#metoo–We Have to Talk About the Nuance

I feel really mixed feelings about #metoo.

Another colleague told me this week about her relief and gratitude at the #metoo phenomenon for bringing into the light of day the chronic gender harassment and bias women experience from men. And yet she wondered aloud, “Why aren’t we talking about it much locally?” Her experience in her day-to-day world is that, despite the celebrity and media revelations against “big men,” people are not talking about the treatment of women in their workplaces. What about the smaller instances perpetrated against women in average jobs that aren’t coming forward in our conversations. She speculated, is #metoo something that happens to others, then, and not at home, in our regular workplaces?

In contrast to this conversation, several male clients and colleagues express their feelings about #metoo. Carl asked, “Does this mean I can’t meet with women 1:1? How do I do performance reviews?” And many others have wondered about the implications of a workplace in which they feel, as men, on-guard and anxious about mis-stepping or mis-speaking. They are afraid and feel as if they can’t be natural with women, can’t compliment them, can’t ever EVER touch them in the normal ways we do at work. Several men I know have wondered aloud whether something from their past will surface to damage their lives and careers today.

Sometime I feel a wash of relief that the collective “we” are talking about unequal and threatening treatment towards women at work. Other times I fear that the access and authority that we as women have earned in my lifetime will be chiseled away, leaving us once again in smaller jobs with less equity than ever before. After all, if it is dangerous for men to work with women because of the fear of being accused of harassment, why will they want to work with us?

All of this makes me acutely aware that the hard won efforts of women to share power, authority, and pay equity with men the past 50 years remains as fragile as gossamer. With so much work still to be done penetrating the upper ranks of organizational life with women in a balanced way–we all know that the percentages of women fall way off between middle-management and C-Suite–#metoo feels at times more like a step backward than anything.

And this really makes me mad. The patriarchy, under threat, appears have been handed more inequity on a silver platter: “we can’t actually work with women, it is too dangerous.” Sexual abuse, harassment, and plain old unconscious bias are being lumped together in one big pot of soup with no discernment, no dialogue, and no systemic change.

We have to talk about the nuance.

We have to break down #metoo with more detail, and differentiate between crimes (against young women by older men, rape, violence) and abuse of power/harassment (referring to women’s pu**y, gestures and inappropriate touch,) and unequal treatment and unconscious bias, which disproportionately impacts women due to long-held assumptions and beliefs.

Most of all, we need to talk about partnership. Real partnership, and what it looks like between men and women.

Over my 35+ year career, some of my most trusted colleagues, clients, and employees have been men. In them I have found partnership, trust, idea sharing, and the fulfillment that comes with working hard on a common goal together.

If #metoo is to translate into meaningful change for the future, it needs to be in the form of #wedo.

We do work hard to understand boundaries and needs held by each other. We do strive to bring out each other’s best in a shared effort to do the work that must be done. We do listen. We do respect. We do bring our highest and best selves to work ever day. We do stay in the mess of partnership, even when we misstep, say something hurtful, or let unconscious bias impact our choice. We do learn. We do remember, and we do commit to courage and resilience, even when the going gets hard between us.