This shouldn’t be the least bit surprising, and yet…
Who could’ve foreseen the consequences of a movement that promoted believing all women over examining facts and evidence?
From campus kangaroo courts to the nationwide #MeToo movement that sought to out serial sexual predators protected by their rank and wealth, #MeToo brought with it consequences of all stripes — positive, but mostly negative.
The Weinsteins and Frankens of the world met long-overdue justice. But as the movement that began as a megaphone for those silenced or ignored morphed into a mantra and then the insistence that all men are secret predators, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on innocent women, the backlash rightly began. Add to that the bizarre trend among millennial women that allowed regret for lack of boundaries in sexual encounters to later be interpreted as sexual assault and quite frankly, I’m surprised the backlash hasn’t been more severe.
The Harvard Business Review published a study, the results of which “surprised” researchers:
The study’s biggest surprise has to do with backlash. Respondents said they expected to see some positive effects of the #MeToo movement: For instance, 74% of women said they thought they would be more willing now to speak out against harassment, and 77% of men anticipated being more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior. But more than 10% of both men and women said they thought they would be less willing than previously to hire attractive women.
Twenty-two percent of men and 44% of women predicted that men would be more apt to exclude women from social interactions, such as after-work drinks; and nearly one in three men thought they would be reluctant to have a one-on-one meeting with a woman. Fifty-six percent of women said they expected that men would continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught, and 58% of men predicted that men in general would have greater fears of being unfairly accused.
Because the data was collected soon after the #MeToo movement gained momentum, and because much of it focused on expectations, the researchers conducted a follow-up survey (with different people) in early 2019. This revealed a bigger backlash than respondents had anticipated. For instance, 19% of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women, 21% said they were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men (jobs involving travel, say), and 27% said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues; only one of those numbers was lower in 2019 than the numbers projected the year before.
The researchers say that some of the behaviors are manifestations of what is sometimes called the Mike Pence rule—a reference to the U.S. vice president’s refusal to dine with female colleagues unless his wife is present. “I’m not sure we were surprised by the numbers, but we were disappointed,” says Rachel Sturm, a professor at Wright State University who worked on the project. “When men say, ‘I’m not going to hire you, I’m not going to send you traveling, I’m going to exclude you from outings’—those are steps backward.”
In December of 2018, I blogged about a Bloomberg article that discussed the impact of #MeToo on Wall Street. SPOILER: The results were the same — men hesitant to be alone with female coworkers for fear their words or actions might be misconstrued.
No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings.
In fact, as a wealth adviser put it, just hiring a woman these days is “an unknown risk.” What if she took something he said the wrong way?
Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women.
Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.
Interviews with more than 30 senior executives suggest many are spooked by #MeToo and struggling to cope. “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells,” said David Bahnsen, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley who’s now an independent adviser overseeing more than $1.5 billion.
This is hardly a single-industry phenomenon, as men across the country check their behavior at work, to protect themselves in the face of what they consider unreasonable political correctness — or to simply do the right thing. The upshot is forceful on Wall Street, where women are scarce in the upper ranks. The industry has also long nurtured a culture that keeps harassment complaints out of the courts and public eye, and has so far avoided a mega-scandal like the one that has engulfed Harvey Weinstein.
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