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Men, Are You Really that Confused?

Vivia Chen

November 21, 2017



Dear Men:

It's come to my attention that some of you are hopelessly lost as to how to deal with women in the post-Harvey Weinstein era. I hear that you are quaking in your boots, wingtips, loafers, whatever—because you no longer know the rules of engagement with your female colleagues.

On one hand, you are under pressure to pay more attention to the women on your team. You are told to put them on cases, transactions, and all sorts of matters so that they can shine. You are also told that you have to mentor them, sponsor them and take them under your wings so that can have a shot at success like the lads at the office. 

But then there's this message: Watch yourself. You better avoid even the slightest hint—much less the reality—of some kind of hanky-panky. You've heard that before but the recent allegations about Weinstein is driving home the point. If nothing else, the Weinstein affair shows how quickly accusations of sexual impropriety can destroy a career.

So you are racking your brains about how whether certain working situations might land you in hot water: Is it okay to review documents with a female underling in the office with the door closed? Can you travel with her alone on business trips and stay at the same hotel? Is it a bad idea to share a a meal together? 

Rest assure, The Careerist feels your pain and is on the case.

Let me begin our session by asking you this: Are you guys playing with us? Or are you honestly that clueless?

I ask because some of the anxiety men have expressed seems ripe for parody. One recent New York Times article suggests that this is a big problem facing men in white collar professions, particularly among those who "like to think they treat women as equals in the workplace." A male employee at PwC in San Francisco tells The Times: "I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong. But has anything I’ve done been interpreted another way?"

The upshot, according to The Times, is that some men are starting male groups to address these issues, and companies are cancelling after-hour parties (when in doubt, cut the fun). Plus, there's this predictable response among some conservatives: Invoke the Mike Pence Rule in which he famously declared that he would never, ever dine alone with a woman or attend an event that served alcohol without his wife Karen (whom he calls "Mother") at his side. 

Both of these reactions are silly. First, there's the self-flagellating uber-liberal response in which privilege, over-educated men (I'm talking about you BigLaw types!) spin their wheels about whether they've somehow (that unconscious bias thing again!) crossed a line with women. I'm not in the least worried about this group because if you're spending this much time analyzing your actions, you're probably pretty tame.

As for the Mike Pence Rule, I think most people who work in the legal or corporate sector would agree that it's a bit antiquated. Though it's hard to imagine a BigLaw partner openly adopting the Pence rule, it probably happens, and possibly more so in this post-Weinstein era. In fact, there's been lots of concern that women will suffer as a result. "When men, who tend to still be the gatekeepers of any industry, decide that they must roll back spending time with their woman colleagues or employees, it can have real, lasting impact on those women’s careers," comments The Huffington Post

Yes, it would be a pity if women lost out on opportunities because of the wrong lessons from the Weinstein affair. That said, let me also throw this out: Some men should abide by the Pence Rule. I mean if you're the type of guy who loses it when you're alone with a woman  and morphs into a sex slave (remember Donald Trump says he turns into an uncontrollable kissing machine in the presence of a pretty woman in that Hollywood Access tape), you shouldn’t be on the mentor list. I don’t think any woman would be missing out on a chance of lifetime not having your tutelage.

But I doubt most of you are quite that provincial. You are sophisticated citizens of the world. And big boys to boot. It can’t be that hard to figure out what’s acceptable behavior. I bet you have some inkling when you’re behaving inappropriately. (Simple rule: If in doubt, don’t do it.)

Remember, you’re the man—and more often than not, the Boss-Man. So please take responsibility and knock off the “it’s-so-hard-to-be-a-guy-these-days” stuff. OK?

All good wishes, 

The Careerist


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Nicely done. Lively and funny and smart.

Does he really call her "Mother"? Did he grow up watching The Waltons?

I'm with you on that. The allegations in the Weinstein matter concern sexual assault and rape. If men are confused that they may be engaging in those crimes they need serious help!

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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