Female entrepreneurs in Australia have a fear “that runs deep” of trolling and sexual harassment through platforms like LinkedIn, says one business leader, who has pledged to donate a dollar every time she’s hit with inappropriate communications online.
On Monday, chief executive of the China Australia Millennial Project, Andrea Myles, told SmartCompany she was driven to change her LinkedIn profile name to ‘Andrew’ after being “pissed off” about the number of male business people sending her inappropriate messages through the platform.
It’s a story that seems familiar to personal brand mentor Shevonne Joyce, who says she’s also had to work on ways to respond to “unbelievably concerning” messages across several of her professional social media profiles, including Facebook and LinkedIn.
“The most particularly concerning incident was a man who contacted me after finding me on LinkedIn, describing me as the love of his life and asking me out,” Joyce says.
“He had obviously really gone through my profile in detail — and I felt concerned for my safety.”
The user had trawled through Joyce’s profile to find information about her and then taken his communications off the LinkedIn platform, electing to email her directly.
This was not the first time Joyce had experienced disconcerting messages, having seen similar incidents through Facebook.
The incident at the end of last year prompted her to come up with a new policy, inspired by academic Dr Susan Carland, who has long tweeted about her commitment to donate $1 for every hate-filled tweet about Islam that she receives.
“Now every time I have unsolicited contact for a man, or a troll, I decided I would turn those negative experiences into positives. I chose to donate to the charity Send Hope Not Flowers, supporting women in childbirth,” Joyce says.
Her last donation was $14, which at $1 per incident shows these kinds of situations are common, she says.
Joyce would love to see platforms like LinkedIn do more to make it easier to report and block users who engage in sexual harassment and trolling activities — and if they do already have plans in place, she’d like the companies to be clearer about them.
“I just feel like I could have contacted LinkedIn and reported things like this, but it’s not really clear what action they can take and how platforms will support it.”
“This is a key problem that I would say a majority of female leaders deal with in building their brands. The fear of this runs deep.”
Ask LinkedIn “what is planned for the future”
Psychologist Eve Ash suggests entrepreneurs should be cautious on platforms like LinkedIn given the drive that often exists to quickly grow a network of connections.
However, she observes there could be policies that are put in place to restrict the visibility of profile pictures on LinkedIn until after two colleagues have made a connection.
“I would go and talk to LinkedIn about what kind of filters are being planned for the future,” she says.
“You wonder whether photos shouldn’t be revealed unless people aren’t already in connection. Who cares what we look like, if we’re seventeen or seventy-five? You’re connecting not because of your looks, but the quality of the connection.”
When contacted by SmartCompany, LinkedIn Australia highlighted that users already have a variety of privacy options when using the platform, including restricting the visibility of one’s profile picture.
“Posting a profile photo is optional, but it helps your connections and others to recognize you,” the platform says on its privacy settings information page.
Joyce says the worst instance of unsolicited communication on LinkedIn did come directly after she updated her profile with professional shots, however, she believes the timing was likely a coincidence. She doesn’t believe women should have to hide their photos online.
She says the bigger problem is female entrepreneurs like herself are much more cautious about making professional connections online.
“I had a man contact once saying he preferred to meet professional contacts in person, so could we get a coffee,” she says.
“After my other experiences I said ‘no’, but the poor guy might have just been trying to reach out.”
To her mind, both the trolling and unsolicited contact female entrepreneurs face is stopping many from building their brands publicly.
“It limits women’s success,” she says.