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Revealed: "Disastrous" workplace response to #MeToo

Male managers are unwilling to work with women in an unexpected response to #MeToo. Image: Getty

The majority of male managers feel uncomfortable mentoring or working alone with women as they are “nervous about how it would look”, a major new study on sexual harassment in the #MeToo era has revealed.

The global study by LeanIn.Org, a workplace gender equality initiative, and SurveyMonkey found 60 per cent of male managers feel uncomfortable engaging in a common work activity with a woman, up 33 per cent from last year.

Senior-level men are 12 times more likely to hesitate to have a one-on-one meeting with a junior-level woman than man, and are nine times more likely to hesitate to travel together for work with a woman than a man.

And 36 per cent of men said this hesitation comes down to a fear about how it would look.

Given the majority of senior managers are men, these are “disastrous” finding, the author of Lean In and Facebook chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg said in an article for Fortune.

“Not harassing is not enough,” Sandberg continued.

“We need men to support women’s careers. That’s how we’ll achieve a workplace that is truly equal for all.”

What’s the gender equality situation in Australia?

According to the government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australia’s full-time gender pay gap is 14.1 per cent and is highest in the financial and insurance services, where the gap nearly doubles to 26.9 per cent.

The pay gap also increases at higher levels of management, and women hold only 13.7 per cent of chair positions, 25.8 per cent of directorships and a staggering 17.1 per cent of CEOs.

At the same time, 35.2 per cent of boards and governing bodies have no female directors at all - compared to just 0.9 per cent without male directors.

“[Managers] have a huge role to play in supporting women’s advancement at work—or hindering it,” Sandberg said.

“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. Instead, women will be overlooked and excluded, which is a terrible waste of talent, creativity, and productivity. It’s not good for business or for anyone.

“How can we close the gender gap if senior leaders and managers—the people with the power to hire, promote, and mentor—choose men for too many of the plum assignments requiring close collaboration?”

The same report found 24 per cent of women believe sexual harassment in the workplace is increasing, with 57 per cent saying they’ve experienced some form of sexual harassment in the workplace.

At the same time 27 per cent of men believe harassment is decreasing with 50 per cent arguing the consequences of sexual harassment are worse for the careers of the harassers than the victims. Women disagree, with 64 per cent saying victims suffer more.

The solution?

It’s not enough to call out bad behaviour, Sandberg said.

Isolating women at work due to anxieties over perceptions or “irritation at having to check words or actions” also needs to go.

“Men, if you’re worried that meeting alone with a woman might not look right, please find a better solution. Uncomfortable with one-on-one dinners? Group lunches for everyone,” she said.

“Don’t want to hold closed-door meetings in your office? Move them to a coffee shop, or just keep your door open. Whatever policy you put in place, apply it to both women and men—and treat everyone respectfully. That’s what being a fair manager looks like.”

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