(Opinion) I think we saw this coming.
A sharp increase in male managers say they are uncomfortable mentoring women in the wake of the sexual harassment and #MeToo movement, according to a recent study by women’s empowerment nonprofit Leanin.org and online survey tool SurveyMonkey.
Here are some of the survey’s key findings, according to LeanIn.org’s summary:
- “Almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.”
- “Almost 30% of male managers are uncomfortable working alone with a woman—more than twice as many as before.”
- “The number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled from 5% to 16%. This means that 1 in 6 male managers may now hesitate to mentor a woman.”
- “Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man—and 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.”
I cannot blame them.
#MeToo is an important movement and I support the brave women who have come forward, but this column isn’t about the awful behavior of bad men. It’s about the potential fallout for everyone else.
I hope good men will consciously resist an accidental backlash that would mean fewer opportunities for women. I’m glad Sheryl Sandberg is calling on men to #MentorHer despite the heightened awareness – and natural fears – surrounding #MeToo.
But I do disagree with the criticism of men who choose standards like the ‘Mike Pence Rule’, which means for the vice president that he doesn’t eat alone with women other than his wife and doesn’t attend functions with alcohol without her.
I can’t fault a man for taking precautions he thinks are necessary to protect his reputation.
Does this stink for good women with good intentions? Certainly, yes – inconvenience, feeling awkward, wishing a dynamic hadn’t been introduced that perhaps makes everyone feel suspected or on edge—I think all of that can happen when men do gymnastics not to be alone with a woman.
I’m certainly glad when men feel comfortable working with me and there’s a mutual trust-based atmosphere.
But can either of the sexes blame the other for being safe rather than sorry?
After all, would we fault a woman for walking down the street with mace at-the-ready if she perceived she was unsafe?
Would we fault her for thinking twice in the wake of #MeToo if a male coworker asked her to stop by his hotel room or office late in the evening? Whether she was in any real danger or not, we’d completely understand if she declined, regardless of how good the man’s reputation or intentions.
I think women need to offer the same grace, space and understanding to a man who keeps his door open in meetings, brings someone along to the restaurant, or is otherwise watchful of his surroundings in his encounters with women, professional or otherwise.
Women and men should support, rather than take offense or feel slighted by, someone’s boundaries. We should treat each other with the same respect we seek for our own concerns.
Take precautions. Keep your door open if you must. But men, please don’t quietly close your doors to women altogether.
I’m a pretty easygoing person, but I remember getting so furious I slammed my hand on the college cafeteria table and drew stares when I raised my voice to chew out a guy friend who cynically suggested that a male mentor of mine wasn’t helping me succeed in journalism because I earned it. Rather, he called his motives into question because “why would an older man want to mentor a younger woman?”
I was angry because even then – more than 15 years ago – I sensed that men were taking a mild risk to their reputations to mentor and help women. I felt like it was because of people like my mind-in-the-gutter friend, that male professors and professionals might think twice about the recipients of their mentorships, internships and jobs. Who wants to deal with suspicion, smirks and motive-questioning? Easier to just give opportunities and pour the time into young men, perhaps.
We should all confront such speculative gossip with righteous indignation so it is less acceptable to think the worst of anyone, male or female, without good reason.
I thank God for the key male mentors in my life who didn’t let fear of criticism affect their efforts to make unbiased, merit-based decisions about who they helped. I hope good men everywhere will take courage and hire, mentor, work with, and otherwise help and interact with women in the same good faith you would have before #MeToo.
If you’re going to leave the door open, leave all the doors open.
“A righteous man is cautious in friendship, but the way of the wicked leads them astray,” Proverbs 12:26.
Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.