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Why Avoiding Women at Work is the Wrong Response to #MeToo

While it may seem like the easiest solution, it’s just another form of discrimination.

Posted by Ann Snook on May 29th, 2019

Since 2017, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements have exposed some high-profile harassment cases. While the movements have begun a cultural shift towards better awareness, some men have responded by avoiding women at work altogether.

Because they fear a career-ending harassment allegation, whether legitimate or not, some men think the only way to avoid this is to shun women at work, refusing to include them in social gatherings, mentor them or even meet one-on-one with them. However, avoiding women at work is just gender discrimination in another form.

 

Learn how to be proactive in addressing gender-based harassment in the workplace. Watch our webinar Sexual Harassment and Retaliation in the Wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp.

 

The Reality of the #MeToo Backlash

 

After seeing powerful athletes, actors, politicians, CEOs and media personalities lose their jobs following harassment scandals, some men fear that they too are at risk.

To manage risk, they limit conversations with women at work and never meet female colleagues alone in a room with a closed door. These men may also be hesitant to mentor a woman or invite women to work-related travel or social gatherings.

A study by Lean In, an organization committed to “help women achieve their ambitions and work to create an equal world,” found that the #MeToo backlash has garnered some strong reactions. They discovered that:

  • 36 per cent of men say they have avoided mentoring or socializing with a female colleague because of “how it would look”
  • 60 percent of male managers feel uncomfortable doing common workplace activities with women, including mentoring, socializing or working alone together
  • Men in senior roles are 12 times more likely to avoid one-on-one meetings with junior women than they are with junior men in their workplaces

 

Avoiding women at work may be an easy option, but this practice is also breaking down much of the diversity and workplace gender equity we have built up over the past few decades.

 

Negative Effects of Men Avoiding Women at Work

 

While the #MeToo movement is relatively new, gender discrimination is not. Men have been excluding and avoiding women at work for decades; #MeToo has simply made this behavior more apparent.

Men avoiding women at work has negative effects for everyone involved. Women who don’t have a mentor often miss out on the professional opportunities of their male counterparts. Without the relationships and social capital a mentor offers, women may find it harder to move up in their careers.

Avoidance can also harm the workplace as a whole, as it breeds a toxic workplace culture. Without women in leadership, partner companies and clients that value workplace diversity may cut ties with the organization, leading to revenue loss.

Female employees may also move on to another workplace that values their skills and knowledge. As a result, organizations may lose some of their most talented employees.

 

Ensure employees know exactly what behavior is expected of them at work by creating a strong employee handbook. Download our customizable handbook template here.

 

Creating a Culture of Understanding in Your Workplace

 

It is important for organizations to give male employees a safe space to air their concerns as well as give female employees a secure work environment free of toxicity and harassment. In order to create a culture of understanding:

 

  1. Don’t react too quickly. Knee-jerk reactions and taking sides doesn’t help anyone. Follow your organization’s protocols and procedures when dealing with harassment complaints.
  2. Gain male employees’ trust. Some men fear that their employer will fire them immediately in the case of a harassment or gender discrimination claim. Increase your organization’s transparency regarding your harassment policy and prevention program. Letting men know that you have a fair and effective process in place for dealing with harassment claims can ease their worries.
  3. Set the tone at the top. Train managers on how to avoid workplace discrimination and harassment of any kind. Ensure they give their male and female staff equal professional and social opportunities at work.

 

 

RELATED: 11 Types of Workplace Harassment (and How to Stop Them)

 

What Men Can Do

 

Avoiding women at work is the wrong response to #MeToo because simply not harassing women is not enough. Men need to take action to support their female colleagues to make the workplace strong, safe and fair for all.

According to Lean In, “When more women are in leadership, organizations offer employees more generous policies and produce better business results. And when organizations employ more women, sexual harassment is less prevalent.” In addition, “organizations with diverse leadership realize higher profits.”

To reduce the imbalance of power in the workplace, commit to equal access to professional opportunities and advocate for all colleagues regardless of gender. Open communication between men and women about harassment can eliminate fear and toxicity for everyone.

 

Working with Women in the #MeToo Era

 

In today’s complicated workplace, some men are avoiding women at work as a way to manage risk. However, refusing to mentor or socialize with women is illegal. Men and women alike can take this as an opportunity to learn and talk openly about gender discrimination and harassment, strengthening the diversity and culture in their organizations.


Ann Snook
Ann Snook

Marketing Writer

Ann is a marketing writer at i-Sight Software. She writes about issues related to investigations of fraud, employee misconduct, corporate security, Title IX, ethics & compliance and more.

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