How the #MeToo Era Impacts Women’s Mentoring: New Research from Simmons

Much attention has been paid in the media to reports that, as a consequence of the large response to the #MeToo platform for reporting sexual harassment, men are withdrawing from mentoring relationships with women. Because scholars have shown that mentoring is an essential element of women’s professional advancement, and media reports of withdrawal are largely based on men’s perspectives and responses, Simmons University researchers decided to examine the actual experiences with mentoring of women protégés in the #MeToo era in their report titled Women’s Mentoring Experiences in the #MeToo Era.

The Simmons researchers note that two large national surveys by (2018) and Survey Monkey (2019) found that

  • In 2019, 60 percent of male managers in the United States reported they are “uncomfortable engaging in commonplace work-place interactions with women, including mentoring,” which is a 14 percent increase from 2018.
  • Over one-third (36 percent) of men who are uncomfortable explained that they are “nervous about how it would look” or of having their intentions misunderstood.

To understand women’s perspectives, the Simmons scholars surveyed 142 women at a 2019 women’s leadership conference and found

  • Half of the respondents were midlevel professionals from industries where most of the #MeToo dialogue has centered—finance, banking, insurance, and technology.
  • Almost three-quarters (71 percent) reported being in a mentoring relationship.
  • The majority (64.8 percent) had female mentors.
  • About one-third (35.2 percent) had mentors two steps above them.

The findings from this study were surprising.

Finding #1

Not much has changed in mentoring relationships, and some relationships have improved. The study asked questions about two primary roles that mentors play in the workplace, defined by Kathy Kram ( career support and psychosocial support:

  • The study respondents reported no decrease in career support since the #MeToo era began, with career support remaining stable overall. Respondents did report increased activity by female mentors compared to male mentors. For example, respondents rated that their mentors “help me learn about other parts of the organization” at a rate of 50 percent for female mentors compared to 25 percent for males.
  • For psychosocial support, participants reported an increase in psychosocial support across nine of the fourteen roles. For example, 67.3 percent of respondents selected “provides support and encouragement” as one type of support, which indicates a strengthening of mentor relationships.

Finding #2

Women continue to rely on female mentors. This phenomena is not new, but the problem remains that mentors are typically more senior, and men hold greater numbers of senior positions in organizations. This means the number of senior women available as mentors is low.

Finding #3

Employees are largely unaware of what their organizations are doing to address #MeToo issues.

What needs to be done? The Simmons researchers suggest that to build a mentoring culture

  • Organizations need to require, support and reward cross-gender mentoring.
  • Organizations need to create LeanIn-like circles for men to provide a “safe space” where men can express their fears and clarify what behaviors are inappropriate.
  • Men and women need to understand the natural draw of homophily, or the tendency to feel more comfortable with others like themselves. Homophily excludes white women and people of color from access to mentorship and can impede their careers.

In conclusion, the study authors suggest their research reflects that “mentors and protégés are doing the hard work of adjusting, clarifying, and strengthening their relationships to their mutual benefit, and to the benefit of their organizations.” This seems to be primarily true between women mentors and women protégés.


Photo by Amy Hirschi on Unsplash

How #MeToo Has Helped Women Get Promotions

One year after publication of the detailed report on Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assaults and harassment, a study found that women are replacing the powerful men forced to step down after accusations of sexual misconduct. A recent New York Times article notes that during the past year “200 prominent men have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment. A few, including Mr. Weinstein, face criminal charges.” Women have replaced nearly half of these high-profile men:

  • One-third are in news media.
  • One-quarter are in government.
  • One-fifth are in entertainment and the arts.
The article explains that many challenges still remain in eradicating sexual harassment in the workplace:
  • Federal law still does not fully protect many groups of working women.
  • A strong backlash against the #MeToo movement, as seen in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, has emerged. Americans disagree on how people should be held accountable and what the standards of evidence should be.
  • New workplace policies have little effect without deeper cultural change.
  • Appointing a woman does not guarantee change. Women have also been accused of harassment.
  • Women are still vastly underrepresented in leadership at American institutions.
As women get promoted into positions of power thanks to the #MeToo movement, they have the potential to change their workplace cultures. The New York Times article summarizes research and experiences showing that women lead differently:
  • Women tend to create more respectful work environments where sexual harassment is less likely to happen and where women are more comfortable reporting it.
  • Women leaders tend to hire and promote more women and pay them more equitably.
  • Research shows that having women in leadership makes companies more profitable. Women bring life experience and perspective to decision making that better reflects the majority of consumers, resulting in higher profits.
  • In government, women are more collaborative and bipartisan. Senator Tina Smith, who replaced Al Franken in the Senate when he was forced to step down by the #MeToo movement, reports that all twenty-three female senators meet for dinner monthly. They find that their success depends upon being able to work together to sponsor bipartisan legislation.
  • In the news media and entertainment, the tone and substance of programming has changed significantly when women stepped into leadership.
  • Women’s personal experiences, including as mothers, can make workplaces more welcoming to other women.
There is a lot of potential for change resulting from the #MeToo movement started by Tarana Burke. But we must remain vigilant. The backlash is strong from both women and men. Some men accused of sexual harassment and forced to step down are reappearing without making amends or taking responsibility for what they did or the organizational cultures they created. All of our gains could be lost if we do not stay focused on creating more respectful, equitable, and inclusive workplaces that hold people accountable for bad behavior. What has worked in your organization?     Photo courtesy of VisualHunt (CC0 1.0)]]>

What Happens after #MeToo? Will Anything Change for Women?

The #MeToo movement over the past year opened up a wound in our society and allowed women (and some men) to exhale—to tell their stories of sexual abuse by powerful men and be believed—and see powerful men be held accountable by losing their jobs. But many of these powerful men are starting to reemerge as though nothing happened. Is this going to be like the Catholic Church moving predator-priests around from parish to parish to protect them at the expense of vulnerable parishioners? Is society going to continue to fail women and go back to protecting powerful men? Jennifer Weiner of the New York Times notes that “one by one, like bad dreams, the #MeToo men have come back from the allegations against them, having suffered . . . the equivalent of a misbehaving child’s timeout.” Here are some examples of #MeToo men reemerging:

  • Aparna Nancherla of the New York Times writes about comedian Louis C. K., accused by five women of sexual misconduct by masturbating in front of them, who decided that enough time had passed for his second chance when he appeared, unannounced, at a comedy club in New York City roughly nine months after the accusations. Once on stage, he never mentioned the allegations against him or apologized to his victims. Nancherla notes, “The women who came forward as victims of Louis C. K. had nothing to gain except to be bullied, ridiculed, and insulted.” In many cases, their careers were damaged and they did not get a second chance.
  • Nathaniel Popper writes that in the tech industry, the founder of Social Finance (SoFi), Mike Cagney, was ousted in September 2017, by his board for committing sexual misconduct, lying to his board, and fostering a pervasive hostile work environment in his company. Just four months later, two SoFi board members invested $17 million in his new start-up company. Popper notes that other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and investors who lost their jobs in the #MeToo movement have also rebounded. He cites Joan C. Williams, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of Law, as saying that investors only care about making money and not about the employees who will be hurt by the toxic cultures these abusers create.
  • Accused harassers who also hold public office are hoping that voters will forget and will reelect them for office. Julie Turkewitz and Alan Blinder of the New York Times write about sexual harassers running for state office in Arizona, Washington state, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin who have been accused by long lists of women. All of them are running again. The authors note that while some have apologized, others have not. Even those who apologized feel that all should be forgiven and the slate wiped clean—even though in some cases behaviors have not changed.
  • In the case of retired federal appeals court judge Alex Kozinski, more than a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and other misconduct. Leah Litman, Emily Murphy, and Katherine H. Ku, writing for the New York Times report that the judge retired before the investigation could be completed and the investigation was dropped. Because no formal finding of guilt occurred, the retired judge discounts the allegations and has never addressed them. He receives his federal pension and is now planning to teach—where vulnerable law students will be easy prey for him.
Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times notes that for the most part, the powerful men who are reemerging have not grappled with the pain and embarrassment they have caused to women. She notes, “I feel sorry for a lot of these men, but I don’t think they feel sorry for women or think about women’s experience much at all.” I agree. I fear that nothing is really going to change in our society unless these actions are taken:
  • Men need to do some serious reflection together about why women are so furious with them.
  • Men must offer ideas about how to make things better and play an active role in confronting other men (young and old) about their disrespectful behavior toward women.
  • All of us need to take action when we hear rumors about inappropriate behavior by a friend or colleague. Confront your friend or colleague about what you have heard.
  • Men who have been accused of serious misconduct must be held accountable and reckon with the past as they move forward.
  • Institutions must consistently acknowledge the past accusations against a person who has been given a public platform, or we risk failing women again.
We must not go back to silencing women and sweeping sexual harassment under the rug.   Photo by Concha Rodrigo on Unsplash]]>

Sexual Harassment: New Research on the Numbers

The #MeToo Movement has surprising momentum and appears to be reshaping our national dialogue and workplace cultures—at last! It seems that every week we read about high profile men (and some women) getting fired for sexual harassment. Almost every organization I work with as a consultant reports firing or disciplining employees in a variety of roles and levels for sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has been in the news at various times in the past, including in 1991 when Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearing. But we have not been able to grasp the seriousness of the problem as a society, “believe the women” bringing accusations, or undertake research that can help us understand the depth and breadth of the problem. Susan Chira of the New York Times cites Holly Kearl, author of an important new study, as explaining why we must take this problem seriously: “Sexual harassment is a human rights violation—whether it takes place on the sidewalk of a street or in an executive boardroom—because it can cause emotional harm and limit and change harassed persons’ lives.” I can personally attest to that. The #MeToo Movement has provided an outlet for women and men to share their stories and finally be heard. The scope of the problem fueling and sustaining the movement has finally been documented in Kearl’s study. This study asks about a broader range of behaviors in multiple locations, not just in the workplace, over a longer time span and provides a clearer picture of the pervasiveness of this problem than we have had to date. Previous studies had a narrower focus, such as only in the workplace, only about rape or assault, or only during a narrow band of age, and did not give the whole picture. Chira notes that this well-designed study asked a nationally representative sample of one thousand women and one thousand men about verbal harassment, sexual touching, cyber sexual harassment, being followed on the street, genital flashing, and sexual assault in public spaces, in workplaces, in schools, online, and in homes. The findings from this study highlight the extent of this problem:

  • Eighty-one percent of women and 43 percent of men said they had experienced sexual harassment or assault over their lifetimes.
  • Seventy-seven percent of women and 34 percent of men said they had encountered verbal sexual harassment.
  • Fifty-one percent of women and 17 percent of men reported unwelcome sexual touching.
  • Forty-one percent of women and 22 percent of men said they were sexually harassed online.
  • About a third of women and one in ten men reported being physically followed, while 30 percent of women and 12 percent of men experienced genital flashing.
  • Twenty-seven percent of women and 7 percent of men reported sexual assaults.
  • Few differences were found by race or ethnicity among women who reported harassment. Hispanic men reported the most sexual harassment and assault in every category the survey recorded for men.
  • People who reported having a disability were much more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault.
  • Lesbians, bisexuals, and gay men were more likely to experience sexual assault than straight women and men.
Thanks to studies like this one, we can finally have an informed dialogue about the need for strategies to address this problem and stop it from being swept under the rug again. Let’s keep the pressure on for change.   Photo courtesy of Giuseppe Milo (CC BY 2.0)]]>