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After #MeToo - Men wary about mentoring women in workplace: survey

Jillian Kilfoil spoke to The Guardian at Timothy’s World Coffee in Charlottetown on Dec. 29 about a research project she’s working on with Pam Atkinson in regards to the issues of childcare on P.E.I. KATIE SMITH/THE GUARDIAN
"There are a lot of men who don't know how to navigate a post-#MeToo world." Jillian Kilfoil - File

Men are more likely to shy away from mentoring women in the post #MeToo workplace but a prominent business expert at Dalhousie University says they shouldn’t.

“It’s definitely not the right reaction and it is hurtful for the advancement of women,” said Dr. Eddy Ng, a professor of organizational behaviour and the F.C. Manning chair in economics and business at Dalhousie University.

Lean In, a United States-based international women’s organization, released a survey of the attitudes of men in the workplace earlier this year. The results show almost half of male managers are uncomfortable either mentoring, working alone or socializing with women in the workplace in the post #MeToo world.

“The number of male managers who are uncomfortable mentoring women has more than tripled from five per cent to 16 per cent,” Lean In states on its website. “This means that one in six male managers may now hesitate to mentor a woman.”

The survey was conducted as part of Lean In’s #MentorHer project and also revealed almost 30 per cent of male managers, almost twice as many as before, are now uncomfortable working alone with a woman.

Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to balk at the idea of having a business dinner with a junior-level woman than with a junior-level man, the survey shows. They are also five times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with a junior-level woman.

All of this is being seen as a backlash as many men are suddenly more fearful of being targets of sexual harassment or sexual assault allegations.

Although this Lean In and SurveyMonkey litmus test of men’s attitudes only surveyed people in the United States, Ng says Canadian men likely feel the same way.

Jillian Kilfoil, executive director of the Women’s Network PEI, agrees.

“There are a lot of men who don’t know how to navigate a post-#MeToo world,” said Kilfoil. “The fact that #MeToo has happened means that the markers have moved … and it’s difficult to know how to behave.”


That’s leaving at least some men in the workplace wary of one-on-one interactions with female colleagues.

“With the current climate, I can honestly tell you that many men, particularly men in senior roles (in Canada), share the same sentiments,” said Ng. “A lot of men would be more cautious. Mentoring is an investment in someone’s career … so if there is the possibility that mentorship could be misinterpreted, it could be a career-ender.”

Maybe so.

Despite the possible career devastation that can come with a sexual harassment or sexual assault allegation, the university professor maintains men can and should still mentor women in the workplace.

They just need to be careful about it and use common sense.

“You never meet one-on-one, after hours or at venues or activities that can be perceived as unusual,” he said. “The idea is to introduce your protégé to your business circle.”

On Prince Edward Island, Kilfoil suggests companies avail themselves of the services of gender experts to navigate the dynamics of workplace interactions.

“You can hire consultants or pay organizations to do this work,” she said. “It’s a combination of a needs assessment … one-on-one training … and developing policy.”

At the Rowe School of Business, Ng stopped short of recommending most companies bring in policy experts. But the professor of organizational behaviour admitted consultants might be a good idea for industries where co-workers routinely entertain in bars or travel for work.

“A lot of this is common sense and good judgement,” he said.

The Lean In survey indicated roughly a quarter of men and women think the sudden rise in allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assaults is only the tip of the iceberg.

Ng agrees.

“There’s more coming,” he said. “It’ll take a while until all the women who want to speak up have spoken up.”

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