It’s come to my attention that some of you are hopelessly lost as to how to deal with women in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. I hear that you are quaking in your boots, wingtips, loafers, whatever—because you no longer know the rules of engagement with your female colleagues.
On one hand, you are under pressure to pay more attention to the women on your team. You are told to put them on cases, transactions, and all sorts of matters so that they can shine. You are also told that you have to mentor them, sponsor them and take them under your wings so they can have a shot at success like the lads at the office.
But then there’s this message: Watch yourself. You better avoid even the slightest hint—much less the reality—of some kind of hanky-panky. You’ve heard that before, but the recent allegations about Weinstein are driving home the point. If nothing else, the Weinstein affair shows how quickly accusations of sexual impropriety can destroy a career.
So you are racking your brains about how certain working situations might land you in hot water: Is it OK to review documents with a female underling in the office with the door closed? Can you travel with her alone on business trips and stay at the same hotel? Is it a bad idea to share a meal together?
Rest assured, The Careerist is on the case.
Let me begin our session by asking you this: Are you guys playing with us? Or are you honestly that clueless?
I ask because some of the anxiety men have expressed seems ripe for parody. One recent New York Times article suggests that confusion over what’s appropriate at work is a big problem facing men in white-collar professions, particularly among those who “like to think they treat women as equals in the workplace.” A male employee at PwC in San Francisco tells the Times: “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. But has anything I’ve done been interpreted another way?”
The upshot, according to the Times, is that some men are starting male groups to address these issues, and companies are canceling after-hour parties (when in doubt, cut the fun). Plus, there’s this predictable response from some conservatives: Invoke the Mike Pence Rule in which he famously declared that he would never, ever dine alone with a woman or attend an event that served alcohol without his wife Karen (whom he apparently calls “mother”) at his side.
I see two extreme reactions here, and both are silly. First, there’s the self-flagellating uber-liberal response in which privileged, over-educated men (I’m talking about you Big Law types) spin their wheels about whether they’ve somehow crossed a line with women (that unconscious bias thing again!). I’m not in the least worried about this group because if you’re spending this much time analyzing your actions, you’re probably pretty tame.
As for the Mike Pence Rule, I think most people who work in the legal or corporate sector would agree that it’s antiquated. Though it’s hard to imagine a Big Law partner openly adopting that rule, it probably happens, and possibly more so in this post-Weinstein era. In fact, there’s been lots of concern that women will suffer as a result. “When men, who tend to still be the gatekeepers of any industry, decide that they must roll back spending time with their woman colleagues or employees, it can have real, lasting impact on those women’s careers,” comments The Huffington Post.
Yes, it would be a pity if women lost out on opportunities because of the wrong lessons from the Weinstein affair. That said, let me also throw this out: Some men should abide by the Pence Rule. I mean if you’re the type of guy who loses it when you’re alone with a woman and turns into a sex slave (remember that Donald Trump in that Access Hollywood tape said he morphs into an uncontrollable kissing automaton in the presence of a pretty woman), you shouldn’t be on the mentor list. I don’t think any woman would be missing out on a chance of lifetime not to have your tutelage.
But I doubt most of you are quite that provincial. You are sophisticated citizens of the world. And big boys to boot. It can’t be that hard to figure out what’s acceptable behavior. I bet you have some inkling when you’re behaving inappropriately. (Simple rule: If in doubt, don’t do it.)
Remember, you’re the man—and more often than not, the one with more power. So please take responsibility and knock off the “it’s-so-hard-to-be-a-man-these-days” stuff. OK?