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Columbia Professor Offers Advice on #MeToo Fallout for Female Leadership

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The #MeToo movement has been a good thing, bringing to light many gender issues regarding sexual harassment and assault. And, it’s been particularly valuable for women in the workplace.

Unfortunately, while most of the response to the #MeToo movement has been positive, it has triggered a few unexpected negative consequences. As a Forbes article recently explained, there’s a “potential threat to women’s advancement to senior leadership, as some men have become wary of forging professional relationships with female colleagues.”

Men Are Worried About Harassment

Since #MeToo, 82 percent of men have admitted to being worried about false claims of harassment—more than any other gender issue in the workplace. Worse still, that fear has resulted in half of all male managers feeling uncomfortable mentoring, socializing, and working alone with women, revealed a LeanIn survey. Now, senior men are three times more likely to hesitate to ask a junior-level woman to a work dinner than a junior-level man.

Fixing the Problem

Unfortunately, these negative responses to #MeToo could slow the progress for female leadership, which is precisely the opposite reaction that the movement promoted. It’s also bad for organizations, as research shows that female executives increase profitability.

So, what can organizations do to ensure these adverse reactions to #MeToo don’t stop women from climbing the ladder? There are three things that Columbia University professor Jason Wingard told Forbes companies could do.

1. Improve Workplace Flexibility

According to Pew research, over half of millennial mothers (58 percent) admit that being a parent makes it harder to get ahead at work. Only 19 percent of fathers feel that way.

If you want more women in leadership, you have to improve workplace flexibility to accommodate families better. When there are stronger policies in place that allow women to meet the demands of the office and home, then more women will remain in the workforce. This includes offering extended maternity leave, childcare options, and flexible working arrangements.

2. Develop Sponsorship Programs

Your company can also help advance women in leadership by formalizing relationships between male leaders and female subordinates via sponsorships. Compared to mentorships, sponsorships are more official and advocated by senior leaders, which can remove some of the fear.

Best yet, sponsors are typically more satisfied in their career and women being sponsored are 68 percent satisfied with their career advancement. Furthermore, 85 percent of mothers with sponsors are more likely to continue working full time compared to just 58 percent without.

3. Make Clear Company Policies

Since #MeToo, 55 percent of American men feel that it’s more difficult to know how to interact with women at work. Companies that create more clarity in the workplace with clearly defined sexual harassment policies can help alleviate this concern. Organizations should also clearly define company policies regarding romantic relationships in the workplace.

No matter what your company decides to do in response to #MeToo, the key thing to remember is that action must be taken now. You cannot wait and allow negative reactions to the movement to harm women’s ability to reach leadership positions at your organization.

Kelly Vo
Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and topics related to personal development. She has been working in the MBA space for the past four years in research, interview, and writing roles.