#MeToo Leaves Some Out

Both men and women are now reluctant to hire women for some jobs.
#MeToo Leaves Some Out

WHILE THE #METOO movement has focused attention on sexual harassment in the workplace, it might not have created the hoped-for positive change for working women. In fact, just the opposite. Both men and women say they might be more reluctant to hire attractive women—and they expect women might be excluded from future events so that there is less chance an assault could happen.

The research was conducted by Leanne E. Atwater of the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston in Texas; Allison M. Tringale of the Noonan School of Business at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa; Rachel E. Sturm of the Raj Soin College of Business at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio; Scott N. Taylor of Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts; and Phillip W. Braddy of the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.

According to an article in the September–October 2019 Harvard Business Review, the group began studying the fallout from the #MeToo movement in the autumn of 2018. They surveyed 52 men and 303 women to determine their views on sexual harassment. They asked participants if they thought 19 behaviors—such as commenting on a woman’s looks or asking her out repeatedly— constituted harassment. In most cases, men and women viewed the behaviors similarly, and in situations where they disagreed, men were more likely to call the behaviors harassment.

“The idea that men don’t know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue,” Atwater says in the HBR piece. “If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.”

The survey also found that 63 percent of women said they had been harassed, while 5 percent of men admitted they had harassed a co-worker and 20 percent thought they might have done so. While 74 percent of the women expected that they would be more likely to speak out against harassment as a consequence of #MeToo, and 77 percent of men thought they would be more careful about their behavior, other results were disappointing. Ten percent of respondents of both genders said they would be less willing to hire attractive women; 22 percent of men and 44 percent of women expected that men would be more likely to leave women out of social interactions.

In early 2019, the researchers conducted a second survey with different respondents—and uncovered an even greater backlash. This time, 19 percent of men said they were reluctant to hire attractive women, 21 percent were reluctant to hire women for jobs in which they are required to work closely with men, and 27 percent said that they avoid one-on-one meetings with female co-workers. In the HBR article, Sturm notes, “When men say, ‘I’m not going to hire you, I’m not going to send you traveling, I’m going to exclude you from outings’—those are steps backward.”

To reduce harassment in the workplace, the researchers recommend that companies create training programs that educate employees about sexism—because employees who exhibit high levels of sexism are the ones who are more likely to display negative behaviors. The co-authors also recommend that companies institute training programs that encourage character building, because people of high character are less likely to harass others and more likely to step in if they witness others engaging in harassment.

“Looking Ahead: How What We Know About Sexual Harassment Now Informs Us of the Future” is forthcoming in Organizational Dynamics. Read the Harvard Business Review article.