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

Global Update on Gender Issues: Signs of Change

Women in different parts of the world have both similar and different experiences. Here are some updates from South Korea, Nigeria, Spain, France, and Saudi Arabia on workplace barriers, the #MeToo movement, and domestic violence.

South Korean Entrepreneurs

Women in South Korea, frustrated by a lack of opportunity in male-dominated corporations, are starting their own businesses at a record pace. Michael Schuman, writing for the New York Times, cites Park Hee-eun, principal at Altos Ventures, as saying, “In education we are equal to men, but after we enter into the traditional companies, they underestimate and undervalue women.” Schuman adds that only 10 percent of managers in South Korean companies are women and, in a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the pay gap between men and women is the widest among countries studied.

Schuman reports that women in South Korea are taking matters into their own hands. A Mastercard report on fifty-seven global economies found that South Korea shows the most progress in advancing women entrepreneurs and that more women than men are engaged in start-ups. Despite slow changes in societal attitudes about gender roles, difficulties in being taken seriously by male bankers, investors, executives, and employees, and constant discrimination and sexual harassment, more than 12 percent of working-age women in South Korea in 2018 were involved in starting or managing new companies. Go, women of South Korea!

Nigeria and the #MeToo Movement

Julie Turkewitz of the New York Times reports that the #MeToo movement came to Nigeria in February 2019, when a young pharmacist in the north took to Twitter to describe a sexual assault by her boyfriend. “Stories of abuse soon flew around the internet, many of them tagged ‘#ArewaMeToo,'” or #MeToo in the north. A few months later, after years of silence, Busola Dakolo came forward to accuse her pastor, a famous and powerful religious leader, of raping her when she was a teenager. Many more women came forward to accuse this same pastor, government officials, other church leaders, and university professors of abusing their power to solicit sex or commit sexual assault.

As in Europe and the United States, the backlash has been strong against the #MeToo women of Nigeria, who receive death threats and threats of criminal charges. Breaking their silence is particularly hard for Nigerian women, who fear shaming their families, scaring off potential husbands, and taking on the region’s most powerful men. These women are courageous, as are all women who speak out about sexual assault.

Spain and France on Domestic Violence

On Monday, November 25, 2019, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which was established twenty years ago by the United Nations, Spain and France moved in opposite directions on protections for women. Violence against women remains a serious problem in both countries:

On November 25, 2019, in France, the prime minister unveiled comprehensive new measures to combat domestic violence. While criticized for underfunding these initiatives, the government at least recognizes the seriousness of the situation. In Spain, however, the secretary general of the recently elected far-right Vox party took the opportunity to reaffirm his party’s intention to repeal a fifteen-year-old law intended to stop violence against women. Instead, the secretary general of Vox gave a speech about men who have been killed by women, as well as women who have suffered “violence from their lesbian partners.” This is a sad state of affairs.

Saudi Arabia and Women’s Rights

Mixed messages are coming from the leaders of Saudi Arabia about whether women actually have more rights. Megan Specia writes that the notoriously repressive country has long enforced an interpretation of Islam that restricts every aspect of life for women. While Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Mohammed bin Salman, took steps in 2017 to lift some restrictions for women, including allowing them to drive, the government also recently released a video that listed feminism, homosexuality, and atheism among ideologies that are considered to be “extremism.” While the video was taken down and declared by bin Salman to be a “mistake,” Saudi Arabia’s top women’s rights activists are still imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to physical and sexual violence. Definitely a mixed message.

We need to stay awake to all the progress and regression taking place globally so we can be ready to support each other.


Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

#MeToo Wins for Low-Wage Workers

Low-wage workers, particularly those who are not fluent in English, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment by supervisors. Jeremy C. Fox, of the Boston Globe, writes about four women who were harassed by the same supervisor at the Atlantic Capes Fisheries in Fall River, Massachusetts, where they worked as shellfish packers. More than five years after the harassment began, with the help of the nonprofit Boston-based workers’ rights organization Justice at Work and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the four workers were awarded a settlement by US District Court Judge Patti B. Saris. Fox explains that the women were subjected to sexual harassment that “left lasting emotional scars” and affected their marriages. Even though each woman complained to human resources about the harassment while it was occurring, managers did nothing to help them. Fox notes that this case is a sign that the #MeToo movement can extend beyond Hollywood and the executive boardroom into factories. A representative of the EEOC, which filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of the four women, said this case is significant because it shows employees that, “the agency will take them seriously if they come forward.” One of the four women interviewed by Fox explained that she feels a kinship to all the other women and men who “stood up to say, ‘me too.’” I feel proud of them and of myself. . . . I had the courage to lift my voice.” We should all say thank you to these brave women for being our role models.   Photo courtesy of (iStock standard license).]]>

How Women Pay A Price for #MeToo

I remember the 1990s when the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas Senate confirmation hearings brought the issue of workplace sexual harassment into the light of day and gave the name sexual harassment to a set of behaviors that were previously undiscussable. Sexual harassment is defined as unwanted behaviors of a sexual nature perpetrated by a powerful person (like a boss) against a less powerful person (like an employee) as an abuse of power. In what was the precursor to the #MeToo movement, after Anita Hill’s testimony about Thomas’s behavior toward her as her boss, women began to speak out, name their abusers, and win big lawsuits against the companies that failed to protect them. Men complained that they had to “walk on eggshells” around the office to ensure they were not wrongfully accused of sexual harassment by female colleagues, especially younger female colleagues. They argued that the best way to protect themselves was to stop mentoring younger women altogether. This was BS, of course—but now it is happening again. Katrin Bennhold of the New York Times reports that many high-powered men at the recent World Economics Forum in Davos, Switzerland acknowledged concern about the #MeToo movement which, she explains, “has empowered women to speak up about harassment in the workplace.” As was true in the 1990s, these senior men are deciding to reduce their risk by minimizing contact with female employees, thereby depriving women of mentorship, sponsorship, and valuable exposure to influential networks. Two online surveys conducted in 2018 on the effects of #MeToo in the workplace found the following:

  • Almost half of male managers were uncomfortable engaging in one or more common work activities with women, such as working one-on-one or socializing.
  • One in six male managers was uncomfortable mentoring a female colleague.
  • Men reported being afraid of “saying or doing the wrong thing.”
  • Research by Sylvia Ann Hewlett found that two-thirds of male executives hesitate to hold one-on-one meetings with junior women.
Bennhold cites Pat Milligan, a researcher on female leadership at Mercer, as noting that “if we allow this to happen, it will set us back decades. Women have to be sponsored by leaders, and leaders are still mostly men.” We learned some things in the 1990s about how to reduce the risk men felt when working with women and how men can create respectful work relationships with women, thereby ensuring that they will not be accused of sexual harassment. Here are some examples:
  • Education on preventing sexual harassment and assault is important to help men know what is and is not appropriate workplace behavior. This education is especially effective in male-only group settings. Bennhold cites Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble as explaining, “Men also need ‘safe spaces’ to air their confusion and concerns about what behavior might qualify as bad. We need something like Lean In circles for men.”
  • Male leaders can meet one-on-one with young female colleagues in a nonthreatening environment by leaving the office door open for meetings, socializing over dinner with multiple colleagues, and not inviting female colleagues to their hotel rooms for meetings when on business travel out of town. These strategies are examples of ways to continue supporting the careers of female colleagues with less risk of misunderstanding for male leaders.
Alexandra Robbins of the New York Times notes that redefining masculinity from toxic to productive is being encouraged on college campuses in some fraternities. Productive masculinity is defined as conscious action to disrupt sexism, racism, and homophobia by men confronting disrespectful behavior in other men, which involves having open conversations with other men about masculinity and developing respectful and platonic relationships with women. In their recent ad addressing toxic masculinity, Gillette explains that they hope to influence the next generation of men to show respect, hold each other accountable for bad behavior, and be role models to show the best in men. Jennifer Wright of Harper’s Bazaar notes that the firestorm unleashed by the two-minute Gillette ad, which many people labeled as a “war on men,” shows how far we have to go. Perhaps senior male leaders in companies can learn from younger men on college campuses about productive masculinity and from Gillette about what respect, accountability, and role modeling look like. We really do know how to do this—but powerful men need to be willing to do things differently. Do you see examples of productive masculinity at work? We would love to hear your stories.   Photo courtesy of thetaxhaven (CC BY 2.0)  ]]>

Why Are There So Few Female Architects?

In past articles, I have written about gender discrimination against women in the law, economics, and medicine and physics. New research reveals similar patterns that discourage women from staying in the field of architecture. As in many other professions, such as those mentioned above, women account for half of all graduates from architecture schools but represent only 20 percent of licensed architects and 17 percent of partners or principles in firms. Allison Arieff, writing for the New York Times, reports on a recent survey of 14,360 respondents conducted by Equity by Design, an initiative of the American Institute of Architects. The survey included architects in every state and across six continents, and it found the following:

  • Female and minority architects and designers earn lower salaries than their white male peers and are less likely to hold positions of leadership.
  • Mothers in particular lose out on career and salary advancements.
  • Firms have been slow to follow best practices regarding equity and worker well-being.
  • Assumptions are prevalent that women will quit to marry.
  • Women’s competency and qualifications are often questioned, and they are unable to command authority on job sites.
  • Female role models and mentors are scarce.
  • Male colleagues complain that they do not want to take orders from a woman.
What needs to change? Arieff points out that the culture of male dominance runs deep in the architecture profession. In fact, she explains, “Until 1972 and the advent of Title IX, which forbade gender discrimination in federally funded education programs, most American architecture schools refused to admit women.” Arieff cites Ila Berman, dean of the University of Virginia School of Architecture, who said that the challenge is to “change a culture that will only be changed through representation, when 50 percent of the people in the room are women.” Caroline James, founder of the Design for Equity advocacy group, suggests that women need the following:
  • Tools for dealing with sexism
  • Mentorship
  • Access to salary information
  • Equal pay
  • New definitions of success as an architect
Last but not least, the #MeToo movement made a contribution to shifting the toxic culture of the industry when several male architects were accused of harassment in an online list. Arieff reports that one prominent architect, Richard Meier, was forced to step down from a leadership role in his firm after allegations from five women. A manifesto titled “Voices of Women” calling for an end to “pervasive prejudices and disrespectful behavior” was also introduced by a group of female architects in 2018. Change is coming.   Photo courtesy of Shawn Carpenter (CC BY-SA 2.0)]]>

Gender Bias at Goldman Sachs: Fired for Taking Maternity Leave

A recent Los Angeles Times story by Sabrina Willmer shines a light on the hypocrisy of many corporate family leave policies in the United States. Willmer explains that Goldman Sachs proudly promotes itself as a family-friendly company that offers four months of paid family leave as part of a widely publicized diversity initiative designed to attract talent. When women take maternity leave at Goldman, however, their careers are often damaged, and some have been fired using “business case” justifications that do not align with their performances. Goldman Sachs is not the only company to offer a family-friendly policy and then punish women and men for using it. Stories like the one reported by Willmer are common in many other organizations as well. The case discussed below is one of many being litigated in a class-action gender bias lawsuit against Goldman Sachs based on complaints of reprisals when women took maternity leave. Willmer presents the case of Tania Mirchandani, a vice president and employee of fifteen years at Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. When she reported to her supervisor, a father of four children, that she was pregnant with her third child, he expressed skepticism that she could balance the demands of her job with such a large family. Toward the end of her maternity leave, just before returning, her boss called to tell her she was terminated “for strategic business reasons” and that men in the office were also being laid off to cut costs. In Mirchandani’s gender bias complaint she states that, in fact, she was the only person cut in the Los Angeles office and male colleagues kept their jobs even though their performances were not as good as hers. Mirchandani’s experience is not unusual at Goldman Sachs, and other women have also report reprisal and pressure after maternity leave. Specifically, after maternity leave, many women at Goldman

  • Are assigned to a different position when they return and lose the accounts or clients they developed before taking leave
  • Report being passed up for promotions
  • Are pushed onto a “mommy track” where they are not eligible for promotions
  • Are not assigned to a team and are left to develop new business on their own
  • Report that it is “standard practice” for Goldman to pressure women to take shorter maternity leaves than allowed by policy
This same story is playing out for women in many corporations. Is it any wonder that, although most companies have updated their family leave policies, the number of women taking paid maternity leave in the United States each month has remained unchanged since the 1990s, according to a 2017 study by Boston University? Willmer reminds us that family-friendly policies are empty words on paper when the cultures of organizations do not change. The same will be true for all of the new sexual harassment policies being published as a result of the #MeToo movement. Organizations’ cultures do not change without vigilance, transparency, and accountability. We have a long way to go. Is your organization truly trying to change its culture? Please share what is working.   Photo courtesy of NIAID (CC BY 2.0)      ]]>

Signs of Change for Women in the Auto Industry

Tiffany Hsu of the New York Times writes that Debbie Manzano “holds the rare status of being a woman at the helm of a major U.S. production facility,” overseeing the manufacturing of Ford’s F-150 truck at a large plant in Dearborn, Michigan. A Ford employee for twenty-four years with broad education and experience, Manzano faces typical challenges. She reports the following:

  • People who have never had a female boss are skeptical of her abilities.
  • People who have always wanted a female boss have very high expectations.
  • Her desire to hire more women goes against Ford’s reputation as a hostile work environment for women, as described in a 2017 Times article.

Manzano acknowledges that sexual harassment has been pervasive in many Ford factories but she notes that she is now “in a position to do something different about it.”

Hsu writes that women are underrepresented in every level of manufacturing because of prejudice, pay inequities, and lack of supportive family-leave policies. This is an old story, so why does the representation of women in manufacturing matter at this time in history? In addition to the demand for more opportunities for women, the current tight labor market in combination with an aging factory workforce means many skilled jobs are vacant and in coming years millions may potentially go unfilled.

            Manzano acknowledges that the dearth of women in manufacturing, especially at the leadership level, means that women do not have enough “safe spaces.” She explains that while men can be excellent mentors, women, especially those working in male-dominated industries, need other women to go to with concerns, like harassment, that they may not feel comfortable bringing to a male boss. They also need to be able to share their successful experiences with other women in male-dominated industries as a form of support. To encourage women to hire on at Ford and stay, Manzano has:

  • Provided more networking opportunities for female workers.
  • Pushed managers to incorporate women into succession planning to prepare more female leaders.
  • Developed initiatives to encourage women and girls to get the skills and education for advanced operations and manufacturing positions becoming available.

Manzano agrees that Ford’s internal culture needs to continue to improve and that pressure from the #MeToo movement is helping.

The process of change may truly be underway.

Photo courtesy of Long Zheng (CC BY-SA 2.0)


How #MeToo Exposes Our Antiquated Laws: Women Are Not Protected

In many instances over the past year, #MeToo has helped multiple women discover they were abused by the same powerful man, but the victims were unable to file a criminal complaint because the statute of limitations had expired.

High-profile examples include Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby. Ginia Bellafante of the New York Times notes that in another high-profile case, that of disgraced former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the prosecutor just announced that no charges will be filed for domestic violence committed against several women because their cases are all past the statute of limitations. Bellafante explains that there has been pressure on the legal system for some time to expand or eliminate these time frames, but little progress has been made. She notes, “Serial predators will continue to elude punishment, given that the crimes they commit often occur over a period that can span decades. Cases built on one or two recent accusations [like those of Weinstein and Cosby]—ignoring along-term pattern of abuse—easily fall apart.” There is now abundant evidence that the trauma of sexual abuse combined with fear of retribution by powerful abusers often causes assaults to go unreported until well past the statute of limitation allowed by law.

Our laws need updating in other ways as well to hold sexual abusers criminally accountable. For example, Bellafante explains that it was not clear what crimes Schneiderman could be charged with for physically attacking and demeaning aseries of women with whom he was involved:

  • Felony assault requires the demonstration of significant injury, such as a broken limb.
  • Misdemeanor assault requires proof of substantial physical pain but does not include mental anguish.
  • A prosecutor must be able to prove there was intent to cause physical injury, which can be invalidated by claiming that injury resulted from momentary passion or anger but was “not intended.”

In addition, our laws need clarification and expansion to include protocols and standards requiring colleges to call the police to report campus rape and assault. Instead, new rules recently released by Betsy DeVos’s Department of Education protect schools but not students. Dana Bolger explains the following about these rules:

  • They narrow what counts as sexual harassment. The rules require that harassment must be “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access” to education. Even a rape may not count as sexual harassment under this standard because a one-time act of violence is “not pervasive.”
  • They only hold schools accountable when they are“deliberately indifferent” to sexual harassment.

We also need to clarify the standards used to hold someone accountable for rape or attempted rape when there are no corroborating witnesses. The deck is stacked against women regardless of how long it takes them to come forward to seek justice for an assault.

Our laws need to change.

Photo courtesy of southernfried (morguefile)


Sexual Harassment: Women Who Work in Prisons

I can understand why women want jobs in federal prisons: the prisons are usually located in rural areas where decent-paying jobs are scarce, and they are often the main employer in the area. Caitlin Dickerson of the New York Times explains that few women worked in federal prisons until the 1970s when a series of legal decisions in a changing social environment forced the Bureau of Prisons to allow equal access to jobs. While the prison population is 93 percent male, and male employees vastly outnumber female employees, ten thousand women now make up a third of the bureau’s workforce, holding jobs ranging from secretary to regional director. The problem for women working in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system is that they have never been fully accepted as equals by their male colleagues and supervisors. Long before #MeToo, in 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a strongly worded report saying that sexual harassment claims were routinely mishandled and retaliation was unusually high for women employed by the Bureau of Prisons. In 2017, the House Oversight Committee opened an investigation and found gross mismanagement of sexual harassment claims and rewards and promotions for staff accused of sexual harassment against female colleagues. While lawsuits have been filed and settled against the bureau, the culture and practices have not changed, and the EEOC has no power to force these changes. Some examples of the abusive workplace environment that women working in prisons must endure include the following:

  • Inmates grope, threaten, and expose themselves.
  • Male colleagues undermine the authority of female officers by encouraging male inmates to harass them.
  • Some male colleagues join in the harassment themselves.
  • While women who file harassment claims face retaliation, the careers of many harassers and those who protect them flourish.
  • In one instance, a female case manager was raped by an inmate, then she was criminally charged with raping him when she complained.
  • High ranking officers accused of sexual harassment, and their supervisors who protect them, are often transferred to other prisons with promotions while the women who were abused by them are shunned and blackballed from promotion opportunities.
These working conditions for female employees in federal prisons are outrageous. Clearly there is no motivation or will in the leadership of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to change this culture. Perhaps the wave of women newly elected to Congress will decide to put focus and pressure on the bureau to finally change the culture and treat women fairly and respectfully. Let’s all raise this issue with our new congresswomen and see if something can be done to change this situation.   Photo courtesy of VisualHunt (CC0 1.0)]]>

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)]]>