Many of us have celebrated the #MeToo movement. At last, women have spoken up. Some have decried it, doubting the credibility of some or most accounts of harassment. I am one who thinks it has many upsides – and also downsides. The upsides are pretty clear. Leaders and organizations are listening and taking steps. Men who have been guilty of harassment, or might act irresponsibility in the future, are surely less likely to do that. Women have greater freedom to speak up and greater credibility when they do.
What are the downsides? First, some good men feel judged just for being men. The movement risks painting all men, including good and innocent men, with one brush. That’s unfair and divisive. That can turn men against women or, worse, make them afraid of doing just what women need them to do to support them at work. I’ve heard several troubling reports. All spell bad news for women. And all can be avoided easily.
There are signs of a return to an old fear of meeting alone with a woman. When I was new to the corporate world, there was an executive who refused to meet with a woman unless the door was open. Then I found that insulting. In this environment, I can see that a man could fear he’ll be falsely accused or set up. Okay. So if you don’t trust the woman or know her well, leave the door open!
A man told me he feels he can’t give negative feedback to a woman except in front of others! Women need honest, constructive feedback. Feedback “101” says negative feedback shouldn’t be given in front of others. There many ways to solve this. Give the feedback in an office or conference room – again, with the door open. Or step aside into a hallway or alcove where you can be seen but not heard. Or, worst case, tell her you want to record the conversation (e.g., to be sure your message is clearly communicated) – and turn on your phone.
One of my worst fears is that women will be excluded from opportunities to socialize with male bosses or colleagues. Women need the same opportunity men do to develop trusting relationships at work. Social time together is critical for this. That doesn’t mean candlelit dinners or hotel rooms! This doesn’t take a lot of creativity. Every activity that works for a man socializing with another man should be safe – drinks or meals in public places, a foursome of golf, or any social event with three or more.
How about hugging? Some people are just huggers. I’ve had men pull back from a hug and make a joke about not being able to do that anymore. Common sense should tell us that hugs need to be friendly and not involve inappropriate touching. If there is a concern, hugs should be given when others are around. One can always ask if a hug is okay. If in doubt, don’t.
The worst possible consequence – and I’ve heard it – is a reluctance to hire women at all. “Women are trouble.” “I can’t take the risk.” Take this path if you enjoy shooting yourself in the foot. You can and you must hire women. For one thing, not hiring on the basis of gender = discrimination. More important, women make up more than half of the educated pipeline. Having women on teams and in leadership is clearly correlated with higher financial returns and better decisions. Keep hiring women – and just follow these common-sense guidelines!
I’m creating a workshop on practical ways to deal with working in the era of #MeToo. Give me your thoughts on possible bad outcomes from #MeToo. What practical suggestions do you have?