A new Pew Research Center poll shows that both male and female workers believe that the #MeToo movement is interfering with male-female relationships in the workplace, and this is likely to hurt professional women far more than men, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has won over 100 cases of discrimination against women.
More precisely, 68% of Republican men and 59% of Republican women say it’s “harder” for men to interact with female colleagues. On the Democratic side, 45% of men and 40% of women agree.
Since men are more likely than women to be in positions of power and authority – with much greater ability to affect who gets hired and who gets promoted – women in or seeking professional positions are more likely to suffer if men are becoming afraid that hiring and working with females is now much more likely to result in claims of inappropriate sexual behavior, including sexual assault and even rape.
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Indeed, even if there were an equal number of men and women in positions to affect hiring and promotions, women would still be hurt more because men are now seeing many of their gender accused of and even punished for sexual wrongdoing, often even without any hearing or other fact finding proceeding. In contrast, women in power are understandably much less afraid that men who may work under them will accuse their bosses of rape, groping, masturbating in their presence, leering at their bodies, etc. as males are increasingly facing.
There may also be other serious repercussions, suggests Banzhaf, noting that the Harvard Business Review recently asked “Is #Metoo Backlash Hurting Women’s Opportunities in Finance?”
It was once well known that male judges were at one time very reluctant to hire female law clerks – a vital stepping stone for many major legal positions in the future – because judges and their clerk often worked closely together during the wee hours of the night, and judges wanted to be above any suspicion of wrongdoing. Now that some judges have become victims of the #MeToo movement, many more male judges may become increasingly reluctant to hire female clerks, even if they appear to be more qualified.
The same could also occur regarding mentoring, another major and often vital and necessary step to important positions in organizations. If men are suddenly becoming afraid that even a casual and innocent comment about a subordinate’s appearance, the occasional use of even mild profanity, or discussions regarding genders could lead to an HR complaint or even a legal action, males in positions of power may decide that the risk is just not worth it, and that mentoring another male is a much safer and wiser course.
In an earlier analysis, Banzhaf suggested that the lack of due process or other fact finding proceeding regarding allegations of sexually inappropriate conduct – what many see as a fundamental unfairness – is a major factor making men extraordinarily nervous and therefore careful. He wrote:
“The arguments for according the accused due process, or at least a minimal opportunity to defend himself, go well beyond legalistic ones, and could help quell the backlash which is already occurring.
Men, fearful that they may lose their jobs or livelihoods based solely upon allegations made by women they come in contact with, reportedly are deciding to reduce such contacts out of self protection.
This means that leaders may be reluctant to mentor females, to go to conferences or other events in foreign cities with them, or even to engage in serious discussions, or mild and customary workplace banter, which might be misunderstood or misconstrued to be offensive to some women. This could be very harmful since most workplaces are still male dominated, and women can’t afford to be frozen out by males’ fears.”
He also predicted:
“Saying – as some have argued – that all such claims by women of sexual misconduct by men must be fully believed , and so any proceeding to ascertain the complete truth is unnecessary and/or insulting to the complainants, flies in the face of hundreds of years of acceptance of the need for fair play, especially in ‘she said, he said’ situations.
Any such policy would leave men completely at the mercy of any women they may work with, since they would be vulnerable to punishment without any reasonable opportunity to defend themselves.
Under such a scenario, it is logical that men would try to protect themselves by favoring males over females in hiring, in choosing whom to work with, selecting companions with whom to attend conferences, preferring to mentor males rather than females, and perhaps being reluctant to lunch with female workers.”
Banzhaf – whose legal complaints forced major previously all-male clubs to admit women, and the first previously all-male state-supported college to admit its first female freshman – argues that while the #MeToo movement is long overdue, it can be harmful to many women, especially in the absence of a consensus that those accused of sexual wrongdoing should have some reasonable opportunity to be heard and to defend themselves before suffering the consequences.