Good men of Sillicon Valley, academia, finance, corporate America, government, nonprofits, good men everywhere who have asked about what you can do to prevent more #MeToos — I have some thoughts for you. (I have other thoughts for you if you are a Harvey Weinstein style predatory monster, but since you are reading this article I’ll assume that you’re not).
My main ask of you is this: please don’t wig out, “go Mike Pence” and avoid connecting with women at work.
Enforcing workplace gender segregation is an unacceptable response to #MeToo that implicates you in doubling down on the original harm.
As a mental exercise — imagine taking gender out and putting race into the equation instead. Would it be acceptable for anyone to refuse to meet with a male colleague on his own because of his race? Refusing to meet with women candidates, entrepreneurs, and employees one-on-one because of their gender robs them of the critical attention and trust they need to advance. These engaged connections form the foundation of business collaboration and partnerships.
Refusing to meet with a woman on your own implies one of two things: 1) that you can’t be trusted to behave professionally; or 2) the woman can’t be trusted not to lie about the interaction. But any male entrepreneur or colleague could lie about anything said in private. Yes, life is fraught with risk everywhere, but elevating this risk to the level of impacting the people you’re willing to connect with based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or any other stereotype is not justifiable. Instead, we need you to do the opposite — to lean in, and to connect more with the women on your teams than you have before.
Because today’s work environment requires close work between men and women.
Over my two decades of working with Fortune 500 companies and then as an entrepreneur, I’ve met with men on my own for breakfast, sushi, steak, and after dinner drinks. I’ve met men on my own in offices behind closed doors, in dimly lit restaurants, and hotel bars. I’ve driven 6 hours in a rental car, flown across the country, and worked late into the night, even all night, with men. I’ve even shown up at a male public company CEO’s kitchen table at 11pm.
I’ve had to in order to DO. MY. JOB. To recruit, persuade, get advice, ideate, or raise funds for my company.
My best guess is that I’ve had over 7,000 meetings with men where I was the only woman in the room. And at least 6,997 of them have been sexual harassment free.
Even more importantly, the vast majority of my meetings with men have been encouraging, thought-provoking, productive and fun. If you are one of my incredible male Board Members, mentors and colleagues reading this today — thank you for never, ever giving me any cause to question my safety during the long nights, car trips, and plane rides. Thank you for focusing on the work, the work challenges, and on me as a person. You may have disagreed with me and been frustrated with some of my decisions, but you never made it about sex and gender.
Unfortunately, not every man, and certainly not every President, is like you. Here are just a couple of illustrative examples that have happened to me:
Touching: Touching at work can cover a lot of grey zone territory which makes inappropriate touching hard to define. To paraphrase the famous Supreme Court ruling on pornography, “you’ll know inappropriate touching when you feel it.” I’ve had a professor stuff his tongue in my mouth, on one end of the spectrum, and on the other, a male colleague at work put his hand on my thigh during a budgeting meeting. Who of us haven’t had a man hold your hand for a little too long — admiring your jewelry, the softness, or even the nail polish (these guys clearly don’t worry about plausibility). Touching in the workplace is often indicative of control, an attitude that signals, “I get to touch whatever I want, whenever I want.”
Practical Advice: always lead with a handshake, and reciprocate more only in reaction (be it a hug or a European double kiss). No massages of necks, shoulders, hands or feet. EVER. Respect the physical distance you expect from your boss. I love The Rock Test, the hack invented by Anne Victoria Clark and endorsed by the Rock himself. It goes like this: when in doubt, “Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
when in doubt, “Treat all women like you would treat Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.”
Would you press your front side along The Rock’s backside? Would you cozy up to him and put your arm around his waist at a bar? It’s clear and simple. To build upon this rule, my corollary to The Rock Test is to “Also treat all women as you want Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to treat you.” Do you want him to pick you up and throw you on the sofa? Do you want him to stand so close to you that you graze his biceps on his biceps when you turn to grab your drink, knowing that you are sleeze and that he hates sleezes?
Talking about naked celebrities/ sex with celebrities: A mentor once encouraged me to apply to join an exclusive CEO group in Seattle. I went for an interview with 5 members during which the “ice breaker” was that we were asked to go around the room and share “which celebrity would you most like to see naked and why.” The descriptions of Jessica Alba’s body and what the men talking about it wanted to do to her made me wonder if this was a hazing process.
Practical advice: Don’t talk about naked women. Ever. Celebrities are no exception. Don’t’ ask anyone at work which celebrity you’d &*$@. Inserting a celebrity into the equation doesn’t immunize your harassing comment or action and make it okay. Just ask Harvey Weinstein.
What’s important to remember if you are “one of the good guys” is that despite the fact that my own data suggests that only 0.01% of interactions between men and women are problematic, the handful of harassing or grey zone events have a significantly disproportionate impact. For the split second it took for one of my favorite professors to touch me, I spent many years wondering if I was really smart or if people who told me that I was were just trying to cop a feel. I hate that such a small moment rippled so thoroughly through my confidence.
On any given day, I don’t think about the fact that my male teacher in fifth grade made me a teddy bear out of leather. I don’t walk around remembering that during my first summer of law school, I showed up at what I thought was a conference for law students only to find out that I was the only woman and the only person under 30 on a remote island where a bunch of elderly white male academics and business execs were putting on Shakespeare and casting me in every female role — and insisting on kissing scenes.
As the #MeToo campaign has brought to light, every woman’s life is a maze of these bizarre experiences, some much more violent than others. So the work interactions that follow, years and decades later, are not occurring in a vacuum. But this shouldn’t make you feel like every woman is a minefield.
The way to help is to lean in with her. Into the work. Into figuring out who she is as a person so you can help her professionally and vice versa. Listen if she chooses to share her #MeToo experience with you. We are all looking for safe harbors, because, as Brene Brown has observed, “shame cannot survive when we openly talk about it. It cannot survive empathic connection.”
So more than ever before, please meet with your female mentees and colleagues and build a connection around the work. Listen to what she has to offer, build on her ideas, help her become a stronger professional and invite her to help you achieve the same. Connect more. We need your wave of engagement.