One might assume that women are making progress toward equality. In politics, women are making head way. We see strong women emerging in leaderships roles. A record number of women were elected to Congress in 2018,and a record number are running for President in 2020. In business, there are now 33 female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, up from 24 the previous year. All this seems positive on the surface.
But beneath the surface, not much has significantly changed in the workplace to move the needle toward gender equality. Since the resurgence of #MeToo in 2017, there has been a lot of media attention to the issue of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. For the most part, we see coverage of celebrities calling out their abusers on a national and global stage. But has any of this facilitated much change for women in the workplace? How has the culture changed and what can women do to be politically savvy in the current culture? of organizations since the resurgence of MeToo in 2017?
According to a 2018 Fairygodboss survey, women feel circumstances have mostly stayed the same for working women, and seven in ten say #MeToo has had no impact at work. Only 32% of respondents to an American Psychological Association survey in 2018 said their employers had taken any new actions to address and prevent workplace sexual harassment since the resurgence of the #MeToo movement in 2017. Just over half of women in a national poll by Time and SSRS said they were no more likely now to report sexual harassment than they were pre-#MeToo.
These findings have been validated by my conversations with women currently in the workplace. According to these women, the major change in the workplace is a hypersensitivity to gender dynamics. This hypersensitivity often paralyzes men. Their discomfort with uncertain boundaries and definitions of what behavior is acceptable and not acceptable holds them back from casual interactions with their female colleagues and direct reports. Sometimes, they joke about it because of this because of this uneasiness, but what’s important is whether or not they take sexual harassment, abuse in the workplace seriously; whether they take gender equality seriously, seriously enough to change. In many companies it appears that the men are most comfortable with the status quo, especially those men in leadership positions.
The hypersensitivity to the issue affects the normal interactions of men and women. Men, fearful of saying or doing the wrong thing, often retreat to their boy’s club comfort zone. When interacting with other men, they don’t need to worry about repercussions to their language or behavior. As a consequence, men are more likely to mentor and sponsor other men than women.This was true before MeToo, but it’s now a more common practice. Men are more likely to give projects and assignments to other men to avoid any conflict with women. None of this is helpful to ambitious women who need allies of both genders to further their career.