In the wake of the #MeToo revelations, male managers are increasingly hesitant to interact with women at the workplace. This according to a recent survey by LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey.
At least 60 percent of male managers said they are uncomfortable participating in typical workplace interactions with women, including mentoring, socializing and having one-on-one meetings, the survey found.
That figure is 14 percent points higher than last year. Meanwhile, 48 percent of male managers say they are uncomfortable socializing with a woman outside of work — like in a restaurant.
So, what does this all mean? The #MeToo movement may actually be depriving women of professional development and mentorship opportunities.
Why? Various Reasons
When asked why, 36 percent of men said they have avoided mentoring or socializing with women because they are nervous about how it would look.
Some are concerned about getting falsely accused of harassment, and others are wary of giving the appearance of something inappropriate. Some married men follow a personal rule that they won’t dine alone with any woman except their wife.
Sometimes, men try to avoid doing something that would make a female colleague uncomfortable. “It’s coming from a good place,” says Angela Berg, a diversity and inclusion leader at Mercer, a global HR consulting firm headquartered in New York City. “They want to do the right thing.”
The definition of what is ‘appropriate’ seems to have changed in recent years, which has caused confusion.
“Male colleagues want to be acting appropriately, but they may not know what is acceptable and what is not,” Berg says. “Be very clear on the kinds of behaviors that are not acceptable.”
In other words, speak up if there’s something you are not comfortable with, so the men can understand the mistake and not repeat it.
What We’re Missing
When senior leaders exclude or avoid women, the women miss out on important advice. These work conversations could pave the way for professional advancement. It may be too early to know the exact repercussions over time.
Berg explains, “It may take a couple of years to look at promotion rates and career advancement rates to know the effects.”
Employers are aware of the problem. “We’ve heard from a lot of organizations that we work with that it’s something they are keeping an eye on,” Berg says.
Katie Hauser, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, has observed the same. “We have seen an increase in both male and female leaders talking to us about unconscious bias training,” she says.
Can We Enact Change?
For the situation to change in an organization, it will take both top-down and bottom-up efforts, along with an “openness and willingness to change,” says Caitlin Fisher, Director of Leadership Initiatives at the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce,
Have candid conversations about this topic. You can understand how your coworkers feel and gain allies where possible, Fisher advises. “Honest conversations will take us very far.”
If coworkers or managers are avoiding or excluding you, talk to your boss about it, Berg advises. In extreme cases, it could be a form of discrimination that you should report to human resources.
Even though some managers are hesitant to socialize, you can still be proactive about strengthening your professional network. “Expand your networks and cultivate those kinds of [professional] relationships on your own,” Berg advises.
Likewise, Fisher notes, “We’ve heard stories from members who have talked about walking into a cocktail reception with men on one side and women on the other side, and making that choice about who to speak to.”
She adds that it’s helpful to go where you are less comfortable. This way, you can expand your networks to be more inclusive.