US study finds men fearing contact with women at work

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Male managers are increasingly feeling uncomfortable when mentoring, working one-to-one with and socialising with women at work, according to research conducted in the US.

More than half the men asked (60%) felt cautious with female with colleagues in these situations, a 33 percentage point increase over figure from last year.

Senior male employees were, according to an analysis of the findings, 12 times more likely to be hesitant about one-to-one meetings with a less senior woman than they were a junior male colleague, nine times more likely to be reluctant to travel with a less senior female and six times more likely to be hesitant about attending a work dinner with a female than a male colleague.

A significant minority of men (36%) reported avoiding mentoring or socialising with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look.

The survey, published last month, was carried out by, a non-profit organisation founded by Facebook chief operating officer Shery Sandberg in 2013. It’s stated aim is to provide women with the “ongoing inspiration and support to help them achieve their goals”.

Sandberg told US business TV channel CNBC that the findings of the survey were “totally unacceptable” particularly as women – and particularly women from ethnic minorities – were already failing to gain the same mentorship opportunities that men were. She said: “No one has ever gotten a promotion without getting a one-on-one meeting”.

The findings had implications for the gender pay gap, Sandberg told told Fortune online: “How can we close the gender gap if senior leaders and managers – the people with the power to hire, promote and mentor – choose men for too many of the plum assignments requiring close collaboration?”

She disagreed with the idea that the #MeToo movement had negatively affected relationships between male and female colleagues, saying the campaigns had had an “overwhelmingly positive impact” on the workplace, particularly in terms of highlighting sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment was twice as likely to occur in organisations where men dominated the pool of senior executive, said Rachel Thomas, president of, which made it imperative that men spoke up and took action. She added: “My suspicion is that a lot of good guys don’t realise that by not actively mentoring, sponsoring or creating full access, that they’re inadvertently part of the problem.”

Thomas said there were relatively simple solutions for senior male employees who felt uncomfortable around women. “I don’t fully understand it, but for whatever reason if a man is also uncomfortable having a one-on-one meeting with a woman or working with a woman, then leave the door open,” she said.

A gulf between US men and women’s views of sexual harassment appeared to have been identified in the survey with 64% of women saying the victims pay a heavier career price than perpetrators whereas 50% of men say the consequences were more damaging for harassers, not the targets of harassment.

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One Response to US study finds men fearing contact with women at work

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    david 12 Jun 2019 at 2:54 pm #

    No surprise Sandberg would disagree but she is probably wrong.

    In as litigous an environment as the US is, and with the inevitable trial by public opinion/social media, no wonder men are avoiding any situation where it could be claimed they had done something without a potential witness to dispute/verify what occurred.

    So while the zealots were celebrating taking down some guy for something he said or did however minor, the rest of us were putting in place measures to ensure we couldn’t be accused of inpropriety.

    Inevitable but entirely predictable.

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