hand is just parallel to his palm. I can’t give a good handshake to men with large hands because I literally can’t reach around the hand. It’s annoying. Hopefully, I do better with women, but (in my field, anyway) it seems like women rarely shake hands.

  5. I would have not even started text messaging. I would have ignored the one from him and followed up with a (professional) email like Kat wrote about above. I agree that text messaging is something to do with friends and MAYBE close colleagues. But not with potential contacts.

  6. Another Sarah :

    Confessional threadjack, file this one under “should have known better.” When I first started going on informational interviews, I would tell my parents about them, and my dad would say, “I hope you’re not spending your money on these people who aren’t giving you jobs! They pay! Always!” So all this time, I haven’t even been making the gesture to grab the check because I thought they pay. Come to find out, from reading the posts from this past week from the wise Corporette hivemind, that I’ve been horribly, horribly rude. Luckily I haven’t had that many so far, so I have a chance to redeem myself. Now that I know better I’ll do good going forward. But I feel like I’ve sabotaged myself before I’ve even started. Sigh, frustration…

    Now to channel my feelings of despair into the MBE…:-(

    • SF Bay Associate :

      A great example about how well-meaning parents may not offer the best advice, especially if they don’t have any professional background or experience in the area where you now are or aspire to be. There are no corporettes in my family, but they sure love to offer heartfelt, well-meaning, and totally wrong advice.

    • You aren't rude :

      I disagree with SF Bay. I think you should pay for your lunch on these informational interviews, but not for their lunch. You and they both know you don’t have that much money. And if they really insist on paying for you, let them.

    • I disagree. Unless you’re suggesting Morton’s and they aren’t grabbing the check.

      I would feel weirdly uncomfortable (and have) if a student or other young not-fully-employed person (like a clerk) tried to pick up the check. I’m an attorney making way more than they are – I’m also (likely) older. $50 for lunch or $10 for coffee just isn’t the same to me as it is to them – plus, they’re letting me pontificate, they should get something for it :-)

      • Latte Tuesday :

        I think its always appropriate to reach for the cheque. If you are asking me to take time away from my office to meet with you and give you career advice, this is time I could have spent doing paid work and I’m losing some income here. If you are junior to me (and especially a student) I won’t let you pay, but I think you should at least look like you realize that I am the one doing you a favour here and make the gesture.

    • I think you should always offer to split the check. Personally, because I don’t have a budget for recruiting and that sort of thing at my current job, I’d be horrified if an informational interviewee expected me to pay. I always split the check but if I had a budget for it, I’d pay for the interviewee.

      However, I certainly don’t expect a job-seeker or student to pay for me. Usually they offer to pay for me, and I say no thanks.

    • Alanna of Trebond :

      Honestly, I completely agree with your parents. You can definitely offer to pay, but don’t belabor the point — and if they don’t pay, it’s not a place I’m interested in working. They can most likely charge it to the firm, whereas you are only charging it to your poor student pocket!

  7. Kat : no, no, no!!! If an older gentleman responded in a “skeevy” fashion, I don’t think any further contact of any sort should be encouraged! What would this person provide as a mentor: tips on how to be disingenous and untrustworthy? Tips on how to post sleezy pictures to Twitter without getting caught? My strong feeling after 25 years of professional work is that your reputation is worth it’s weight in gold, and if this individual compromised his by “hitting” on a younger woman after just a few minutes of contact, he cannot provide anything of value to her from a professional sense. Far better to network with someone lower down the totem pole that someone high up who doesn’t have proper boundries. Kat’s advice is not too dissimilar from saying that Dominique Strauss Kahn would have been a good mentor even though his smudged reputation allegedly preceded him too!

    • “Tips on how to post sleezy pictures to Twitter without getting caught?” – literally laughed out loud at this one!

    • AnonInfinity :

      I absolutely think that women can network with older men, but I’d have reservations about this specific situation.

      I would assume that if this man started flirting so soon while not even knowing the woman, he probably does this a lot. I would also assume that others in the field know about his proclivities. Then I would connect the two and be afraid that by networking with him, others would assume that something else was going on.

      It’s so frustrating to me that we have to think about protecting our reputations in this way, but that would be a huge concern of mine.

    • Too extreme. Why is it so outrageous for a man to hit on a woman that sits next to him on a plane, strikes up a conversation during the flight, and then gives him her cell phone number when they land. This isn’t being “disingenuous and untrusthworthy”; it’s how people used to find their significant others. You know, before and Facebook disposed of face-to-face human interaction.

      Her motive may have been to acquire a new contact, but did she tell him that? What message was she sending by returning his “skeevy” texts? No, he has no right to harass her. But I’m not sure how this makes him a prospective poster of sleezy pictures on Twitter.

      Also, why is it that the woman should give up this amazing potential contact just because he misread her signals? You think she’s the first woman to try to network and hobnob with a man in powerful position and was instead just seen as the young woman/sex object? She needs to set him straight by showing how fabulous/professional/hardworker/whatever she is. I say to the writer, work smarter for this great opportunity.

      • If he just saw her as a sex object, exactly what kind of “great opportunity” do you expect him to offer her?

        • He’s the Chairman of the Board of a huge non-profit foundation. If she’s an attorney, this is a great business development opportunity. She shouldn’t just throw her hands up in the air and say, “Well, he found me attractive, so I guess I’ll never get business from that company. ” That’s giving in too easily. She shouldn’t close the door to prospective business just because of one guy.

          Admittedly, I assumed the woman was an attorney.

    • I guess I sort of disagree and sort of agree… I actually landed my summer internship because of a skeezy old man who admitted to hiring me because he found me attractive (guess he had vision issues as well). Then my second job post-law school the same way – through the recommendation of a skeevy old guy. The upside? I had an amazing (on paper) job for that stage of my career. The downside? Birds of a feather – neither of these guys ever provided me with a career contact that wasn’t either (a) interested for the same non-professional reasons, or (b) wrote me off because of the guy’s tone in his introductions, despite my being so paranoid about giving him a reason to be a skeeze that I was uber-buttoned up in dress and behavior my entire time there.

      It’s certainly possible to spin the situation to your advantage – first by following a lot of the great advice here and not doing anything in behavior or dress to encourage the skeeze, second by being polite and evasive enough that he’s never able to put you on the spot or interact with you without witnesses (which will slow them down considerably), and if you’re feeling a bit skeezy yourself, getting him to put his cards on the table early, allowing you to maximize the contact and then get out of his range.

      No matter what, though, this isn’t a long-term contact, it’s not an equal contact and any benefits that come out of it will be 2-3 degrees removed (which is to say, the friend of a friend of an acqaintance). If you don’t have a lot of other options, this might be a lead to pursue. If you do, I’d just LinkedIn the guy and not respond to any communications after 3pm.

  8. When I was a newer female associate, I was very careful about flirting that I perceived as coming from experienced male partners/counsel. In retrospect, perhaps too careful. Because now that I am a partner, albeit a young partner, who has contact with male associates and mentees, I find that what I think of as friendly, trying to get beyond status, conduct is sometimes interpreted as flirting and that I tend to steer my time and attention to those male associates who don’t interpret it that way (or who don’t claim to do so).

    Now, I don’t typically text (though I have once or twice), and I don’t condone harassment, but I don’t know from what is given that any of that occurred, as opposed to someone (older male) having his ego fed by someone else (younger female) and that in the long run, he might not be a good contact for her.

  9. I once thought I had scored a real networking coup, and drove 6 hrs one way to accomplish several things, including a meeting with the guy, while he was in the country. Turned out he had one thing only on his mind. I felt stupid, not just for falling for it, but for thinking I was good enough at what I do to get the kind of attention I wanted (objectively, I’d say I AM good enough–the feelings were off base.).

    I think the best thing to do to try to salvage this is to ask him for contacts, perhaps by saying you’d like to network with women in his field to see how the manage the juggle or something equally gender-coded as that.

    • p.s. The thing I find most vexing in the whole A Weiner thing is that most of the women seem to have contacted him for political reasons, as supporters, and he turned things in a sexual direction with each of them. Not only icky, but also damning commentary on how he sees women.

  10. “I’ve been in the situation myself, although in my case I think my defenses went up too soon — I vividly remember being asked “So what do you want?” when I took an older gentleman to lunch when I was around 23 (he practiced in a specialty I wanted to get into). Nothing but advice, I answered honestly, but I somehow still felt a bit dirty.”

    I am so glad this article popped up today. I have felt this way so much this year – I had to ask for older male input and meetings, but did *not* want personal relationships. Oy. I just turned down a position because I was afraid of what the wives of my business contacts would think of me. I am in my mid-20s, 6′ tall, and athletic. And single. Networking is my specialty, but the job I was offered required regular 1:1 dinner meetings with male associates (no opportunity to bring a classmate/peer/colleague here). Argh. I was so conflicted: liked the job, hated the prospect of being black-listed by the local wives’ club, and hated the idea of being in a position where I would have to say “No” to unwelcome advances by older associates. There was a history of this in the position I was interviewing for. I will take any and all advice for being professional at a young age without turning down good job opportunities. I liked the father-daughter idea. My biggest fear is wives’ perceptions of me taking their husbands out for dinner. Ick.

    • I really hope you didn’t actually turn down a job you liked because you worried what other people’s wives would think of you. That’s terrible and self-defeating!

    • I feel ya :

      The wives’ perception is a killer and I just don’t think there is a way around it.

      The executive group that I work with is made up of all males. While I really do like each one of them, it’s a serious boys club. I’ve made it in more than any other woman, partly because I’ve gotten to know each one on a very comfortable and healthy level. Due to the industry and their close relationships with one another, most of the bonding time and really decision-making is done during two or three-person golf games or two or three-person dinners (dinners are common given our particular industry). I was starting to get invited to these things but then, after I meet their wives, one by one, they’ve withdrawn and now I’m back to business hours only events. One of the guys just outright told me that his wife got extremely upset to find out that I was the one that he and another exec had been meeting for dinner. I understand them needing to keep the peace in their home but come on… I met their wives, I was warm, I was nice, I tried to make them comfortable with me and my intentions and made sure that they knew that I adore my husband. We seemed to get along just fine. I feel like if I didn’t dress as nice and didn’t pay as much attention to my appearance it would’ve gone differently. But, that’s just not fair or right. Especially since I’m a pretty conservative dresser as it is.

      Gah. Sometime us women are our worst enemy.

      • Italian Tomato :

        This. I was noticing some male associates acting odd around me at firm family social events even though they are totally normal to me in the office. My husband said “duh, it is because their wives are around and they don’t want to take the heat when they get home.” My female assistant told me that after one such event her husband couldn’t stop commenting on how cool it was that she had “two hot bosses.” Ugh. Now if her husband is commenting, you know the males wives are too.

        Oh and by “hot” I was wearing plaid knee length golf shorts, a polo, and Keens. So freaking sexy (*rolls eyes*). But, I’m young, blonde, big boobed, and blue eyed.

  11. I don’t think it’s a good idea to network with this guy.

    Given his behavior thus far, I would guess that his willingness to do her a a professional favor (introduce her to other contacts, provide guidance on career moves, etc) would lead to an expectation that he be “repaid” somehow — especially if she reaches out to him *after* he’s behaved unprofessionally via text.

    • His loss. He can’t make her “repay” anything, as long as she doesn’t work for him. I wouldn’t accept a job offer to work for the guy (or within his sphere of immediate power) for that very reason, though. Frankly I’d try to make a contact through the guy, then make a contact through that contact … move a few degrees away. No loss if he refuses. dgf

  12. But how can she manage the relationship so it’s clear that she’s not interested in funny business?

    She can’t. This is one situation where women constantly get told, wrongly, that they are the problem, that they are “accidentally sending the wrong signals” or otherwise just making it too difficult for the poor, horny, apparently utterly brainless men who cannot fathom the idea that a woman would want to speak to them for any reason except to jump at the chance of grabbing their pale, wrinkled balls. It is wrong. No one is that dumb, particularly not the chairman of a huge nonprofit foundation, who has had ample opportunities in his life to learn to read people and who has undoubtedly done so. He willfully misinterpreted her friendly, casual contact either because he resented it and was purposefully trying to make her uncomfortable, or because he knew damn well what she wanted and thought he could get her to trade sex for it. This is not our problem, ladies. It’s their problem, and no amount of wishing and hoping that we can somehow hit on the perfect way to act that will make men respect us is going to fix the situation. I am sorry this happened to your friend.

    • Amen!

    • Anon for this one :

      Well-said – I will add a third interpretation as to willfully misinterpreting her friendly, casual contact and say that he did not care what her intentions were because he had decided she was attractive and he was going to be out of town, where it is far easier to have a casual encounter than at home (especially for married men).

      • Ugh, this. I hate being at a conference (or traveling for work) and not being able to make pleasant chit-chat with a seat mate, person I’m seated next to at lunch or during a session without it being perceived as flirting!
        I know not all men behave this way, but the amount of times I’ve been hit on by older, married men with (some after telling me all about their wives and children) while traveling on business is astounding. Its the 21st century, I refuse to believe that being young(ish), female, and moderately attractive is somehow ‘asking’ to be flirted with (and sometimes stalked) while working.

  13. I’d pass on this one also – no way the risk is worth the remotely possible reward. He KNOWS his possible value to her and he KNOWS he has the upper hand. And he’s counting on that. Move on – quickly. Better to be safe than sorry. (Older men often see younger women in particular as prey, and one doesn’t change that just by being “professional”. Leopards don’t lose their spots.)

  14. AnonInfinity :

    I have a question about the “father/daughter relationship” point. To me, that implies that at least a certain part of the relationship is a little infantalizing.

    As a summer associate, I had that type of relationship with one of the older male partners, and soon I noticed that he was calling me “kid” (not calling anyone else that), and it felt kind of off to me. It didn’t feel like the completely professional image that I was wanting to project.

    • This. I think father/daughter is the wrong relationship as well. You want people to think of you as part of the same continuum, albeit on different ends. I am very careful to develop topics of conversation that I can discuss with their my older, male co-workers so that I do get get put into the same “young” groups as their kids (many of which frankly are older than me.)

    • I HATE the father-daughter idea. It absolutely is infantilizing and transfers all of the power in the relationship to the other party.

      Sorry for the Ellen-style caps

    • I read this to mean the kind of mentoring relationship a man can have with a daughter, not a paternalistic or demeaning relationship. I had a boss with daughters my age who pursued other life directions. He took me under his wing and provided me with tons of support and advice. I lack familial professional mentors and learned a lot from him – and I think he appreciated having an outlet for his fatherly support.

      But it never involved stupid and insulting nicknames.

      • I agree with Erin. I worked closely with a partner who ended up knowing me better on a certain level (professional / intellectual) than my own father, and who certainly spent more time with me. I don’t think it’s unnatural for there to be a kind of “professional affection” that develops between colleagues—provided that there is MUTUAL respect and admiration between the parties.
        The infantalizing / patronizing paternalism that is being described by other commenters is different—totally unprofessional, with the effect of establishing and defending a power dynamic that goes beyond boss-subordinate.

    • I agree with this, as well. I think a more accurate description is “mentor/mentee” – neither is younger or less professional, one is just less experienced. A coworker of mine who is my age (30s) always goes on and on about how our boss “is just like a dad, awwww” and I want to both smack her and back away at the same time.

    • Maybe people’s interpretations of the phrase “father/daughter relationship” will vary depending on the relationship you have with your father?

      My dad is in my same line of work, and very senior and well respected in our field (which si male-dominated). As a kid, it was always assumed that I would become a professional as well, and he was thrilled when I ended up in his line of work. He’s definitely been a mentor to me over the years, and it’s that kind of relationship that I have with my older, male mentors: essentially the equivalent of a father/son relationship. So when I think of a “father/daughter” relationship, I think of exactly what a mentor/mentee relationship SHOULD be.

      If your relationship with your father is more of a “daddy’s little girl” sort of thing (something I can’t ever remember having with my dad) then I’m guessing you’d read the phrase differently. (Please note: there is no judgement intended in this comment about what a father/daughter relationship SHOULD be.)

    • I think “kid” is an attempt to make it clear that his intentions are not sexual by using a gender-neutral term. Give him a break and appreciate the genuine mentoring.

  15. I had a disturbing sexual harassment incident that bears some similarities to this subject. It happened over 10 years ago.

    I was unemployed and looking for a new job. Yup, in IT, unemployment is a fact of life. My friend had a friend who owned a couple of software companies. I’d met him before. He was about the same age or a couple of years older. And she’d dated him casually for a brief period.

    I went in and interviewed with him, but then didn’t hear from him for several months. At that time, he called and asked if I wanted to get a drink. I said sure. At the bar, he put his hand on my a$$ and kept it there, which totally freaked me out. He then mentioned that the job was still open.

    I cut the evening very short. A couple of weeks later, he called again and I told him that no one had ever treated me with such disrespect and asked him never to call again.

    This is all to say that I think the guy mentioned above would not be a good contact. I think J would constantly worry that his behavior would veer into the unacceptable. I personally don’t regret telling my contact off and am honestly very proud of myself. I’m usually far more timid.

    • Good for you. You handled this perfectly, especially his phone call back.

  16. Anon for this one :

    On the micro-level, I do not think your friend manage the relationship so it’s clear that she’s not interested in funny business – IME, if an older guy starts sending you text messages late at night, the networking potential is over. If she contacts him now, he may be embarrassed at her rejection, which is not a good foot on which to begin a networking relationship. Also he may expect repayment for any networking help he provides and/or being recommended by him may carry an unwelcome veneer, seeing as it is likely he has a reputation for such behavior. Worst case scenario: retaliation/manipulation. I realize I am being harsh, but in my experience, when older men make overtures to younger women via text, particularly when out of town, they are after only one proverbial thing. And generally, they are not the nicest of people if they are willing to do that (yes, I realize, there’s always the exception, but call me a cynic – guys who have no problem making such overtures are not generally the nice guy who helps you network out of the goodness of his heart either).

    On a macro-level – ie can a younger woman network with an older man? I find it difficult and uncomfortable but not impossible. Things that have worked for me: networking where there was a referral made (once through a former employer, once through a law school professor) or where there was a pre-existing professional relationship, firm handshake (that’s key), and being just generally very asexual/neutral. That goes without saying, but I am really mindful in such situations to be incredibly business-like, almost to the point where I worry I am robot-like. That’s one I have not yet figured out.

  17. Your friend “J” should request the contact on LinkedIn (or other business networking site of choice) and leave it at that. If he accepts the invite, it will open up her to his network and perhaps there’s someone there that she know a la six degrees of Kevin Bacon – I mean separation. Let some time pass and then in a few months try reaching out to the CEO again and asking if he has any women he would recommend she connect with – great advice I cannot take credit for, as someone earlier in the thread mentioned it.

  18. A lucky mentee :

    I believe that the type of older man you want as your mentor is the type of man that will never put you in an awkward position like this, because he truly is mentoring you because he sees professional potential in you and not because he’s hoping at all for a young fling. If there is a hint of impropriety, especially early on, I really don’t know if you can (or want to) recover from that.

    A twist on the father-daughter mode that I’ve been fortunate to develop is a sort of uncle-niece relationship. He’s not old enough to be my dad, so I guess that’s why I view him more as an uncle. Nowadays, we email periodically and try to get together when we’re in the same city. We go out for meals (including drinks), and there has never ever been even one inappropriate moment or hint of impropriety. I’ve known my mentor for almost 10 years now – from when I was his young aimless assistant to becoming a law student (with his encouragement) to being a big firm lawyer and now working as an attorney for an international organization. In fact, he helped me get my (next) job.

    I truly value the relationship we have developed and over the past near-decade, and he has always been a person I could turn to for advice when I need something more objective than the parental “you’re great, you can do anything, anyone would be crazy not to hire you” cheerleading. His wife has weighed in with valuable insight on occasion too, though I don’t have a close relationship with her. I think the fact that I know his wife and she passes along advice to me is another sign that this is a mentorship that’s on the up-and-up.

    To circle back to the main point, though, it’s all about the individual. You can’t, as a rule, rule older men out, or make it work with everyone. You can make sure that YOU don’t cause it to be inappropriate, but that’s all you can control. The rest is up to them, and if they can’t do that, well… My advice is to move on.

    • the type of older man you want as your mentor is the type of man that will never put you in an awkward position like this.


    • +1

      I also work in a 90% male field, and was lucky enough to have some great mentors, both male and female. I would say I looked to my female mentors (who were all in industry, not working for my firm) as guideposts and as honest soundboards/feedback, e.g. greatly helping with my communication skills and helping me “see the whole room” when doing meetings.

      My managing partner and my immediate one-level-above-peer mentor were both great guys. IMO, keeping a mentor-mentee relationship almost overly professional, then sharing more of yourself as the mentor opens up can lead to a great friendship as well. My parents are a bit on the older side, and are actually a few years older than my managing partner’s parents. When his Mom went through a serious health crisis a few years ago, it was very rewarding (and deepened our professional relationship) for me to be able to help him through his family issues.

      I would say trust your instincts. If it feels wrong, it probably is. No professional relationship is worth compromising your reputation or putting yourself in an uncomfortable position.

  19. I am not sure why this post is limited to “older men.” In my experience, this type of concern, although perhaps more prevalent in “older” men because they are tend to have achieved higher positions, can come in all age groups.

  20. I was in a similar situation years ago. I was working in a job I loved for a man who was about to take off in his career. Everything was great until my boyfriend and I broke up. From that moment on, my boss turned our work environment upside down. Suddenly all our meetings were at night, and he wanted me to drink wine with him, asked me to romantic dinners, etc. I had never been in this situation before and I started to nervously withdraw from the job. I finished my work with less frequency and eventually my boss’s partner fired me.

    In my industry, I was too worried about repercussions to take legal action. And sadly I was too afraid to tell the partner the truth. My boss has gone on to be at the top of his field, and I’m struggling to find work. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret just making a silly joke to my boss about trying to seduce me, and then saying let’s get back to work.

    Since my former boss had the decency to wait until I was single to try something, perhaps he would have responded to some direct confrontation about his advances, and then we could have moved on. For the letter writer, this man sounds like he could be a fantastic contact. Perhaps treating it directly will help him move on and you can get the benefits of his position.

    • Something similar happened to me in my early 20s. I worked for a blue-suit consultancy, and our office GM seemed great. Innappropriate at times (like telling me I should tell him a dirty joke every day to “loosen up,” which I ignored), but it was a great opportunity out of college.

      Everything went otherwise really well, and I was learning a lot. Until I broke up with my boyfriend at the time and the boss-man caught wind. He stepped it up, albiet subtly, but when I figured out that newly single me wasn’t interested, he started to set me up by having me bill clients for projects he wouldn’t tell the account managers about. So there was this weird case being built that I over-billed clients.

      Luckily, I got recruited away before any of that got out of control. He was furious (which makes no sense b/c it sure seemed like he wanted a reason to fire me). In my last two weeks, he “accidentally” slammed into me in the hallway when we crossed paths. I finally figured out that he thought I was going to work for a competitor, but I was actually changing industries and the names were just similar. Then he backed off.

      Surprisingly, I’ve met with him since then for professional/legal advice and he gave me strong recommendations. I’d never go work for him again, but I did actually consider it at one point when he made an offer. (The position didn’t pay enough though.) I guess I figure I just know how to deal with the guy now. Or maybe it’s just that at 37, I’m not his type any more? Haha.