How much business are you doing away from the office? At a working lunch, maybe. In the clubhouse after 18 holes. Or over a half-caf something-or-other at your local Starbucks?
They all sound pretty innocuous, don’t they, no matter who’s at the table with you? Nothing untoward going on at the golf club for cryin’ out loud. Talking business over lunch or a cup of coffee seems harmless.
Do you draw the line when it comes to dinner?
Many people do. Vice President Mike Pence famously refuses to dine with a woman who’s not Karen Pence. He avoids any event where alcohol is served unless his wife is with him.
You think he’s a prude? Turns out the V.P. is not alone. Nearly half of men and more than half of women told researchers from Morning Consult it’s inappropriate to have dinner with someone of the other sex. And yet, a lot of people also said their careers depend on exactly that kind of after-hours conversation.
But wait, there’s more. This survey was taken before Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose and #MeToo. I’d guess even more people are concerned about where and how to spend time with colleagues now. They may well put the kibosh on dinner meetings.
What does it all mean?
UCLA’s Kim Elsesser says refusing restaurant meetings amounts to gender discrimination that primarily hurts women. Esesser wrote Sex and the Office: Women, Men and the Sex Partition That’s Dividing the Workplace about this very issue.
She says men and women both need to learn how to have healthy working relationships with each other. Because if you won’t go out for dinner with a woman, it’s going to be tough to hire one as your campaign manager. Or as a senior executive. Or any other trusted adviser.
Male subordinates who can spend time alone with their bosses develop deeper relationships, Elsesser says, so when it comes time for promotions, it’s the men who get them.
That means this concern about private conversations between opposite-sex colleagues is just another way women are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting promoted, or getting hired, or getting the client.
Who thinks what…
In general, the men most likely to look askance at male and female colleagues having dinner were older rather than younger. And the older they are, the more disapproving they are. Millennials are more easy-going about this sort of thing.
Among both men and women, I-only-dine-with-my-spouse types are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats or Independents.
A higher percentage of folks in rural areas than in cities would avoid mixed-gender dinners with someone other than their husband or wife. And there’s a fly-over factor. Here in the Heartland, people are more likely to nix those meals than on either coast.
Education enters in too. The more schooling people have, the less likely they are to give thumbs down to a dinner meeting.
Religion plays a role.
A relatively small percentage of atheists reject the idea of meeting over dinner. Fully a third of Evangelicals say no-dice to a dinner meeting with someone of the other sex.
They may be going overboard. Theologian Dennis Hollinger is an expert on sex and Christian ethics; he says the Bible doesn’t ban dinner with a colleague.
Hollinger told the New York Times it’s good to know one’s “ethical and spiritual vulnerabilities.” But he said, “The negative side is this can appear to treat women in really dehumanizing ways, almost as if they were a temptress.”
An interesting gender difference
Men are more likely to think dinner with a woman is inappropriate as they get older. For women, it’s the other way around.
We’re less likely to avoid dining with a male colleague as we get older. That makes total sense to me, because part of the issue here is “What will people think?”
If you’re 33 and somebody sees you in a restaurant with your male boss, it’s reasonable to worry that they’ll assume hanky-panky. That could be bad for your career even their assumption is all wrong.
At my age, I can’t imagine anyone thinking I’m having a fling with that guy across the table. Which makes those business dinners more comfortable for late-career women.
And what about you?
You’re in, no matter what? Or, you’re part of the Pence posse—just say no to dining with the other sex. Post a comment below to tell us …
I’m having dinner with a friend tonight. A male friend. It’s mostly-business and I hadn’t considered it in any other light until I started reading all this research.
Since I have read it, I nixed someone’s suggestion that we go to Geja’s. Because right there on Google it says: “For over 50 years, fondue dining at Geja’s Café has been a perfect way to kindle romance…” Yikes!
I have lunched with men many times.
Strictly business. Have really never thought about dinner issue. I cannot recall ever having dinner with a male boss/client, etc. Hmmm
You’re not alone, Alison. I think this comes up more often for people who travel on business. I realized it was maybe a bigger issue than I’d first thought when I went looking for an image to go with the article. Searching for man and woman at dinner I came up with a boatload of pictures. Featuring wine and candlelight … longing gazes … and women in sleeveless, even strapless dresses smiling flirtatiously. And wearing red spike heeled pumps. The pictures spoke loudly about our perceptions of a man and a woman dining.
I avoided going to dinner with ANYONE in my younger years because I wanted to get home to the kids! Now I wouldn’t hesitate… except for that fondue place!!!
Age seems to make a difference, Ellen, on so many levels!
Before graduating from college I was invited to dinner by a campus recruiter. After being spotted, the career office head and others expressed concern. I was shocked. I was accepting an invitation to further my career by gaining more info and establishing a relationship— but it didn’t occur to me to think it was “that” kind. That was decades ago. And here we are, with the same stumbling block for women.
Some things never seem to change, Paula. Interesting that it didn’t occur to you that the guy was taking you to dinner for more than a discussion about his company and your career. Maybe those who expressed concern were overly suspicious…or maybe the guy was preying on fresh young things about to graduate from college. Who knows? But it is a shame that we’re still dealing with the same issues all these years later.
Why can’t having a business meeting over dinner be just a business meeting over dinner? It is absurd that valuable members of a team are excluded from in-depth conversations because of their gender. Less wayward activities will happen in a restaurant than might happen in a private office.
I live in hope that one day we can live in a world where we see each other as HUMAN first, where we look at one another to see how we blend with the world and the contributions we make, where the being is of most interest. Unfortunately, with sex being referenced EVERYWHERE, this is unlikely to happen. (Gotta stop adding hormones to our food supply — rubbing the same spot over and over leads to irritation.)
I guess it could be just a business meeting over dinner, Kristina. For some of us. Others worry about what people will think. Or what their spouse will think. Or maybe they just don’t trust themselves?
It does handicap women, especially at senior levels. Your idea, seeing each other as human first, is pretty appealing!
This articulates an issue I’ve had for most of my career in sales. As I have gotten older, it’s gotten better. I think that’s because I have been in my industry so long I have met most of my male customers’ wives. I’ve also always extended dinner invitations to spouses regardless of gender if only one customer is attending. Even if the spouse declined, it seemed to make everyone more comfortable.
That said, overall I have fewer dinners than I used to. I think that is primarily because people are so busy and overworked they just want to get home to their families.
Without a doubt, I have seen the reluctance of male bosses in my past (not at my current job) to spend time with me one on one in public places for the type of relationship building so essential to our careers.
You raise a good point, Marcie. Knowing people well, and especially knowing their spouses, makes a difference. Less likely for anyone to misconstrue things.
I bet your experience of fewer dinners is widely, if not universally, shared. People arebusy. And stretched thin. It’s bad for restaurants’ business. And organizations are notoriously hurting for members, because people just don’t join like they used to.
Intriguing sidebar from the research: that some people avoid one-on-one meetings with the other sex even in the office. That would really make it tough to develop a good working relationship, wouldn’t it?
Most of my business meetings are over breakfast, lunch or coffee, whether they’re with a male or a female. It’s the nature of my business. Sometimes I will have a dinner meeting but in those cases I will bring my wife if she’s available. It’s appropriate because she’s also my business partner. I’ll then invite the person we’re meeting with to bring their spouse or S/O. On a few occasions I’ve met alone with a female for dinner. It hasn’t been an issue. I’m happily married, my wife trusts me, and the women in question haven’t seemed uncomfortable.
Having said all that, I could understand a man being uncomfortable with such a meeting in the current climate. While I don’t agree… I tend to see the good in people whenever possible… some guys I know have expressed a concern about what they could be falsely accused of in a “her word vs. his word” situation.
Yes, men seem to be quite concerned these days about being falsely accused, Steve. And I think you have lots of company in favoring breakfast or lunch for a business meal instead of dinner. Although the research found more than a third of the people avoid lunches alone with someone of the other sex. And a quarter get hinky about a meeting in the office. That seems extreme to me.
As Marcie said in her comment here, business dinners seem to be getting less common no matter who’s at the table. I suspect high-level executives still do business over an evening meal, especially when they’re traveling. But most of us are ready to get home to the family (or the TV) at the end of the day. Biz can wait until tomorrow …
I have no problem with it-especially when traveling. I find that you don’t do many work dinners when you are home, anyway, because lunch is more amenable to all. But when traveling for work, eating dinner with men is de rigeur for me. But I also am secure in my relationship and, to my knowledge anyway, are dining with men who are secure in theirs.
You’re probably right that most business dinners happen “on the road,” Kelly. Or maybe when colleagues/clients from out of town are in to meet with us. And being in a healthy relationship makes it seem like no big deal. But people in this research expressed concern about how it looks when they’re out with an other-sex dining partner, or what other people will think. My guess: the other people aren’t paying that much attention to that man and woman at that table over there
Oh Brother! I’ll go to Geja’s with you! Or Fondue Stube…and promise no hanky panky!
In fact, the last time I was at Geja’s…it was with a male friend! And neither of us had any intention of turning it into something more…and we left the place…full…and still friends!
I’m so glad that when I was much younger, thinner, and cuter…that I didn’t know these silly “rules”! I worked in a male dominated field…and often had restaurant meetings for lunch or dinner!
I was far safer with some of these guys at a restaurant in public than I would have been behind closed doors in their office!
No meals with the opposite sex? Absurd! If one is worried about hanky panky…look in places other than a public restaurant!
Maybe their churches or moral teachings should be spending a lot more time on self-control!
You’re right about being at a restaurant in public rather than behind closed doors at the station. I mean, office. I feel pretty comfortable at a restaurant with colleagues or clients or friends who are guys. I was surprised that so many people have concerns about it.
I have had many business dinners with men, women and mixed company. I never had an issue so guess I was lucky! I often went with several folks at one time although I had plenty of one on one meals too.
Maybe lucky, Gale. Or maybe you’re a woman not to be trifled with! That would be my guess–what guy would want to get on your bad side?
I feel that the point was mostly missed in this conversation- except for Steve’s reminder of false accusations.
In the #MeToo Movement atmosphere that we live in, a man cannot be too careful.
Women DO make false accusations. Remember the Emmettt Till story?
My Pastor always leaves the door to his office open while speaking to/counseling a woman alone. This is for the benefit of BOTH the Pastor (to avoid any question of what is going on inside and to safeguard himself from any future false accusations) as well as the woman (who might feel less safe behind a closed door (think about the Catholic church’s problems!)
Now dinner, while done in a public restaurant, might seem innocent to all (who are comfortable and “secure” in their relationships) however, it CAN lead to something else down the road. It is common knowledge that alot of affairs fulfill EMOTIONAL needs, and begin simple as friendships.
Everyone has weaknesses, and men are especially vulnerable,, especially to attractive women. They are just wired that way.
So Mike Pence’s refusal to put himself in that situation, to safeguard his marriage, is truly honoring to his wife.
You’re right about everyone having weaknesses, Jennifer, and I’m not sure I’d say men are more vulnerable that anyone else. The problem with successful men refusing to have dinner or coffee or even private conversations in the office with women is that it hamstrings women who need a mentor to advance in their careers. In many firms, the only people in a position to be that mentor are men.
Yes, people make false accusations, and not just about sexual harassment and sexual assault. It does happen and it’s not common. Sexual harassment and sexual assault, on the other hand, are very common. I hope the conversations we’ve been having for the past year and a half or so make a difference in that. And I hope we find ways to reduce the incidence of unwelcome advances other than just declaring that men and women should avoid one another’s company.
It’s challenging to navigate all these changes, but most of the people I know seem to be doing just that.