Several of my colleagues have asked me — numerous times — to weigh in on the #MeToo Backlash. It seems that some men are retreating into their corner offices and private golf clubs to avoid false accusations of sexism and sexual assault. They have it all wrong.
First, A Brief Herstory Lesson
For a lot of years, and not that long ago, women were not at all welcome in business, except in very low-paying roles. Even then, their success depended certain unspoken conditions. The first condition was that they were attractive enough to sit at the front desk and bring in men. And the second condition was that they play along or at least look the other way when men behaved badly in the workplace. This bad behavior could range from demeaning comments toward or about a woman to the serial rape of female employees.
This isn’t ancient history. These things happened within the last few decades, and women were afraid to speak up because we thought we were alone. We thought no one would believe us. The overwhelming response would be “If you don’t like it, go home.” Or “You don’t matter.” And, women were right. High profile cases of workplace sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape repeatedly confirm these fears.
Women Are Finally Speaking Up
Now, women are collectively saying we don’t like those rules. We don’t want to be hired for our looks. Our gender should not have more bearing on our pay or job title than our education, skills, knowledge, and contributions. We don’t want to be treated disrespectfully or sexually assaulted at work. And, we’d like to make clear that if a man is mentoring us, he should not expect us to flirt or consent to things that we aren’t comfortable with. We will not turn the other way when we see it happening to others. Women are standing up for each other in ways we never have before. We realize that we cannot trust powerful men to take just one of us seriously.
#MeToo Backlash Says “Don’t Be Alone with a Woman”
Some men are now essentially saying, “Well, if you’re not going to play by our rules, we won’t talk to you at all.” Why is this such a problem for men? Seems they still don’t believe that any of these allegations could be true. They say they’re afraid of “false accusations” from the women they work with. Some men are afraid, for the very first time, of being alone with a woman because it poses a perceived risk to their public image, if not their livelihood. Their intentions, they say, might be misunderstood. In a he-said-she-said situation, someone might not believe them. And most women, understandably, have little sympathy for this newfound situational awareness. So, where do we go from here?
Practical and Responsible Compromise
Here’s a surprising point of agreement. I mean no offense by this, but a lot of women don’t want to be alone with certain men either. Many of us have past trauma from which we have not healed. When we posted “#MeToo” on social media, it was a show of solidarity, not a badge of honor.
We may have observed disrespectful comments, jokes, or other behaviors from a particular man at work and worry about his intentions. I personally have worked with dozens of men who were known (at least by the women in the office) to be serial predators of one type or another. Make no mistake. These men are NOT worried about false accusations. They’re worried that we’re onto them.
But how can men who are not serial predators, rapists, skirt chasers, manipulators, abusers, or narcissists differentiate themselves and avoid #MeToo allegations? Simple. Don’t mentor a woman one-on-one. Mentor five women instead. Hold regular meetings as a group in a public space. Be obvious about what you’re doing. Even as a mentor, spend twice as much time listening as talking. You will learn volumes about the unique barriers and hurdles these women face, and in places you’d never expect. To get an even better education and have a more lasting impact, make sure you include women of who vary in age, race, education, and physical ability. Make your group as diverse as possible.
Finally, listen for someone who says, “I won’t work with women.” What they’re really saying is “I can’t work with 50 percent of the population because I can’t trust them to look the other way when I behave badly.” That should tell you everything you need to know about them.