Here we go again. Distorting the findings of good research with a non data driven opinion. A new study, due to be published in the Journal Organizational Dynamics, has found that, following the MeToo movement, men are significantly more reluctant to interact with their female colleagues. A few highlights from the research include:
• 27% of men avoid one-on-one meetings with female co-workers. Yep, that’s right, almost a third of men are terrified to be alone in a room with a woman.
• 21% of men said they would be reluctant to hire women for a job that would require close interaction (such as business travel).
• 19% of men would be reluctant to hire an attractive woman.
The data above was collected in early 2019 from workers across a wide range of industries. Researchers had asked the same questions (albeit to different people and with more of a focus on future expectations) in early 2018, just as MeToo was in full swing, and depressingly, things appear to have got worse. In 2018, for example, 15% of men said they would be more reluctant to hire women for jobs that require close interpersonal interactions with women, compared to 21% in 2019.
A reporter interpreting the research concludes, without any basis other than personal opinion, “that a lot of men aren’t so much afraid of being accused of anything as they are they are angry that MeToo ever happened. They’re angry that they’ve been made to think about their behavior, made to interrogate power dynamics they always took for granted, and they are punishing women for it by refusing to interact with them.” She goes on to offer her own opinion on a Harvard Business Review article previewing the study’s 2019 results is headlined The MeToo Backlash. “You see that phrase a lot and that framing subtly implies that MeToo went too far, that a backlash is only natural. It’s yet another form of victim-blaming; another way to quietly put women back in their place.”
I would speculate that it’s not backlash or a fear of punishment by women but a fear of being accused of misconduct and an uncertainty of how to behave that will not cause them to be fired or labeled as sexists or misogynists. All it takes to ruin a man’s career and reputation is an allegation that he made an inappropriate remark or gesture. It is understood that investigating these accusations is difficult because there is often nor corroborating evidence and it boils down to he says vs. she says. However, simply the allegation of misconduct alone can cost a man his career in the MeToo era. The fear that a comment or benign physical contact might be either misconstrued or deliberately used against a man, jeopardizing his livelihood, is permeating the work environment. With so much at stake one shouldn’t be surprised why men in the workplace are proceeding with caution in their interactions with female colleagues and subordinates.
Instead of using the data from the Journal Organizational Dynamics as confirming a bias against men, it should be used as a springboard for a frank discussion about gender roles and formulating a consensus on appropriate behavior among workers in a particular organization. One size does not fit all and depending on the industry and size of the company each entity should determine its unique code of conduct that brings sanity to the workplace.