As a consultant, I’ve had the privilege of traveling across the world and serving well over 1,500 clients, from CEOs to company Vice President’s, Senior Directors and managers. Yesterday afternoon, a CEO called and asked if I could join him for a drink. We met at a local Irish bar that both of us has, at one time or another attended.
“Sorry for calling on short notice. I needed to vent,” he said after ordering a beer.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Had an HR meeting two days ago over an alleged sexual harassment claim.”
“And,” prompting him further.
“Well,” lowering his head and staring at his whiskey. “A female employee claimed harassment by our Sales VP.”
“Well,” I sighed heavily. “I’m sorry.”
“Wait,” he interrupted. “She claims a year ago that the offending employee ‘winked’ at her.”
“Winked,” he offered. “But under questioning, it turned out not to be a wink, but a ‘raised’ eye brow?”
“What the hell is a raised eyebrow?”
“Have no clue,” he muttered. “Have no clue. The entire management team was in the sales meeting and she claims he raised an eyebrow to her. And she felt violated by this.”
“Anyone else see this?”
“Oh hell,” he pounded his fist. “We were all there. And not a single one of us saw what she was referring to.”
A long pause swallowed his long face.
“Our Sales VP called today and resigned – claimed he felt humiliated.” He momentarily starred through me. “Where is all this going?”
By October 2018, the #MeToo movement derailed over 200 careers. As I’ve said before, most of those men needed to go. In nearly half the cases, the replacements were women. Joe Biden may be the latest casualty.
However, one unintended consequence, executives and analysts say, companies seeking to minimize the risk of sexual harassment or misconduct appear to be simply minimizing contact between female employees and senior male executives.
Most of the consulting firms I have worked with have told me that they will avoid going to dinner with any female employees, or that they’re concerned about deploying a women and men consultants onsite. People are concerned and have questions.
The CEO I had a drink with openly admitted to becoming a “No” man. He simply says no to most meetings. He ran off a business list to which he says no.
“If there’s a meeting with a female employee, I intentionally broaden the issue so I can include as many others as possible.”
“Having dinner at restaurant ABD. Want to … “No, thanks.””
“Going for coffee. Would you like … “No thanks.””
“Lunch at … “No thanks.””
“Grabbing a beer at … “No thanks.””
“Ordering tickets for the hockey game … “No thanks.””
“Texting female coworkers … “No thanks.””
“College internship programs … “No thanks.””
“Business Travel … “No thanks.””
“I grabbed a rental car, what to share … “No thanks.””
“Stay at the same hotel … “No thanks.””
“Same flights … “No thanks.””
My CEO friend placed a palm against his forehead. “My God. I’ve become a “No Man.“
He is not alone. Lean In partnered with SurveyMonkey to look into the possible negative effects of the #MeToo movement for women’s advancement. Promoting mentorship is one of Lean In’s key priorities. Nearly half of male managers they surveyed reported being “uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together.” Senior men were five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior level woman than with a junior level man.
More recently, the MeToo movement has been credited for canceled office holiday parties, radio stations refusing to play the classic song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” after many claimed that the singer is trying to persuade a woman to stay with him by offering her a drink and company wide trips.
Thus, while it’s critically important that women who’ve been assaulted are heard, we cannot forget about the fundamental right to due process that our great country was founded upon. As Op-Ed writer David Oscar Markus noted:
If it’s the subjective feelings of the accuser that we prioritize over the intent of accused, then we will have flipped our presumption of giving the benefit of the doubt to the well-meaning. We will also put at risk coaches and teachers who encourage their students with a reassuring pat on the back. The same for business colleagues with a handshake. What’s next, criminalizing the close-talker? The list goes on. Let’s not send the message that there is to be no touching at all without fear of false accusation that it was “uncomfortable.”
Unfortunately, the side effect of men getting intimidated by the #MeToo movement won’t serve women well in neither the short term nor long term.
The real change will only occur at the grassroot level, which, in this case, is each one of us. However, I fear the only real change is that more men will become “No” men.
Categories: Life Lessons