Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Heightened Awareness of Sexual Harassment

The news is not new. For all of America’s raised consciousness about sexual harassment, dating at the least to the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings a quarter century ago, the problem persists. Recent disclosures suggest that it has gotten worse. As I have often noted, the absence of codes of proper sexual conduct cannot be compensated by criminalizing all bad behavior.

One must add, yet again, that men who sympathized with the feminist cause were quickly forgiven every manner of predation. The Weinstein scandal is the first time that a man of the left has been held to account.

Many feminists believe that the raised consciousness counts as a victory in the war against men. And yet, it is also well known that men have reacted to this consciousness by avoiding personal contact with women in the workplace. Happily, those who have perpetrated these assaults will receive their just punishment. And yet, the public conversation has made working women radioactive. Senior men avoid socializing with junior women. The avoid mentoring junior women. They avoid taking junior women into their confidence. They avoid being alone with junior women. It is not worth the risk.

Claire Cain Miller has explained the unintended consequences of the recent national conversation:

Even before the recent attention on harassment, the practice of avoiding solo meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex was not uncommon. It could mean not sharing in cabs, travel, lunches, projects or get-togethers over coffee, and not meeting behind closed doors.

Nearly two-thirds of men and women say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work, and about a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate, according to a poll conducted in May by Morning Consult for The New York Times.

What is gingerly called “solo interaction” has now become off-limits:

Yet 64 percent of senior men and 50 percent of junior women avoid solo interactions because of the risk of rumors about their motives, according to a survey by the center.

Miller presents the evidence:

In Silicon Valley, some male investors have declined one-on-one meetings with women, or rescheduled them from restaurants to conference rooms. On Wall Street, certain senior men have tried to avoid closed-door meetings with junior women. And in TV news, some male executives have scrupulously minded their words in conversations with female talent.

In interviews, the men describe a heightened caution because of recent sexual harassment cases, and they worry that one accusation, or misunderstood comment, could end their careers. But their actions affect women’s careers, too — potentially depriving them of the kind of relationships that lead to promotions or investments.

It’s an unintended consequence of a season of sex scandals. Research shows that building genuine relationships with senior people is perhaps the most important contributor to career advancement. In some offices it’s known as having a rabbi; researchers call it sponsorship. Unlike mentors, who give advice and are often formally assigned, sponsors know and respect people enough that they are willing to find opportunities for them, and advocate and fight for them.

But women are less likely to build such relationships, in part because both senior men and junior women worry that a relationship will be misread by others. At every level, more men than women say they interact with senior leaders at least once a week, according to research by McKinsey and the nonprofit Lean In. This imbalance is a major reason women stall at lower levels of companies, according to a variety of research.

Of course, this state of affairs, has harmed women’s career prospects. And yet, we should not forget that the primary reason why women do not move up the corporate ladder is motherhood. Miller neglects to mention the salient fact, but it is worthy of note.

The problem is simple.Why mentor a young woman when she is likely to have children and to want to spend more time caring for them. Becoming a senior executive makes a woman less attractive to men. For their part many women do not want to gain access to the executive suite if it costs them their marriages.

As often happens in these discussions, authors assume that women want exactly what men want, that is, to be CEOs of major corporations and that the only thing keeping them from doing so is misogyny. Unfortunately, they do not really consider what women want, how they would choose to conduct their lives.

For her part Miller outlines the ways in which the recent national conversation has increased the reputational risk to men. It is not just about what did or did not happen, but about the way it looks. The more people have their minds filled with scenes of sexual harassment the more likely they are to see it, even where it does not exist:

Some are avoiding solo meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and those who ask for an informational or networking meeting.

“Before, you might have said, ‘Of course I would do that, and I will especially do it for minorities, including women in Silicon Valley,’ ” the investor said. “Now you cancel it because you have huge reputational risk all of a sudden.”

Sometimes women avoid solo meetings with men who have made them uncomfortable or have bad reputations, as when female executives brought colleagues to meetings with Mr. Weinstein.

Miller reports that an orthopedic surgeon told her that it is simply not worth the risk… not just to reputation, but to career and livelihood:

Dr. Mukund Komanduri, 50, an orthopedic surgeon with a practice outside Chicago, said he avoids being alone with female colleagues, particularly those he does not know well or who are subordinates.

“I’m very cautious about it because my livelihood is on the line,” he said. “If someone in your hospital says you had inappropriate contact with this woman, you get suspended for an investigation, and your life is over. Does that ever leave you?”

He mentioned a hospital colleague who lost his job because of harassment allegations. “That individual has created a hypersensitive atmosphere for every other physician,” he said. “We basically stand 10 feet away from everyone we know.”

Everyone is hypersensitive, and all women suffer. In passing Miller pays lip service to the possibility that the enhanced awareness has caused some men not to say or to do things they might have said or done. Yet, the current explosion of stories tells us that threats and intimidation has not even curtailed the harassment:

In some cases, the heightened awareness has improved people’s behavior. “People are more sensitive to how they conduct themselves, because they’ve seen what can happen,” said a male executive in the news and entertainment industry, who spoke anonymously because of the same heightened caution over the topic that is in the air in some workplaces. “That’s presented a better working environment.”

One would hope that this is the case. Yet, it seems richly ironic for an executive in the news and entertainment business, the place from which most of today’s horror stories flowing, to say that greater awareness has improved anyone’s behavior. It has not even improved anyone’s ability to call out bad behavior. It produced a conspiracy of silence about sexual harassment.


Sam L. said...

Feminism has attacked men. This is an obvious tactic by men to protect themselves.

Sam L. said...

One might also call it a strategic method.

Anonymous said...

It all makes Mr Pence's refusal to socialize with other women - minus his wife - an understandable and very rational decision!

Ares Olympus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ares Olympus said...

It makes sense that new barriers will spontaneously arise between the genders, and innocent interactions will decrease, along with opportunities.

I saw recently that 72yo film director James Toback got in the news on the sexual harrassment bandwagon for his past, and I peeked at his wikipage, and its fun to see how it gets changed over news.
Old: Personal life: Toback has developed a reputation as a "pick-up artist." ...
Recent: Toback has developed a reputation as a sexual predator. ...
Current: Controversy: Toback has been accused of sexually harassing young women. ...

Language has power, and so a "pick-up artist" clearly suggests someone with talent, even if it is more talent for charming lies. Saying "sexual predator" goes the opposite direction, reducing women as victims as hunted animals. Saying "sexual harassing young women" is more weaselly, since harassing is subjective, but ultimately it is dismissing the entire masculine world where men are supposed to initiate contact.

So as this post suggests, if every interaction between a man and a woman risks become called sexually harassing, like if the man says something insensitive like "That's a nice dress", many men will prefer to not talk to women at all, at least not unless they actually want sex, and are willing to pay the price of doing what they're accused of doing.

James said...

I don't know if anyone has noticed how the wording of the accusations has become almost formulaic. He pressed himself against me, he pressed his erect penis against me, he chased me around the desk, etc............
It doesn't mean the accusations are false, but it is interesting.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

And now Mark Halperin... tsk-tsk.