More Men Think Working With Women Is Uncomfortable After #MeToo, A New Survey Finds

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There's no doubt that the #MeToo movement has created positive change by bringing toxic behavior to light and allowing people to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. However, according to a new survey from LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey, more men have felt uncomfortable mentoring women in the workplace following #MeToo, and this number appears to be growing.

In a survey carried out in February and March of 2019, LeanIn.Org and SurveyMoney found that 60% of male managers now feel uncomfortable in working situations alone with a woman, like when meeting one-on-one, socializing, or mentoring them — a 33% jump from a year ago. When the survey compared how comfortable senior-level men were doing various work activities with either junior-level men or women, the results were also stark. The senior men were 12 times more like to express reluctance to meet one-on-one with women junior to them than men, nine times more likely to be hesitant to take a work trip with woman junior to them than men, and six times more likely to hesitate before going to a work dinner with women junior to them than men.

As LeanIn.Org founder Sheryl Sandberg explained in an article for Fortune along with Lean In partner P&G's Marc Pritchard, this phenomenon directly blocks women's advancement in the workplace.

"This is disastrous. The vast majority of managers and senior leaders are men. They have a huge role to play in supporting women’s advancement at work—or hindering it," Sandberg and Pritchard wrote. "If they’re reluctant even to meet one-on-one with women, there’s no way women can get an equal shot at proving themselves."

The situation depicted in the survey results in men getting promoted more often than women, because they would have had more of a chance to prove themselves in front of their managers, as The Washington Post explained. This, then, compounds the already existing problems of gender equality in the corporate world, where only 24 Fortune 500 companies have women CEOs, according to Vox. Even as companies publicly pledge to diversify, their C-suites have gotten whiter and more male, as Bloomberg wrote.

Sandberg and Pritchard's proposed response to this issue would, essentially, be another step in the #MeToo movement.

"Ugly behavior that once was indulged or ignored is finally being called out and condemned. Now we must go further," they wrote in Fortune. "Avoiding and isolating women at work—whether out of an overabundance of caution, a misguided sense of decorum, irritation at having to check your words or actions, or any other reason—must be unacceptable too."

As the survey showed, though, this is likely to be a long road. While the survey did find improvements in how employees viewed their companies' policies on sexual harassment, it also found that 36 percent of men overall had gone out of their way to avoid mentoring or socializing with women one-on-one out of a fear of "how it would look." Sandberg and Pritchard suggest work arounds — group meals rather than one-on-one dinners, for example, or one-on-one meetings with the door left open. In the end, though, it's a matter of changing the culture — and according to Sandberg and Pritchard, that won't happen without men actually working to make it happen.