“Please show up and fully embrace your divine femininity. You can be strong and kind, sensual and graceful, smart and witty, funny and bold…everything! Vulnerability is our greatest yet scariest connection as human beings. Lead with honesty and wisdom is the key. Honestly, there is a lot of power in beauty, but knowing that women as a whole are more than our appearance and expressing it helps to differentiate between being an object and being a human being.” – Nazanim Mandy , Transformative Life Coachand actress
Often, when we talk about sex and power, it’s because there’s an incident that needs to be addressed. We rarely examine the power dynamics outside of events. Talking about things before they happen is a great way to create change, gain more power, and develop a healthy relationship with our sexuality and power.
Most women in business experience a superficial, sexy undercurrent at some point in their business dealings. These surface-level interactions often cloud decision-makers and prevent them from seeing the true value women bring. Given men’s propensity to gain power and seize opportunities, they may abuse that power and use sex as a game of chess for their own gain. These interactions, while insidious, are not always overt. They can be very subtle, such as deceiving a woman by swaying the idea that they will support her business. Sometimes men don’t fully realize they’re doing it. To be fair, some women do too. Allowing your time and efforts to go unnoticed and wasted can be frustrating, especially as an entrepreneur when your time and energy are critical to the success of your business.
Nadia Dugal analyzes the differences between women in business and men in business from an insider’s perspective. A homeopath, Nadia is one of the most active venture capital lawyers in the world. In 2021, she transitions from male to female. She is now a co-founder of Tome and a venture trading educator at Berkeley Law School. After transitioning, she realized, “There’s a lot of talk about male privilege, but it’s hard to internalize the meaning when you just know that’s the only world around. While I’ve given up a lot of privilege through transition, I’ve found that I still have “Learned Privilege” – This sense of entitlement influences my behavior in many ways. The confidence instilled in me as a cis person and impacted by my professional relationships has allowed me to experience firsthand the many ways in which privilege can greatly affect outcomes one of the ways.
As a man, that much doesn’t matter, including what I wear. And, if anything, history now suggests that soup-stained khaki shorts and crumpled unwashed T-shirts may be the ticket to a unicorn term sheet. It doesn’t really matter when the meeting takes place, and because I’m male, I’m assumed to be the leader. But the transformation presents many new factors to consider. When dressing for a meeting, how do I present in a way that makes people take me seriously but still look good? If I look “too good,” does my attire send a different signal? Will dressing too fashionable make you look frivolous and not “hardcore” enough? These are judgments about women, not men. And, no, we can’t be taken seriously when we’re wearing crumpled, smelly t-shirts and soup-stained shorts!
Even details like meeting place and time matter. Am I communicating something different if I accept the evening session? What about a restaurant? Nice restaurant? a bar? Cis men take it for granted. Why is this important? But as a woman, I have to be vigilant, that’s the nature of the world I’m in. “
Nazanin advocates establishing a clear dynamic from the start. “Basic boundaries start with the subtext. How you walk into a room, how you present yourself, sets the tone for the interaction. People know who they can and can’t mess with. You can learn a lot about someone by their presence and energy Initiate your interaction by looking someone in the eye with confidence. Tell them forcefully, “I’m not intimidated. I have a say. I have my own opinion. I am the boss. I have my own ideas and knowledge, you can’t mess with me. “
Sex is a power. Power can also be used to gain sex. In business, it’s important to create clear lines. Otherwise, interactions can be confusing and blurred. Using sexual dynamics as a power play also creates dislocation within the business. If the foundation of business interactions is not based on authenticity, they may lead to faltering at some later point in time. Before approaching a business opportunity, clarify your intentions. If there is sexual tension, find a diplomatic way to resolve it.
I once had a man who I asked to be my mentor, asking if a romantic relationship was possible between us when we first met. He wants to make sure there are no gray areas. I replied that I had no romantic interests and he respected that. This allows us to pre-resolve sexual tension and create a purely platonic mentoring relationship. This is the first and only time I’ve been asked this question so directly. It was refreshing and created a deeper level of trust between us. I also have the option and ability to resolve any sexual tension if the man is not so sober and responsible. Asking this question doesn’t always equate to an honest answer, but at least you did your due diligence and you hold yourself accountable.
Michael Hexner, founder and business consultant at Wheel Works, shares his wisdom, “If a guy has ulterior motives and you start to feel like moving on, don’t let him waste your time. It’s a power game , you can take back your power by not engaging. Also, business people will waste your time for all kinds of reasons. Regardless of causality, move on and stop letting them waste your time.”
Remember the value you bring. You and your business are as important as the people you reach to advance your entrepreneurial work. If people don’t respect you and don’t see the value you provide, you can choose to change the trajectory of the interaction. If you feel like someone is wasting your time, don’t be afraid to pass up the opportunity to see. Spending your time on people with false and indirect intentions is missing other fruitful untapped opportunities… Time is a non-refundable currency.
Sex is a natural and beautiful thing. It’s not a matter of suppressing your libido. Like everything in life, it’s about discerning when it’s appropriate to be a woman’s sensual experience, and when it’s appropriate for a man to engage and disengage from sexuality. There is no requirement for men or women to fill these specific roles. They can be reversed. However, given historical social structures, the typical dynamic involves men in positions of power. For women, society has ingrained the belief that power comes through sex. Kym Gold, co-founder of True Religion Jeans and Style Union Home, has advice to women, “Don’t be sexually dominant because it’s hard to turn back. You can be beautiful and sexy, but don’t use it for business. Go with your confidence lead.”
Most power-related interactions are subtle and socially entrenched. Humanity is called to become more conscious and better for future generations. Each of us (male, female, or non-binary) has a responsibility to be a part of building a new wave of gender dynamics in business. As our consciousness expands, we gain insight into how each of us is a part of this cycle. We need to be patient with the internal and external evolutionary process if we make the necessary changes. As with anything new, it takes time, and we may occasionally stumble while learning about different ways of being. It takes courage and strength to lead major changes in commercial dynamics and more. Respect for ourselves and others is a pillar we need to keep coming back to. It is important to understand the power each of us generates. Most women are much stronger than they think they are. Power is everywhere and in the choices we make. Choose wisely how you want to be treated, how you want to represent yourself, and with whom you want to share your power.
If you’ve experienced more serious sexual harassment, MovingForward has created a Harassment Handbook for Founders.