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Article

Don’t Avoid Women, Mentor Them

Worried by #MeToo? Here’s how to become part of the solution.

Rachel Thomas and Stacy Brown-Philpot

Published in The Wall Street Journal on Feb. 4, 2018

Men, we know the #MeToo movement has left a lot of you reeling—horrified by sexual harassment, as you should be. But some of you are also worried about yourselves. You’re scared of being accused of something unfairly. Unsure how to act, maybe you’re shying away from women at work—avoiding one-on-one meetings, canceling working lunches.

A forthcoming survey by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey finds almost half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in basic workplace activities with women, including working alone together. This is a huge step in the wrong direction. Women need support, not isolation. Want to fight sexual harassment? Don’t avoid women. Mentor them.

Mentorship advances careers. Studies show that people with mentors are likelier to get promotions. Mentors show women the ropes and help us navigate office politics. They introduce us to decision-makers who help us get high-profile assignments. So much of what gets you noticed at work is who you know and who sings your praises.

The problem is that women receive less of the high-quality mentoring that opens doors. Whether this is due to conscious sexism or simply because men gravitate toward other men out of friendship or familiarity, the result is the same: Women miss out on critical opportunities for advancement. And women of color are the most overlooked.

Men, we need you to be a part of the solution. You have power that most women don’t. Men far outnumber women as managers and senior leaders. By mentoring women, you can help correct that imbalance—and that’s in your interest, because good things happen when more women hold leadership roles. Company profits are higher. Workplace policies are more generous. When companies employ more women, sexual harassment is less prevalent.

If you worry that mentoring women will raise eyebrows, our advice is to use common sense. A workplace that’s free from sexual harassment doesn’t have to be cold or impersonal. You know the difference between a friendly greeting and one that crosses the line. It all comes down to basic civility.

And remember how important it is to give women equal access. If you’re uncomfortable going to dinner with female colleagues, meet everyone for breakfast. The so-called Pence rule—the idea that a man can’t eat alone with a woman who isn’t his wife—is a double standard. It results in one kind of access for men, another for women. This is not the answer.

Mentoring women benefits men, too. Being able to work well with women, having a professional network that includes women, earning a reputation for advancing women—these are competitive advantages in the 21st-century workplace. Just about every man we know wants his workplace to be one where women—their wives, daughters, sisters, friends and colleagues—are safe and supported.

Sexual harassment has to stop. But that is not enough. Men, if you want to make the workplace safer and more respectful to women, use your status to give someone great the support she deserves. Become a mentor.

Ms. Thomas is president of LeanIn.org. Ms. Brown-Philpot is CEO of TaskRabbit.