InvestmentNews Editorials

Don't fear women. It's bad for them and bad for business

A deeper look at men's anxiety in the midst of the #MeToo movement will clarify the situation and lead to a productive response

Dec 7, 2018 @ 10:50 am

Are men really becoming afraid of women? That's the upshot of a recent Bloomberg story about fallout from the #MeToo movement. The story described how some men on Wall Street and across financial services are avoiding women for fear that their actions will be misconstrued.

The suggestion of such an approach caused an immediate and vigorous rebuke from women and men alike. And for good reason.

Let's take a step back and really think about this — the implications all around.

Not hiring women, not brainstorming with them over lunch or on an airplane on your way to a work conference? What a waste of intellect, creativity and productivity. Even taking out of the equation for a moment the fact that such actions are unfair (no one would want this done to them), the simple bottom line of cutting out half the potential enterprise in a firm is a terrible business decision.

But in an attempt to take the concerns of some men about the #MeToo movement seriously, perhaps a deeper look at what is causing the anxiety will make the situation clearer.

What is the real threat? That a woman will falsely accuse a man of misconduct, or simply take something he does or says the wrong way? A woman is in the workplace to work. She does not benefit from the burden and backlash of a sexual harassment complaint hanging over her. Men who think accounts of sexual harassment are frivolous, and therefore that they themselves are at risk of being accused when doing nothing wrong, don't understand this fact. Women don't want to harm men; they want to be able to do their jobs without being obstructed by harassing words, actions or attitudes that hold them back.

Not all men find the #MeToo environment scary. Some see progress and growth resulting from a clearing of the air that allows everyone to produce to their highest capacity. A recent survey InvestmentNews conducted among financial advisers about sexual harassment in the workplace found many men also have experienced its humiliation. The movement to address a persistent cultural stain across industries is useful on many fronts.

So assuming avoidance or segregation of women is not the solution, what is?

It's simple — just think of the late, great Aretha Franklin. Respect.

How do you treat, or how would you like others to treat, your mother, sister, wife, daughter, good female friend? For that matter, what role should civility play in encounters with any person?

And presumably you know your female colleagues as individual humans. Not every woman is the same. One woman's life experiences are very different from another's. Over time, you undoubtedly get to know, for example, who among your workmates likes a good off-color joke and who doesn't.

So here's a tip sheet for men struggling with the #MeToo movement:

1. Don't fear women; they're not out to get you. Any claim they make will have a serious impact on their own career and future professional life.

2. Don't cast all women in one light. Each has a unique personality — many of which will align with your own and lead to a productive and fun work life.

3. When in doubt of how a colleague might interpret your words or actions, it's probably better to keep it to yourself. It doesn't mean you can't be yourself, just be cognizant that not everyone sees things the way you do. When there's a gray area, fall back on civility. Show respect to your colleagues, and you will earn theirs.

4. Enjoy and be grateful for the varied people who contribute to your work and your life every day. If you give every person at your firm a chance to do their best work and truly flourish, the output and energy will enliven your whole team — and the potential for your business will be limitless.

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