Powerful men are falling like dominoes. We have clearly hit a tipping point, with decades of collective resigned silence by women about harassment and misogyny in the workplace coming to a thunderous conclusion. I am encouraged by the strength women are showing, furious that this has gone on for so long and is so widespread, and terrified that the backlash in professional relationships between good men and the women who work with and for them is going to be catastrophic. We need the good men of the world to step up with us!
Notwithstanding the impression that we might get by reading the news these days, the vast majority of men are decent people. My deepest fear for the times ahead is that the pendulum will swing too far in the opposite direction and men will withdraw even further from conversations and interactions with women in the workplace (or from even hiring women). This weakens organizations as a whole and is certainly toxic for female team members.
Don’t get fooled into thinking the “Pence Rule” is noble
I’ve spent my entire career in male-dominated industries (finance and technology). Even before recent events, my male colleagues were more consistently included in social activities with management and clients: drinks, lunches, dinners, concerts, sporting events, golf matches, conferences, etc. Why? Because when the person in charge (usually a man) thinks about these activities, it is often more obvious to include someone he knows shares his interests. The connections fostered between men from these get-togethers brings them closer, thus further reinforcing the “separateness” of women in the workplace.
The boys club is real, but I do not believe it is pervasively malevolent.
Now, however, we have a bigger issue. We’re moving from a state where it was perhaps easier to invite men to being actively scared to invite women. The most notable example of this behavior is the so-called “Pence Rule.” Vice President Pence has stated that “he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.” No, no, no, no!
Women cannot do their jobs ̶ let alone lead ̶ when every time they are sitting alone with a man they are wondering whether he or someone else thinks they are an entrée and a dessert away from intercourse. And no one can do great work if men are scared to get within five feet of a woman without a chaperone.
Being social is part of building success
In my prior role as the Chief Operating Officer of an investment firm, I enjoyed countless meals alone with my male colleagues and partners in various cities around the world, often while visiting clients and prospective clients. We talked shop, reviewed our strategy, refined the pitches for the following day, and then we talked about our families and got to know each other better as people. These types of exchanges are essential to delivering the best possible experience for clients as well as for creating a business environment where people feel connected, confident and comfortable bringing their “whole selves” to work. These interactions helped me get promoted to become a partner in the firm.
Research consistently shows that diverse teams have higher performance, whether looking at financial returns, problem-solving or many other metrics. Bringing different people together to tap their individual knowledge, passion and experiences to collectively solve problems, design solutions, meet customer needs, create great products or experiences and provide excellent service is imperative to success in today’s competitive environment.
There’s a lot of redirected anger in this new world where Matt Lauer and “Cliff Huxtable” have become pariahs.
Where do we go from here?
To me, it’s clear: we need the many good men of the world to step up to the plate. We will all need to find our way in this new era, but it is essential that men in senior positions “lean in” to the problem. Do we want a world where no one feels comfortable giving a compliment like “I like your dress” or “Nice tie?” Of course not. Do we want an environment where people think twice before making a sexist joke? Probably. Do we want someone to fear getting fired for a small verbal lapse? No.
We need to shut down abuses of power while keeping appropriate and balanced dialogues between and among genders open. Male leaders speaking up and acting with authenticity and integrity are key.
Good men: step up with us!
So, if you are reading this and you are a good man: first of all, a sincere thank you. We cannot allow this to devolve into an “us” vs. “them” issue, and support from men like you is key. Second of all, I challenge you to think of three ways you can be a source of positive change on this front over the next three months. Whether that is inviting all the women on your team or in your division to lunch, or monitoring to make sure you are proactively interacting with each person in roughly equal measures, or committing to call out questionable actions that you witness, or working with HR on policies and then explaining to your team why they matter to all of us. I’m sure you have ideas of your own, and what you are comfortable doing will, of course, depend on your seniority, firm culture and many other factors, but the key is the commitment to positive change.
If you do not identify as male, then my challenge to you is to thoughtfully and proactively thank the men who have been a positive force for change in your life or your firm. Call him up, email him or meet in person — the format doesn’t matter. What matters is being specific. It is rough to be a good guy right now. There’s a lot of redirected anger in this new world where Matt Lauer and “Cliff Huxtable” have become pariahs. Now more than ever, we need to appreciate the good men and allow them to help us begin to heal the fractures in our workplaces.