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#MeToo Backlash Is Not Going Away

Vivia Chen

September 13, 2019

Mike_Pence_-_2015_500_Festival_Parade_-_StierchLet us not underestimate the wisdom of Mike Pence. Not only can he teach us about the essential art of sucking up (he made his boss very happy recently by staying at a Trump property in Ireland, even though it added hours of travel to his meeting place), he’s the oracle of gender relations in the workplace.

You remember the Mike Pence rule, right? You know all that stuff about how Pence avoids being alone with a woman and how he never attends social events where alcohol is served without his wife. Oh, how quaint and silly was that?

Well, trivialize it at your peril, because the Pence rule is becoming the standard in the American workplace. According to a new study in the Harvard Business Review (the authors are Leanne Atwater, Allison Tringale, Rachel Sturm, Scott Taylor and Phillip Braddy), not only is the #MeToo backlash not quieting down, it’s gotten worse in the last year.

Here are two depressing highlights, comparing 2019 with 2018 responses, based on data from 152 men and 303 women in a range of industries:

- 19% of men were reluctant to hire attractive women; in 2018, it was 16%.

            - 21% of men were reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal                 interactions such as travel; in 2018, it was 15%.

So not to make you feel you’re living in 1965, there was some progress. For instance, in 2019, only 27% of men said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues; in 2018, it was a whopping 41%. But before you cheer that change, let this sink in: having 27% of men fearing being alone with a woman in a work context still stinks. Considering it’s 2019, it’s frick’n unbelievable.

Now, you might think that the legal profession is more advanced. Well, don’t be so sure. Last fall, Working Mother magazine and the ABA Journal published a study with similar results: Most male lawyers—56%—said they were nervous about one-on-one interactions with women at work and the charges of impropriety that might result.

But let’s go back to the study published in HBR. What intrigued (and disturbed) me were the responses from women. The 2018 women responses (the women’s 2019 responses have not come out) show how much women have internalized and accepted the #MeToo backlash—sometimes even more than men:

- 15% of women said that they'd hesitate about hiring women for jobs that require close interactions with men, such as travel (same rate for men that year).

- 43% of women said that the more women who come forward about sexual harassment, the more likely it will be that men blame women for the problem, while only 30% of men thought so.

- 44% of women agreed that men will more likely exclude women from social interactions, while only 22% of men thought so.

- 57% of women said men will be more reluctant to have one-on-one meeting with women alone, while only 41% of men thought so.

And here's the big bummer: 11% of women said they'd be reluctant to hire attractive women! So much for sisterhood!

It's almost as if women are unwittingly participants of the #MeToo backlash. If we expect the worse—that there's hell to pay—are we helping to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

I don't know what the solution to the #MeToo backlash is, except to ride it out and press on.

In the meantime, though, may I make one simple suggestion? Let's assume there will always be Mike Pences out there, but let's not assume that they rule the world. Ok?



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just wanted to note that, wrt not including women in social interactions, i would have been in the 44% of women who agreed with that statement. That's exactly what happened to me. i was one of 3 senior executives who were women and was never once invited to any of the afterhours boytime--drinks, golf, etc. that all other execs got invited to, including those lower ranking than i and the other women. this is not new Me Too behavior--this is rank "I'm not comfortable with women behavior" that has been around forever.

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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: VChen@alm.com

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