A few years ago, I gave a pitch at a startup event and a young man came up to me afterwards.
He was looking to transition from his work in consulting to something in ‘tech’. I’d been a consultant before learning to code and starting Hitlist. He asked if he could buy me a coffee and learn about how I’d made the transition from consultant to founder.
I proposed we grab a beer instead. I don’t drink coffee, and I don’t like taking non-business related meetings during the day. In my previous jobs it had been common to mix business and beer, so I didn’t think much of it.
We ended up having a few beers. We talked about the practical concerns of how to downsize from a consultant paycheck to startup salary, but then the conversation began to branch out.
We talked about our personal goals, our appetite for adventure, our past relationships and how we managed work/life balance.
I realized I was incredibly attracted to him. I felt like I was getting similar vibes from him, though it might have been the beer. And then he asked me if I’d ever consider bringing him onto the Hitlist team.
It wasn’t a total shock. He’d said he was interested in working in startups, I was hiring, and I’d gone into the evening thinking I’d assess him as a potential candidate. I didn’t realize that I was going to end up with a crush on him.
I suggested we meet on a Saturday afternoon to dive into our business model and figure out if there might be a role for him at Hitlist.
That Saturday, we tore apart the pitch deck I’d been using to raise money and came up with something that was, conservatively, ten times better. We got fired up about where Hitlist could go. We laughed, and I wondered whether he was flirting with me, and whether that was clouding my judgment.
I sent one of my advisors the revised pitch deck and he agreed that the young man would make a great addition to the team. I was conflicted because I knew one thing without a doubt: if I offered him a job there was no way I could explore the personal side of our relationship.
And I’m human. We got along well. He had a great butt. Could I have this guy work for me without the attraction side of things driving me nuts?
How is that even a question?
Of course I could. I’m an adult, not an animal. It would have been completely inappropriate for me to hit on someone who had come to me for professional advice and a job.
I knew that it might be distracting to employ someone who I found so appealing but the ethics of making a move on him were so black and white that there wasn’t a choice. And I wasn’t going to let a good candidate walk out the door because he happened to be attractive.
This is what gets me about all these ‘code of conduct’ pieces that have been coming out in recent days: I don’t understand why this is so hard for people to grasp.
If someone comes to you for advice, applies for a job, and/or pitches you for funding, don’t hit on that person.
Am I saying that workplace romances can never happen? No, but if you’re the person in a position of authority, you don’t initiate them, full stop.
If your subordinate makes a move on you, you two can discuss the ramifications like adults and decide whether you want to have a romantic relationship (or be friends with benefits, whatever).
That discussion should happen when you both have clear judgment, i.e. not at 3am at a conference when either or both of you have had alcohol. And that expression of interest from your subordinate should be crystal clear: an invitation to grab a beer is not a date unless he or she explicitly says it is.
In the words Anjali Kumar, founding general counsel at Warby Parker, former senior counsel at Google, and current angel investor: