Does Flirting Help or Hurt Your Career?

Aug. 9, 2005 — -- A new study by Tulane University researchers suggests that flirting in the workplace adversely affects a woman's career.

Although the survey sample was small -- just 164 female business school graduates -- the results raise provocative questions. Of those who responded to a questionnaire, 50.6 percent said they used various forms of flirting as a tool to get ahead and 49.4 percent said they never flirted.

Those who did not flirt reported earning between $75,000 and $100,000 per year while those who did averaged $50,000 to $75,000. Women who did not flirt were also promoted three times in their career as opposed to the flirting women who were only promoted twice.

"Does flirting lead to success? We think not. We actually think it would be detrimental to the career outcome," said Suzanne Chan-Serafin, a co-author and doctoral candidate in organizational behavior at Tulane University.

"Sex as a Tool at Work: Flirting to Success or Flirting with Disaster" was presented on Monday during the annual meeting of the Academy of Management, a gathering of thousands of scholars of management from around the world.

Chan-Serafin said that when women use their sexuality at work, they are viewed as more feminine, and thus less than equal.

Research shows "sexuality is really a short-term power source," she said.

Chan-Serafin noted that her study did not consider the context of the sexual behavior, nor did it conclude that men never use sex appeal to advance their careers.

Jodi Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, has these tips for proper office behavior for women who want to get ahead:

Craft your image: Tight tanks, flip flops and little skirts do not a power image make. Pick a wardrobe that will position you for what you want.

Know your space: A professional boundary between colleagues is less than an arms length apart. Hugs are acceptable, if it is a professional, brief embrace and not a full body bear squeeze.

Don't feed the office gossip monster: Keep personal details of your life to a minimum.

Chan-Serafin says a new study will look at whether women in male-dominated workplaces make more use of their sexuality when faced with being stereotyped as weak.