Let’s Talk about Sex(uality)

This story has legs — last week’s Village Voice featured Elizabeth Dwoskin’s cover story “Too Hot for Citibank?” about Debrahlee Lorenzana, a strikingly attractive young woman who claims to have been fired from the financial services firm for being too sexy. Since the story’s initial publication, the New York Post, Gawker and The Early Show (whose video is embedded above) have joined the discussion, and yesterday in The New York Times Maureen Dowd weighed in on how beauty can impact individuals in society.

Within all the chatter, however, a key question has yet to be asked: how can we work with our sexuality–rather than against it–in business?

According to Lorenzana’s story, it seems her physical appeal may have helped her build business. The Voice reports that in April 2003 the Municipal Credit Union named her “sales rep of the month;” in November 2003 the Metropolitan Hospital in Queens recognized her for “providing world-class customer service;” and in August 2006 she earned a Customer Higher Standards Award at the Bank of America.

At Citibank, she “went out every day and looked for business…then clients would come into the branch asking for her.” Yet in the office, ultimately her sexual energy was killed, as she was removed from the organization along with any potential new clients.

As human beings, we hold the spectrum of humanity within ourselves, and this includes sex. As a career counselor, I’m interested in how this aspect of our selves manifests in the workplace.

The complexities of Debrahlee’s story are difficult to acknowledge, since they hit on a number of hot-button identity issues. Dwoskin writes:

Lorenzana [is] five-foot-six and 125 pounds, with soft eyes and flawless bronze skin, she is J.Lo curves meets Jessica Simpson rack… [Her] mother is Puerto Rican and father is Italian [and she] came to New York from Puerto Rico 12 years ago. She was 21 and pregnant, and had a degree as an emergency medical technician from a technical college in Manati, a small city…

While the racial or ethnic identity of her colleagues is not referenced, it seems that we’re talking about working–or in this case, avoiding working–across differences of race, ethnicity, socio-economic status and gender.

It’s imperative for us to talk about how these dimensions of our identity come into play on the job, so that we don’t act on them unwittingly, and more important, so we can leverage all parts of ourselves to help solve the increasingly complex problems we face in 2010.

Lorenzana’s story contrasts with that of Danica Patrick, although there are significant similarities, to be explored in another post. As well, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will influence how human sexuality impacts the world of work — also to be explored in an upcoming post.

What do you think about how we access and leverage our sexuality at work?