A recent study from the University of Houston took a close look at the post #MeToo workplace and its overall effects on inciting change.  Most people believed that shining a light on the harassment that women face at work (and in every day life) would begin to shift the culture in the workplace and effectively deter men from future harassment.  Women were lauded for speaking up and saying #MeToo!  Finally, change would come and the workplace would become safer for women!  But was this really the case?  Did change come?

The researchers at University of Houston wanted to determine if #MeToo was really making a positive impact for women in the workplace.   The study looked first at 19 behaviors and asked men and women if they amounted to sexual harassment.  “Most men know what sexual harassment is, and most women know what it is,” Leanne Atwater, professor at University of Houston says. “The idea that men don’t know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue. If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.”

The study also found that 2/3rds of women indicated that they have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and 33% of those women have experienced harassment more than once.  Only 20% of the women who indicated they had been harassed reported the incident.  However, the more frightening results of the survey were the unintended consequences of #MeToo.  The study found that men were more reluctant to hire attractive women (19%), more reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men, like jobs involving travel (21%), and that they have avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues (27%) since #MeToo.

This is clearly a step backwards for women.  We may be harassed less as a result of #MeToo, but it has created less opportunities for women to be hired and/or interact with male leaders as an unintended consequence.

So now what do we do?  How do we navigate in this reality?  Here are a couple thoughts on what we do our new reality.

  • Find Some Allies:  #MeToo hasn’t scared off every man.  If fact, most of them probably don’t think this way.  Take the time to build great working and professional relationships with the men who get it.  Leverage those relationships when you’re hitting roadblocks, navigating a job opportunities, or need someone to advocate for you.
  • Navigate Around the Culture.  Do I mean stop being so attractive?  No.  Consider that being alone with you might be a barrier to a male leader or executive saying, “yes,” to taking a meeting with you.  Navigate around that by offering to meet in a more public environment, skip the lunch meeting and settle for coffee meeting instead, or invite another male leader to attend, as well.  Does it pain me to say that?  Yes.  Our current reality requires us to navigate around the roadblocks.  The goal is to get face time with important people.
  • Keep a Success Diary.  Track every accomplishment.  Track every contribution.  Track every goal you crushed.  Track every additional responsibility you took on.  Track EVERYTHING in a journal so that you have it written down and recorded somewhere.  You then can advocate for yourself to leaders, in job interviews, or when being considered for promotion.  Again, our reality is such that it requires us to “prove it” more than our male peers.  Have the data to back up why you’re qualified – so they can’t say “no” (no matter how pretty you are).

 

About the Research: “Looking Ahead: How What We Know About Sexual Harassment Now Informs Us of the Future,” by Leanne E. Atwater, Allison M. Tringale, Rachel E. Sturm, Scott N. Taylor, and Phillip W. Braddy (Organizational Dynamics, forthcoming)

https://hbr.org/2019/09/the-metoo-backlash

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