How the #MeToo Movement Is Affecting Men At the Workplace

After several powerful men have been called out across the world for their predatory behaviour, the dynamics at the workplace have changed

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The world is still coming to terms with the #MeToo movement. Every now and then, a new case of harassment and abuse comes to light with a well-known name attached, reminding us yet again that we need to rethink how different genders should interact in this modern, self-conscious era.

A fresh report by Bloomberg says that men across the Wall Street are trying everything possible to stop interacting with female employees. The report, which included interviews with more than 30 senior executives, says many are struggling to cope. So much so that they are avoiding mentoring them, having dinners or travelling with them, and even hiring them, for it could be “an unknown risk”.

Keeping behaviour in check

Considering the volatile environment, it’s hard to deny that such a phenomenon is restricted to just one industry. Men have become well aware that their career and reputation could be at stake if even a single innocent gesture is misinterpreted. In fact, a late November report by market research and analysis company Velocity MR, which surveyed over 2,500 people in six Indian cities, concluded that eight in 10 men have become overly cautious in their interactions with female colleagues.

The study, which covered Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Chennai, found that almost 80 percent said fear of losing career, family reputation, social stigma, and skepticism could be among the reasons such cases were not reported earlier. Almost half of the respondents disapproved of victims reporting the abuse later, while two in five males supported the victims saying they are right in reporting the abuse later.

Change in attitude?

A similar study of 2,000 people was released in October by Fawcett Society, a UK-based charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, which reported a significant shift in attitudes to sexual harassment. Fifty-eight percent of men in the 18-34 age group said they were more likely to speak up against sexual harassment. When it came to older men, however, only 42 percent of male respondents said they were aware of #MeToo, and only 24 percent of those above the age of 55 said they were more likely to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

According to Sam Smethers, the chief executive of Fawcett Society, older men need to be part of the change “because they often hold positions of power. But their attitudes are lagging behind. They don’t seem to realise the #MeToo movement is also about them.” 

Where the solution lies

What the past one year has taught is that there needs to be a cultural change. In the article “One year on from the #MeToo movement, what exactly has changed?” on the World Economic Forum website, Rachel Haas of US-based non-profit organization NO MORE says we need to engage companies at all levels. “#MeToo wasn’t just a watershed moment for high-profile companies and celebrities. NAVEX Global (one of the world’s leading software company) tracked an increase in reporting of ethics and compliance incidents in 2017 across thousands of companies of all sizes; and found that 44 per cent of the reports received were substantiated, a 10 per cent increase on the previous year. Companies can be two employees or two million, but change starts with HR.”

The side effect of men getting intimidated by the #MeToo movement won’t serve women well in the short as well as the long run, considering gender diversity is already a big issue at the workplace. The real change starts at the grassroot level, which, in this case, is each one of us.