“I’m afraid that something I say will be taken wrong and I’ll end up in HR.”
“Listen, I’m an old gray haired guy. What will people think if I’m suddenly hanging out with a pretty young employee, chatting over lunch or coffee, and meeting with her behind closed doors?”
“This Me Too thing has made it too risky for men to be alone with the women they work with. I’m not going to put myself in a position to have my integrity questioned!”
These are a few of the sentiments shared by men who are afraid to mentor women, and their feelings have grown stronger as the #MeToo movement has picked up steam.
And then there is the “Pence Rule”, named after Mike Pence who has a policy of never dining alone with any woman other than his wife. I’ve known men who have take this rule even further by refusing to ever be alone with a woman. Ever. Even for a car ride to an offsite meeting.
I can’t think of a single successful woman who would be where she is today if she refused to be alone with any man other than her husband. No behind closed doors meetings. No lunches. No dinners. No car rides.
Nope, I don’t think this has happened. Ever.
While I applaud the dedication to their wives, faith, and reputation… men who follow the “Pence Rule” put women at an extreme disadvantage. Men are in Power. Women need to learn from their experience. We simply cannot rise if men aren’t willing the support us. We need their mentorship. We need to have private conversations with men. And that’s going to require men to be alone with us.
So what the heck can we do to fix this mess? One thing is certain, it’s going to take all of us talking about the issue… together… and then doing something (or a lot of somethings) to make it better.
Tips for Companies:
Implement a Formal Mentoring Program – I’m torn on this one. Typically, I find that mentoring relationships are more effective when they are developed outside of a program. Here’s why this one makes the list… when it’s a formal program, people won’t bat an eye when they see a more senior man spending time with a junior woman in the company. The more employees know the program exists, the easier it is for men to mentor women.
Publish Gender Gaps – Be completely open about gaps in pay, leadership representation, demographics of your board, and any other area where women are statistically lagging behind. Openly share information about the programs & changes being implemented to close the gaps.
Mask Personal Identifiable Information on Resumes – You’ve likely read the studies on how unconscious bias impacts the gender gap. Masking applicants names and other information that would indicate gender gives all candidates an equal shot from the beginning of the process.
Tips for Men:
Remember: You have two relationships to manage… the mentoring relationship, and the perception of the relationship with your colleagues and employees.
Mentor More Than One Woman – This is especially important if all of your past mentees have been men.
Mentor Everyone the Same Way – Chose your mentoring rules and apply them to both men and women. Here are a few guidelines you may want incorporate into your mentoring relationships:
Offsite lunch meetings are inbounds, dinner is out – When colleagues see you out for lunch, no big deal! If you run into that same person at a restaurant in the evening, it may leave the perception of an intimate relationship.
Meetings will be held with office doors open – Even when discussions are confidential, there is very little chance someone will overhear your conversation. Keep your volume down and opt for a quick walk outside if more privacy is needed.
Physical connections are equal – This is a topic that is quite literally “touchy”, and yet it’s super simple. If you only shake hands with men, only shake hands with women. Interact with the professional women in your life the same way you do the men. Easy Peasy!
Now… there is a small group of men who use the #MeToo movement as an excuse for not working with, mentoring, or promoting women. For them, I leave you with this quote from Sheryl Sandberg:
“It’s not enough to not harass us, you need to not ignore us, either.”
One BIG Tip for Women:
Have an open conversation with the men you’re seeking mentorship from. Tell them that you know they may have concerns about mentoring women. Talk about how the two of you can manage the relationship in a way that keeps him safe and upholds his reputation, while ensuring you get the coaching you need to rise in your career.
You’re both smart and accomplished people. I know you can figure this out.