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A new study published by the Harvard Business Review shows that in addition to men’s growing fears about women in the workforce and potentially being falsely accused, women are becoming more aware of the backlash and are actually less likely to hire certain women, specifically attractive women.
“Most of the reaction to #MeToo was celebratory; it assumed women were really going to benefit,” said Leanne Atwater, a management professor at the University of Houston. However, Atwater was skeptical. Rather than seeing an endless trail of steps forward before her, she and her colleagues forecasted a backlash.
“We said, ‘We aren’t sure this is going to go as positively as people think—there may be some fallout.’” And so, they tested their hypothesis.
The study began in early 2018. Two surveys were created, one for men and one for women. These surveys were then distributed to workers in various professional fields. In the end, they collected a large amount of data from 152 male and 303 female responders.
According to the study, 74% of women now say they are more willing now to speak out against harassment, while 77% of men anticipated being more careful about potentially inappropriate behaviour.
As for the idea that men do not know what constitutes harassment, the researchers found the opposite was true. Both genders appear to both know what constitutes harassment, and women may be more lenient with some of their own definitions of what constitutes harassment.
According to the report, “The surveys described 19 behaviors—for instance, continuing to ask a female subordinate out after she has said no, emailing sexual jokes to a female subordinate, and commenting on a female subordinate’s looks—and asked people whether they amounted to harassment.”
“Most men know what sexual harassment is, and most women know what it is,” Atwater says. “The idea that men don’t know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue. If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.”
The study found that 16% of men and 11% of women agreed with the statement “I will/would be more reluctant to hire attractive women.” Additionally, 15% of both men and women agreed with the statement “I will be more reluctant to hire women for jobs that require close interpersonal interactions with men (for example, traveling).”
The hesitancy and growing number of people who do not to want to be alone and in proximity with female colleagues in the wake of #MeToo has led to some commentators calling this tendency and/or strategy the ‘Mike Pence defence’ or some similar phrase. Mike Pence is renowned for his avoidance of being alone with a woman out of respect for his wife, as well as it being an effective means of preventing the possibility of a scandal.
Indeed, in response to the statement “Men, in general, will be more reluctant to have one-on-one meetings with women with no others present,” 41% of men agreed and 57% of women agreed with the statement.
This is likely because men fear women’s current, seemingly unmitigated power over their careers. What the extent of #MeToo has shown is that a single allegation, true or not, can ruin you. As a result, a basic strategy of defence is to simply never be alone with a female colleague.
This fact is extremely unfortunate for women as being alone with a colleague is often a necessary means for building trust and mutual respect, both of which contribute to a healthy work relationship and overall work environment. Furthermore, the fear on the part of some employers could be incredibly stifling regarding a woman’s career trajectory. It’s hard to get to know someone and all the reasons she might deserve a raise if you’ve never talked with her one-on-one.
“I’m not sure we were surprised by the numbers, but we were disappointed,” says Rachel Sturm, a professor at Wright State University who worked on the project. “When men say, ‘I’m not going to hire you, I’m not going to send you traveling, I’m going to exclude you from outings’—those are steps backward.”
Relevant to this point, 22% of men and 44% of women agreed with the statement “Men in general will be more likely to exclude women from social interactions.”
Additionally, the report found that 56% of women expect men will “continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught,” while 58% of men predicted “that men in general would have greater fears of being unfairly accused.”
Almost all these numbers are higher than they were only a year before.
The report also highlighted women’s self-awareness regarding how they are being treated and how men are beginning to view women in the workforce — this seems to be as a liability, rather than as an asset.
In response to the statement “The more women who come forward about sexual harassment, the more likely it will be that men blame women for the problem,” 30% of men agreed, and 43% of women agreed.
As women come to adapt to this new challenge, it is possible that the #MeToo movement, in the long run, will have the opposite effect. The study found that 63% of women reported having been harassed, with 33% experiencing it more than once. Of these women, only 20% reported the incident, with the main concern among those who didn’t being “fear of negative consequences and apprehension that they would be labeled troublemakers.”
In other words, women don’t want the negative stereotype generated by #MeToo to be proven right, even if they would be in the right to report an incident of harassment.