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How #MeToo is Affecting Work Relationships Between Men and Women

Since the start of the #MeToo movement, women have been speaking out about what they can do to support their colleagues and peers in the face of sexual harassment and assault. Though these actions are necessary for women, it seems these efforts have produced some backlash when it comes to professional relationships between men and women.

A study by Lean In and Survey Monkey shows that many men are now scared to work closely with women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment.

The study shows that this level of discomfort has grown since the #MeToo movement has gained steam. For instance, the number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has gone from 5 percent to 16 percent since the start of the movement. Additionally, more than 30 percent of male managers feel uncomfortable working alone with a woman. That is more than double what the figures showed before.

While it isn’t a bad thing for men to be aware of the way they interact with women, it is a bad thing for them to fear working closely with them.

“If a woman asks a male coworker to go out for a beer, the male coworker could wonder, ‘Is she interested in me? What is my staff going to think if I go out with her? Will I somehow be accused of sexual harassment?’” UCLA professor Kim Elsesser told The Atlantic. “Those issues don’t necessarily come up when coworkers of the same sex go out together. This is problematic because that kind of experience – going out for a beer – is often how mentoring relationships start.”

Many women depend on mentorship from men to learn more and advance in their careers. Men make up about 75 percent of top level managers and officials in US businesses, which means that they often have the essential industry knowledge and experience needed to provide mentorship. It is also these men who can help bring women into upper leadership roles and subsequently erase the gender gap.

If men are too scared to create connections with their female colleagues, however, the chances of adequate mentorship and education will decrease dramatically.

“The last thing women need right now is even more isolation,” wrote Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. “Men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders, so when they avoid, ice out, or exclude women, we pay the price.”

Part of the problem may be that the business industry’s idea of mentorship is antiquated. Many male professionals think that mentorship starts on the golf course or while getting a beer, and they believe that it is inappropriate to do these things with a woman colleague.

Women also require a different type of mentorship, University of Rhode Island professor Amanda Moss-Cowan told CNN. They often look for mentorships that include face-to-face interaction and practical tips. This can even be done through mentorship groups or networks.

In order to encourage men to become part of the solution and engage in more man-woman mentorships, Sandberg and Lean In have launched a new movement called #MentorHer. The campaign urges top male professionals to publically promise to help women through mentorships and leadership opportunities. Top officials from companies such as Unilever and Oath have already stepped forward to do so. As they say – for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Hopefully these CEOs will set an example for top officials from other companies to step forward and accept women as mentees. With so many men in top positions, women and men must cooperate to help change who sits inside those board rooms.

Featured Image by rawpixel on Unsplash

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