Women may be losing out in the aftermath of #MeToo, with many male managers expressing fear about interacting with women, according to a recent New York Times article.
Men’s hesitancy to mentor women in the #MeToo era was raised at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum last week, alongside concerns such as threats to cybersecurity, populism, war and global economic slowdown.
Secretary-General of the Council of Women World Leaders, Laura Liswood said the issue is having unprecedented consequences in the workplace.
“Basically, #MeToo has become a risk management issue for men,” she said.
Several high profile women have commented on the gravity of the problem.
Speaking on USA Today, Founding Director of the Centre for Equity, Gender, and Leadership at UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, Kellie McElhaney, observed that in the current situation “men are a bit paralysed.”
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg also wrote in a post on Facebook: “If men think the way to address sexual harassment in the workplace is to avoid one-on-one time with female colleagues – including meetings, coffee breaks, and all the interactions that help us to work together effectively – it will be a huge setback for women.”
It may be a legitimate risk management issue for men, given that at last count over 200 high profile men publicly accused of sexual misconduct by the #MeToo movement had lost their jobs. However, in the fall out, opportunities for women in the workplace appear to have taken a hit too.
A recent survey by Sandberg’s initiative LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey showed that “almost half of male managers [in the United States] are now uncomfortable participating in common work activities with women, including working alone and mentoring.”
This statistic appears to reflect a concern highlighted in another recent survey, which found that 57% of US adults are equally worried about men facing false allegations of sexual assault as they are regarding women facing sexual assault.
#MeToo unwittingly became a viral sensation when a mass up-take of the hashtag by Hollywood celebrities made headlines around the world in 2017.
It is now a far cry from African-American activist Tarana Burke’s original purpose for creating the hashtag in 2006. She sought to give survivors of sexual violence a sense of solidarity and a platform to acknowledge that what they have suffered mattered.
Many including Burke believe #MeToo has been wrongly weaponised in a wide fronted battle of the sexes.
“People have weaponised #MeToo as opposed to seeing it as a tool…The hashtag wasn’t about taking anybody down; it wasn’t about targeting anybody” she said. “It was an opportunity for people who’ve experienced sexual violence to say out loud that we are collectively this group of people, that we’ve had this collective experience. We’ve moved away from that; we’ve moved away from it almost immediately.”
The Hollywood version of the #MeToo movement may have given a voice to many women who have suffered sexual harassment in the workplace, but it has also highlighted the long-term dangers of mass trial by social media.
According to Shelley Zalis of the Female Quotient, a company dedicated to achieving workplace equality, the current climate of “microsensitivity” in the workplace is proving counterproductive for women.
“Women and men must work together to write a new script for what’s OK in the workplace so we all feel safe,” she said.
Zalis also stressed that key to writing this new script is for women to speak up early.
“I tell women, before you take offense, make men aware that you are uncomfortable, as it may not be intentional,” she said.
To continue to achieve greater equality in the workplace and to work together effectively in the #MeToo era, women and men must indeed ‘work together’, to ensure workplaces where respect, fairness and decency are paramount and are extended to everyone, regardless of their sex.
Education, clear communication and calm collaboration may all be part of the answer, but what is certain is that the solution is sure to require #MeToo’s solidarity minus the ‘us versus them mentality’.
Helena Adeloju is a journalist and freelance writer from Melbourne.