We've heard it a thousand times: LinkedIn is your public resume, a place where potential employers can check out your professional qualifications. But should they also feel free to check out (and comment on) your physical attributes?
Unfortunately, this scenario played out for a female lawyer in England, Charlotte Proudman. A few days ago, she received a message from father of two Alexander Carter-Sillk, after they connected on the networking site. The message from Carter-Silk complimented her profile picture and her beauty, and her response expertly shut him down:
And while Carter-Silk apparently immediately apologized for his behavior, Proudman posted this exchange on her Twitter. The tweet quickly went viral, and women began responding to her sharing their own similar stories of inappropriate LinkedIn dialogue.
Interestingly, the backlash in England has been against Proudman--not Carter-Silk--for being a "hypocrite" because she has commented on male and female appearances of her Facebook friends and for being a "feminazi" for not letting it go. This backlash, however, merely reinforces the system of sexism that Proudman is highlighting.
I see this LinkedIn issue twofold:
Virtual Networking Imitates Real Networking
The reason the interaction between Proudman and Carter-Silk touches such a nerve is because it's the kind of seemingly harmless interaction women deal with on an everyday basis in the workplace. That Carter-Silk felt is was appropriate to comment on the looks of a woman he'd never met, with whom he connected for professional purposes, isn't surprising. Women in the workplace have often been treated as looks-first, brains-second, and if you need a history lesson to prove that fact, then perhaps you haven't been paying attention.
But the fact that this exchange is not surprising is exactly why it should be put out there on social media and discussed. Women should be able to exist in a professional environment without being subjected to male opinions of their appearance. Yet this man felt free to share his opinion of Proudman's physical appearance, which is a symptom of the larger problem. That he immediately apologized is commendable; that it happened in the first place is completely worthy of exposure.
While it's unfortunate that Britain is subjected Proudman to "feminist shaming," I'm glad she posted in on Twitter. We obviously still need to be having a conversation around sexism in the workplace, and hopefully we can do so without making cartoons of each other.
LinkedIn Is Not Facebook
The comparisons between Carter-Silk's behavior on LinkedIn and Proudman's behavior on Facebook are ridiculous, and stem from a deep misunderstanding of the nature of social networks. Not all social networks are created equally. Facebook is where you go to personally connect with your friends, see photographs of their friends and family, and comment on the snippets of their personal lives they put out there. On the opposite end of the social network spectrum, LinkedIn is clearly and strictly a place for professional communication and education.
Proudman is not wrong to expect to be treated professionally on LinkedIn, and she's not wrong to comment on her friends' photos on Facebook. That's why there is a comment box under photos on Facebook, and not a comment box under photos on LinkedIn.
Additionally, if, for some reason, she commented on a male's photograph on LinkedIn in a message to him, yes, it would be inappropriate, but no, it would not speak to a long tradition of women being sexualized and devalued in the workplace. Regardless, she didn't do that. Carter-Silk did.
A Few LinkedIn Takeaways From This Controversy
1) Remember to modify your behavior according to each social network. While your experience of logging in might feel the same at your desk, the worlds you're entering can be vastly different.
2) When you approach someone on LinkedIn, approach them as you would at a professional mixer. Would you walk up to someone and say, "You're pretty; can I see your resume?" Probably not.
3) Don't forget that everything you do online is or has the potential to be public, even private messages.
4) Treat people with kindness, even online-especially online--where it's easy to hide behind a vitriolic statement.
Read Charlotte Proudman's statement in The Independent here.