#MeToo: From the Frying Pan into the Fire?
So…..if you had a manager that suggested the organization should simply refuse to hire those who are African American, to avoid potential discrimination or harassment claims, would you agree that was a good idea? Or refuse to hire any openly religious employees, in case they might get offended? Or refuse to hire any Muslims, in case they were terrorists? Can you see where I am going with this post?
No sane employer or HR department would exclude a class of people simply because of the fear of discrimination or harassment claims. Because that would be DISCRIMINATION. Is that clear?
So why is it that there are so many managers out there that are now saying, publicly and privately, that they will discriminate against women and treat them differently, because of a fear (unfounded? Or not?) of potential harassment claims.
The #MeToo movement, which has brought such much-needed attention to the lingering and unsolved issue of sexual harassment in the workplace, has also generated an attitude that seems to be filtering through male leadership in a number of areas. A recent Bloomberg article quoted male Wall Street leaders as saying they would change their behavior in response to #MeToo.[i] How would they change? They would exclude women from the types of meetings, interactions and relationships that typically build rapport and trust amongst colleagues.
More alarmingly, they would avoid mentoring women into executive or leadership roles. This exclusion of women would happen in an industry (Wall Street) where 85% of the executives are male.
Nor is Wall Street alone in this new way of thinking about male/female interactions at work. Under what has become known as the “Pence rule”[ii] male leaders will not meet one-on-one with women, will not attend dinners with female colleagues, will not sit next to women on flights. One even suggested that hiring a woman at all is a risk that he may not take.
During a conversation I had with a colleague recently she indicated that her spouse had mulled over the possibility of just eliminating all employees to avoid potential harassment or discrimination claims.
A recent SHRM poll surveyed 1000 executives and indicated that over a third of executives have altered their behavior since the #MeToo issue became a hot topic. While some changes might be benign, some male leaders would leave women out of business discussions, and would not take on a mentoring role for a woman.[iii] One executive suggested he would not ride in an elevator alone with a woman. Many males indicate they will no longer have closed door meetings with female colleagues.
So what does this all mean? It means that in the next decade, we will need to pay close attention to issues involving potentially discriminatory treatment.
The bottom line: the way to combat harassment in the workplace is not to exclude those who might be harassed. Instead, the key is leadership and accountability.
[ii] Vice President Pence has publicly stated that he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. See https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/03/30/mike-pence-doesnt-dine-alone-with-other-women-and-were-all-shocked/?utm_term=.3c6a21ee8684 Billy Graham also had a similar rule, practiced among male evangelical leaders, and before it was known as the “Pence rule” it was the Graham rule. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Graham_rule Graham and other leaders even included the rule, which was that he would not travel, meet, or eat alone with any woman other than his wife, in a “Modesto Manifesto” which was an accountability agreement among evangelical leaders. Some have labelled the “rules” as illegal discrimination. See https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/3/31/15132730/pence-women-alone-rule-graham-discrimination.
[iii] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-04/powerful-men-have-changed-their-behavior-at-work-since-metoo. See the original survey results here: https://shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/Documents/Harassment-Free%20Workplace%20Series%20Executive%20View%20Topline.pdf