There’s no question that sexual harassment in the workplace has been a problem, and most women have experienced it on some level, whether from an inappropriate joke to something much more serious. Then to the rescue came the #MeToo movement, which started out as a simple hashtag to elevate awareness but has ballooned far out of proportion. Now business practices are changing out of fear of mere accusations of harassment. This has hurt business and has backfired into segregating the genders and making it more difficult for women to work with male mentors and climb the corporate ladder.
Men are sheltering in protective armor…
In this day and age of excessive political correctness, a minuscule word or action can be considered a serious PC slight, with the offender being reprimanded, shamed, or even fired. As we learned with Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, all it takes is for someone to toss out an accusation, and the ball rolls downhill with rapid momentum from there. A claim of inappropriate behavior, even without proof, is enough to ruin a person’s life. Is it any wonder the #MeToo movement is beginning to experience a backlash much worse than supporters ever expected?
In an industry that is male-dominated, the Wall Street traders have had to come up with some rules to help protect themselves. It comes down to segregation – remove the opportunity for any chance of inappropriate conduct. Vice President Mike Pence has said he will not dine with a woman alone except for his wife, and many in the finance world are adopting that practice. Men are sheltering in protective armor by avoiding any opportunity to be alone with a female co-worker. This includes sitting next to her on an airplane, sharing a working dinner or after-hour cocktails – even in groups – and some in management do not allow one-on-one private meetings between employees of the opposite sex.
So what does this mean for women trying to climb the corporate ladder in male-dominated industries such as finance?
“Women are grasping for ideas on how to deal with it, because it is affecting our careers,” said Karen Elinski, president of the Financial Women’s Association and senior vice president at Wells Fargo & Co. “It’s a real loss.”
When just a hint of sexual harassment can destroy a life and career, is it any wonder men are taking serious precautions? Unfortunately, this move to protect themselves may just end up biting them on the rear, as Stephen Zweig, an employment attorney with FordHarrison, explained:
“If men avoid working or traveling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment, those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint.”
Men are now caught in a Catch-22: Trying to protect themselves, they are set up for a host of other legal issues. Meanwhile, women are losing out on career opportunities, and the sexes are being segregated. The original intent of the #MeToo movement, to heighten awareness of sexual harassment, has morphed into the crazy idea that an accusation is as valid as a guilty plea. Who can blame men for wishing to distance themselves from female co-workers when just a whisper or a threat can destroy their livelihoods?