Indecent proposal or business as usual?

March 1, 2012

Reader: My girlfriend told me that her boss (married with children) asked her out for dinner and drinks to “discuss her performance.” When she told me she accepted, I was less than pleased. I explained that her boss’s request was simply inappropriate and her acceptance even more so. Has the women’s movement come to this? Have the years of litigation and regulation on sexual harassment in the workplace been reduced to a “Mad Men” version of reality? Needless to say, we are at odds. I believe her act has empowered a sexual predator to continue his behavior and subjected every other female employee to a hostile work environment whether they are or are not as compliant in accepting his advances. She thinks I don’t trust her. I trust her to make the correct decision, particularly when so much guidance is available in this arena.

Karla: Don Draper called. He says you should show the broad some respect, already.

The first thing I want to know is this: Who is putting the quotation marks around “discuss her performance” — you or your girlfriend? Unless she expressed specific concerns that you haven’t disclosed here, I’m not sure how you made the leap from “married boss extending dinner invitation” to “sexual predator.” (Would you feel better if he were single?) Mixed-gender work dinners — with grown-up drinks! — are hardly uncommon nowadays, especially as one moves up the corporate ladder. Further, if a woman honestly thinks her boss intends to put the moves on her, she might (a) accept or (b) tell her boyfriend, but hardly (c) both — outside of a Penthouse letters forum.

That said, I’ve never met the boss, your girlfriend or you. For all I know, he’s Hugh Hefner, she’s a newly hired Playboy Bunny, and you’re Alan Alda. The only one who knows all the players in this scenario is your girlfriend.


(Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

So, yes, you have to trust her to make the “correct” decision — not “the one that makes her boyfriend happy,” but the one that she considers appropriate for her career and her personal comfort zone.

Trust her to have some idea whether her boss is a sleaze or a guy who treats all his workers to occasional burgers and beer. Trust her to decide how much (or whether) she drinks, to stick to shop talk, and to extricate herself if she realizes she misread the setup.

In that worst-case scenario, it would be nice if she could turn to someone afterward who isn’t going to tell her that her “act” of accepting an invitation to a business dinner “empowered” an unscrupulous supervisor to prey on her. Surely the women’s movement has won us at least that much ground.

Karla Miller lives with her family in South Riding, Va. For 16 years, she has written for and edited tax publications. Send your questions to wpmagazine@washpost.com.

Boyfriend smells a rat in girlfriend’s dinner with her boss

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