How #MeToo Chill Could Backfire on Women
As the #MeToo movement has gained momentum around the world, one of its unintended consequences is the alienation of male mentors, resulting in a major step backwards for women.
Recent studies by women’s empowerment non-profit LeanIn.Org reveal male managers are three times as likely to say they are uncomfortable mentoring women, twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman, and 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have a work dinner with a junior female colleague rather than a male one.
“These study findings support what I’ve been hearing anecdotally, in both my conversations with senior male business leaders at Edelman and externally,” says Lisa Kimmel, president and CEO of Edelman Canada. “Based on the environment, the trial-by-Twitter accusations and the careers getting destroyed by those accusations before getting to due process — they said they would start retreating, and avoid being one-on-one alone with female subordinates.”
“At first, I had an allergic reaction to hearing this — this kind of reasoning assumes all women are out to get these men. But then I took a step back. The majority of leadership roles are filled by male decision makers, and if men aren’t prepared to provide mentorship and sponsorship to junior women, they won’t get ahead.”
“My hope in bringing this issue to the surface is to engage both male and female leaders to have conversations that define the new ‘normal’ in the workplace. These conversations need to bring women and men together — it shouldn’t be women having these conversations all by themselves.
“If we don’t bring the two genders together, it will result in further polarization in the workplace.”
Kimmel was recently named the chair of Edelman’s Global Women’s Executive Network, which champions programs and policies to help Edelman reach its global target of a fifty-fifty split in male/female leadership by 2020. On March 8, the group announced their partnership with TenThousandCoffees, a digital platform that facilitates mentoring and networking opportunities among professionals within the organization.
“Our goal is to help men and women build connections with each other — that’s the critical ingredient for mentorship, promotions, high-performing teams, innovation and creativity within a company,” says TenThousandCoffees co-founder Dave Wilkin.
Each employee in the organization will be given introductions to new colleagues who can help them grow in their career path, thanks to an intelligent matching algorithm.
“Everyone is provided with clear, explicit objectives on how to have a career-related conversation that is endorsed by leaders. They’re given tips and icebreakers to continue building those relationships,” says Wilkin.
“People are not sure how to do this on their own. And if organizations thought diversity inclusion was a challenge last year, it’s even more challenging this year,” says Vicki Saunders, CEO of SheEO, a fund that supports female entrepreneurs. “Companies need to find ways for men and women to build diverse relationships, because when diverse people do come together, we see tremendous outcomes.”
That diversity is also lacking in the world of entrepreneurship, particularly with regards to financial support. In addition to being chronically downplayed and diminished, women-owned businesses are often overlooked by mostly-male venture capitalists and receive less than four cent of venture capital.
“Those numbers haven’t changed in 20 years,” says Saunders, a serial entrepreneur. “People have to pay attention to their unconscious cultural biases towards women in leadership. Shift your lens on how you view the world; notice when guys go out for drinks after work and are doing deals together, that the women aren’t invited.”
By 2026, Saunders aims to create a billion-dollar perpetual fund that will actively invest in 10,000 female entrepreneurs every year with zero-interest loans.
At the end of the day, battling sexism in any setting requires leaders with the courage to have conversations about whether a problem really does exist within the organization, says Kimmel, who facilitated those discussions at town hall meetings at Edelman’s Canadian offices.
“These discussions have been incredibly productive in shedding light from the men on the issues they are grappling with. Men may not know how to conduct themselves in the workplace anymore, whether they can compliment a woman on her dress or if it’s ok to go out for drinks with a female colleague after work,” she says.
“For women to feel absolutely comfortable, we must foster a culture that allows them to be honest about how they feel and where there are no ramifications for doing so. The #MeToo movement is not just our moment but also our huge opportunity as women to propel ourselves forward. The time is now to be advocating for ourselves and one another.
“There’s never been so much receptivity among male leaders. When there’s an open position, they will now look through the lens of diversity and gender, whereas they may not have been as likely to do so in the past.