Do Men Respect Women More—Or Are They Just Scared of Us Now?

When the MeToo movement arrived in 2017, women had hope that workplaces would take the opportunity to become more conscious of respect for women employees. It seems that many workplaces have, indeed, become more conscious of the needs of women—but only so far as avoiding charges of sexual harassment. 

A Forbes article by Bonnie Marcus confirmed others had noticed the same thing I did—that many men have taken the lesson to walk on eggshells around women employees, rather than improving their view of women’s capabilities and ability to move up the ranks of their organization. “…the major change in the workplace is a hypersensitivity to gender dynamics. This hypersensitivity often paralyzes men. Their discomfort with uncertain boundaries and definitions of what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable holds them back from casual interactions with their female colleagues and direct reports,” Marcus writes. 

So that would mean fewer times women in a work group get invited to lunch or after-work drinks, and more behavior reminiscent of Vice President Mike Pence’s rule about not dining alone with any female . My guess is many men have followed suit, and for fear of sexual harassment allegations, won’t dine, or even meet, alone with female employees. That’s a huge professional disadvantage for women to not have the same one-on-one time male colleagues get with the boss. No wonder why women aren’t rising to executive levels as fast as many of us would like!

What can companies do to train male employees that the takeaway of the MeToo movement isn’t to fear women, but to respect them enough to give equal treatment and opportunity? 

One thing to do is to make it against company policy to have one-on-one time with some employees, but not all. If a certain number of reports that a manager has violated that rule are submitted to Human Resources, then that manager would be terminated. The same goes for “casual” lunches and after-work get-togethers. It would no longer be a manager’s personal liberty to decide who he or she does and doesn’t invite. If he or she is inviting some members of a work group, then he or she has to invite all. Particularly grievous would be reports that a male manager invited all the men working under him while excluding all the women. The excuse, “I didn’t think they would enjoy themselves,” wouldn’t let them off the hook. In addition to the exclusion not being fair, regardless of the reasoning behind it, many men executives organizing events might be surprised at what women enjoy. 

After the MeToo movement hit, one older man I spoke to said irritably, “Companies are just going to stop hiring women.” Have you noticed a hesitance in your organization to hire women? I haven’t heard anyone talking about this, but I would be surprised if many male hiring managers weren’t leery of hiring women who might, through no fault of their own, become the targets of sexual harassment. Is there a way to provide education so a reduction in the number of women hired doesn’t happen? It’s hard to prevent, even among work groups headed by women. I was once a part of a work group in which the hiring manager’s highest-level direct report was competitive and jealous of other women. The solution? To give preference to men in the hiring process. While I was there, two consecutive open jobs went to men. That’s unusual as an organic occurrence in the publishing industry, which is dominated by women (at least at the mid- and lower levels). 

Like most things, incentives rather than punishment probably would work best. Providing motivation for male executives to hire, and have ample one-on-one development time, with women, might be what’s most needed. That means giving promotions and pay increases to those managers with the highest number of women employees who started as their direct reports, and subsequently moved up the ranks. It’s not enough to look at the number of women each manager hired; you also have to incentivize and keep your eye on the progress those women make while at the company. A manager with many women employees who progress to higher levels at the company should be rewarded and find additional opportunities for him or herself, too. 

Tying the progress of women at a company to the progress of men may be the way to overcome male fear. The hope of the MeToo movement is that men will not just avoid harassment, but will show respect by offering greater opportunities for advancement based on skill and job performance. The absence of bad behavior isn’t enough. 

Are you noticing fear among male executives at your company in having one-on-one time with women colleagues and employees? How are you addressing this fear, and turning it around, so women are able to advance in their careers?


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