Looking for more of the best deals, latest celebrity news and hottest trends? Sign up for Yahoo Lifestyle Canada’s newsletter!
When Regina Scott found out that, after a gruelling boot camp, she had received her dream internship at a software company, she was excited: her mid-pandemic career change into the tech industry had paid off.
Eager to share her success with friends and colleagues, she posted a photo of herself on LinkedIn with an inspirational caption hoping to motivate others.
“Changing your career is an incredibly stressful and challenging thing,” Scott said in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle Canada. “So I wanted people to know that it is possible and I wanted to celebrate my achievement.”
Within minutes, the 25-year-old was inundated with messages; some congratulatory, some seeking career advice — but most were inappropriate messages from men commenting on her appearance.
Normally Scott would ignore these sorts of messages, but the sheer volume of them on a day when she was celebrating a professional milestone hit a nerve. So, when she received a message from a high-level employee at a major tech company commenting on her appearance, she decided to call him out on his behaviour.
When confronted, the man’s messages became increasingly aggressive. Scott said the man went so far as to threaten to report her to her employer as a “problematic employee.”
Scott was initially excited to receive a message from an employee from such a well known company, but was disheartened to see how he behaved.
“I thought it was pretty cool since I would love to make new connections with people in big tech companies and then he hit on me,” she recalled.
Unlike Instagram or Twitter, LinkedIn is strictly a professional networking site and is often used by companies to recruit qualified employees.
“It’s supposed to be agnostic of how you look and it’s supposed to be based on your achievements and your goals and aspirations,” Scott said. “This kind of behaviour from men is so toxic and disappointing.”
Scott is not alone in her frustration. Last month a post by Chandler Walker, a 22-year-old social media intern, condemning this behaviour went viral.
“I'm frustrated that I even have to write this post, but I feel like many women are experiencing the same thing,” Walker wrote in a post that has since received more than 25,000 likes. “LinkedIn is not a dating app — please do not connect or message me on LinkedIn — unless you want to network. I have worked my whole life to be taken seriously as a professional woman. An unwarranted personal message that has nothing to do with work — on a website that is specifically for professional networking — is unacceptable.”
Walker’s post received hundreds of comments from women echoing similar experiences of receiving unwanted and inappropriate messages from men.
"I’m so glad you posted this. I have felt the same way and was wondering if it was just me experiencing it,” wrote one user.
Others shared how men had purported to have job opportunities when they only wanted to hit on them.
“I was sick of it happening, because it really made me feel like a joke,” explained Walker, who said a message from a 50-year-old man calling her profile picture “really cute” was the final straw that lead her to write the post. "I had no idea who he was - we weren't even in the same state and I don't know how he came across me or anything like that. It truly felt like some weird Instagram direct message (DM)."
Harassment over LinkedIn an example of the blurring of boundaries, explains business psychologist Dr. Nic Hammarling.
“When LinkedIn was first created it was seen very much as a more formal way of managing and sharing your CV —now it has morphed to become more of a social platform,” Hammarling said. “That has blurred the boundaries in terms of how people are using it -so we do indeed see people reaching out on a much more personal basis, and that's where we're starting to get into some of the more dangerous territory."
Men have used the premise of LinkedIn to their advantage because women have their messages open. Women using the site are doing so in order to network to find employment, suggested Walker, who noted that the harassment has become more commonplace since the outbreak of COVID-19.
Walker said she is constantly surprised at how bold men are with their comments when contacting her on a professional site.
“I think it's weird because I can see them and I can see the name of their company and where they went to college — I can see that they are 40-years-older than me,” she said.
Scott agrees, and says she is shocked that men with such carefully curated profiles at large companies would be so irresponsible.
“For them to be messaging me like that I was shocked - like what are you doing you are risking all of this just to hit on someone?” she asked incredulously.
One of the principal reasons why people demonstrate inappropriate behaviour in a professional environment is fundamentally a lack of self insight, observes Hammarling.
“It’s almost as though they're missing that understanding of how this is likely to be perceived and how it plays out for people - that is a really big part of it, she explained. “It’s the equivalent of being in a physical meeting room, and then somebody asking you to make the tea because you are the women in the room - you are on a professional forum and somebody is reaching out to you because of your gender. It’s very reminiscent of some of the more obvious ways that we're seeing women feeling that they're being reduced to their gender rather than their experience and what they're bringing."
Both Scott and Walker agree with Hammarling and feel as though the purpose of LinkedIn is being missed and misused.
“They look at me like an object - an attractive girl in coding who’s fair game to hit on,” said Scott.
Ultimately, there is a feeling that there is little recourse for this sort of behaviour. Walker now blocks men who send her those types of messages saying the men aren’t worth the emotional labour. She also fears that if she calls them out on their inappropriate comments, then they may know someone in her professional circle.
“They might tell people not to hire me or get people to blacklist me - that’s a big fear,” she added.
Speaking out felt good as there was a solidarity in the comments said Walker, but she experienced backlash from people who thought she was just seeking attention.
“I think it needs to come to light to the people at LinkedIn to do something about it,” Scott said.
LinkedIn said the site is taking precautions to prevent harassment and have introduced new feature to report unwanted behaviour.
“We do not tolerate any form of harassment on LinkedIn and are always listening to feedback from our members to create a safe experience for everyone in our community. We recently strengthened our Professional Community Policies to be even clearer that harassment and romantic advances have no place on LinkedIn and the actions we take to protect members,” the statement read. “We’ve also added reminders for members to keep conversations professional in posts, comments, and messages. We continue to invest in keeping our members safe, including new features such as in-line warnings on messages that may include harassment, and encourage members to report any content they don’t feel comfortable with to us.”