Working Together in the #MeToo Era
In the fall of 2017, the #MeToo movement erupted on to the national stage and continues to impact many areas of society—particularly the workplace. But have there been unintended consequences? While the #MeToo movement has rightly brought attention to injustices, as an unwanted side effect, it also may be setting women back in the workplace. Whether you are a junior-level female trying to move up in the ranks or a male executive seeking to protect your business reputation in the #MeToo era, understanding the repercussions of the #MeToo Movement is paramount. This post will discuss those repercussions, and offer advice on how to create a harassment-free, discrimination-free, and positive workplace culture, Note that we are not discussing here how to handle sexual harassment, which is a different topic.
In the #MeToo era, some men in the workplace are reluctant to engage with women for one-on-one work meetings, for mentoring, and other job-related professional growth opportunities. Many of these executive men are fearful that their interactions with women could be misinterpreted as inappropriate or sexual harassment and used against them. For women attempting to rise in the ranks in the workplace, especially in fields that have been mostly dominated by men, having an advocate at the executive level significantly influences an individual’s success with the organization. Hard work and social capital are both necessary for an individual to succeed in the workplace; and, by constraining social capital, the #MeToo movement has, without a doubt, created unintended consequences in its wake.
Finding a Way to Move Forward Together
While it’s certainly understandable that men would want to reevaluate how to protect themselves, their careers, and their families in the #MeToo era, there must be a way to move forward that doesn’t result in an accidental backlash against women in the workplace. So how can we move forward together? Is there a way to keep the doors of opportunity open to women in the workplace and protect against unfounded allegations of sexual harassment?
Advice for Male Executives
Here is some practical advice to male executives trying to protect their business reputation while also providing opportunities for every employee to flourish and grow under their leadership.
- Don’t assume that every junior-level female is trying to sabotage your business reputation. While caution in the #MeToo era is understandable, an assumption that women cannot be trusted in the workplace may inadvertently result in sex discrimination against women, which will most certainly affect your business reputation.
- Leave the door open or meet in a neutral place. Are you uncomfortable having a closed-door meeting with a woman alone? Then leave the office door open. Are you concerned about meeting alone with women in your office? Then find a neutral and more public space to meet with women.
- Avoid sex segregation and apply the rules fairly to men and women. If you meet with men, meet with women. If you are going to leave the door open for meetings with women, then leave them open for men as well.
- If you are willing to mentor men professionally, be willing to mentor women professionally too. If you are concerned about the optics, encourage your organization to develop a formal mentorship program, including a policy for professional boundaries between men and women in the mentorship program.
- If you are willing to go to a working lunch or dinner meeting with junior-level men, then be willing to do that with junior-level women as well, at locations known to be business meeting spots. If you are unwilling to meet with junior-level women one-on-one for meals, then consider not doing that with men either.
- For men who subscribe to the Billy Graham Rule or Mike Pence Rule, which includes avoiding time alone with women to whom they are not married, consider creating every opportunity to be above reproach while also advancing and promoting deserving women in the workplace. For instance, consider developing meetings as more of a group mentoring or team meeting experience than just one-on-one.
Advice for Junior-Level Females
Here is some practical advice for junior-level women hoping to advance their careers and build healthy professional bridges with male executives who might be overly cautious in the #MeToo era.
- Be slow to assume the worst of a male executive and don’t immediately take offense if he is cautious about working with junior-level females. His actions may not be discriminatory as much as driven by confusion. If a male executive seems to be uncomfortable working with a junior-level female, consider addressing the situation head-on by asking if there is a problem.
- If a male executive is hesitant to go to lunch or dinner with a junior-level female alone, then consider taking the initiative and invite several colleagues out to eat together, including the male executive. If a one-on-one conversation over a meal is necessary (and possible), consider a spot known to be a location for working lunch or dinner meetings. A junior-level female might also consider meeting for coffee in a public place for a one-on-one conversation with a male executive.
- When meeting in the office, if a male executive is reluctant to meet alone in his or your office, even with the door open, consider scheduling the meeting in an open conference room. A neutral location in a more public space may help alleviate concerns of impropriety.
- Advocate for a formal mentorship program in your organization. Male executives may be less reluctant to mentor women if it is part of their job description and work expectations.
- Make your own travel plans for out-of-town work. Travel arrangements do not have to complicate the workplace dynamic. There is generally no need to travel together or stay at the same place for work, if you rendezvous at the destination. Eliminate this unnecessary burden to your professional relationship by making your travel arrangements independent of a male executive.
For all its good intentions, the #MeToo movement has created a new and challenging dynamic in the workplace. For men, even casual interactions with women in the workplace can now seem risky. For women, the backlash of the #MeToo movement seems to have created another hurdle to overcome in the workplace. To avoid legal liability and move forward working together, both men and women will have to intentionally rise above the rhetoric to develop a positive work culture where men and women have equal opportunities to flourish.
Featured Image by Rebecca Sidebotham.
Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations