The Chicage Tribune has a new article that talks about how ‘#MeToo has a chilling effect on camaraderie’. They have some interesting anecdotes to report.
A lobbyist flies solo from Texas to Washington to press his case on the Hill, leaving behind the female associate who did much of the work on the issue. He recognizes that his decision to fly alone is a lost opportunity for his talented young co-worker, but right now, with everything that’s going on, he’s not willing to risk a business trip alone with a woman — even if what he sees as caution strikes many women as discrimination.
Men have every right to be cautious. Avoiding contact with women when it is not a required part of the job is not discrimination.
As a wave of sexual misconduct allegations against prominent men crested in recent months, relations between men and women in workplaces across the country have shifted — sometimes toward more honest discussions of what’s not OK at work, but also toward silence and exclusion, a quiet backlash against the righteous pride of the #MeToo movement.
Silence and exclusion are not a backlash. They are defensive reactions.
In Chicago, police technician Kathern Caldwell sees blank stares on men when the topic of sexual misconduct comes up and worries that “men on the job are thinking, what’s wrong with us women?”
When you bring up sexual misconduct to a man who does not engage in it, he probably is wondering what’s wrong with you.
In Silicon Valley, the chief executive of a midsize company asked his human resources manager what he should do about the undercurrent of tension around issues of sexual misconduct. Stop having dinners with female employees, he was advised. In fact, stop having dinners with any employees. Lunches are OK, dinners no way, HR told him.
Very good advice.
Another investor said his colleagues have canceled their one-on-one meetings with female entrepreneurs. And some men have taken to comparing their own new approach to that of Vice President Mike Pence, who has said that he does not dine alone with any woman but his wife.
“My research over the past couple of years showed that men were hesitant to have one-on-one meetings, go out to lunch or go on business trips alone with a woman,” said Kim Elsesser, a psychologist at the University of California at Los Angeles and author of “Sex and the Office.” “Now it’s gotten worse. We need to educate everyone in the workplace not only about what not to do, but that going out to lunch is important — if you segregate by gender, that’s discrimination.”
Group lunches are fairly safe, I hope. One-on-one lunches with women are probably best avoided unless you know the woman very well. Business trips with women should be avoided. Not going out to lunch with someone is not “discrimination”.
In recent weeks, Johnny Taylor said, chief executives of “several major companies have told us they are now limiting travel between the genders,” telling men, for example, that they may no longer take female colleagues on business trips or share rental cars with women. “That’s legalistic and not realistic,” Taylor said. “I told one CEO, ‘How does that prevent male-on-male relationships?’ It’s really impractical. We need to change the culture, not create rules that people will ignore.”
Male relationships are not a problem. I suspect chief executives are simply mitigating the risk of losing valuable employees.
Change has come for both women and men, as women feel emboldened to speak out against inappropriate behavior, and men think twice about what’s acceptable at work.
We aren’t thinking about what’s acceptable at work. We are thinking about what could be used against us at work by women.
In discussions across the country, Taylor, the HR executive, said he found that “every man I’ve spoken to is afraid. They really don’t know what to do. I read a list of things millennial women don’t want to see anymore, like opening doors for them or pulling out chairs. So if a group of us go out, how do I know if this woman likes the chivalry of opening a door and this other woman doesn’t?”
And if men are worrying about opening doors, things have gone off the rails.
“It’s very sad that we’ve gotten to this level where [men are] afraid to give me a friendly hug because of what other people have done,” Sandy Sayre said. “I feel really badly for the people who’ve been victims of people who have gone way over the line. But now everybody’s afraid to do anything. … We’ve got to make sure that we don’t as a society lose our ability to connect with one another safely.”
That horse has already left the barn.
But fraternization rules and mandatory training don’t seem to improve the culture of workplaces, Elsesser said. “There’s really no evidence that we’re doing anything that’s helping at all,” the psychologist said.
These rules are not meant to “improve the culture”; they are meant to mitigate the risk of losing employees who make valuable contributions to businesses.
She’s seeing a backlash against #MeToo in the form of a “sex partition,” an invisible divider as men back away from interacting with women, inhibiting mentor relationships and clogging paths to advancement.
I would bet she is correct. I have yet to see many women step up to do anything to prevent it, though some of their reactions to the Aziz Ansari allegations give me cause for hope.
Elsesser remains hopeful that the current debate can morph into a national discussion about consent: “We have to come up with a way to teach people how to know when it’s OK to move in for the kiss.”
Simple: never kiss a woman you work with, and never let one kiss you.
People are starting to realize that serious damage has already been done to women’s ability to work with men. As long as men see other men losing their jobs over unproven allegations, they will become ever more cautious. If chief executives are getting involved, and changing policies to segregate men and women, I wonder whether they are doing so to protect women, or to protect men.