Many of my professional mentors have been men.
Dealing with a hostile elected official, crafting an open records request, mining a government database and surgically editing a long story have been aided by advice from male colleagues.
All of those took in-person conversations and occasionally a need to dig out a document or show something on a computer screen. There is no way to learn police scanner programming without a hands-on tutorial.
I imagine this is the same for engineers showing how machinery works, attorneys hashing out arguments in a case, health care providers demonstrating a procedure or any number of professionals teaching a protege.
I’ve been fortunate to work with a number of women who helped shape my career. But men have also been my champions in the newsroom.
Workplace mentoring, in the formal and informal frameworks, is crucial for sharing knowledge that leads to advancement. It’s not about top-down teaching but more of a colleague approach to getting a job done.
The #MeToo movement has stirred up a notion among men that they aren’t safe mentoring women; that somehow women are too sensitive for such one-on-one communication and training.
Worse, there is a fear women might wrongly accuse men of wrongdoing, even though that has not been proven to be a problem. (Federal statistics indicate less than 2% of sex-related charges are determined false.)
Using a female empowerment movement as an excuse to deny opportunities for women is wrong, and possibly illegal.
The movement has been about rooting out those who have taken advantage of women. If a man can’t control himself from making a pass, he shouldn’t be in a job with authority.
It’s alarming if this red herring gains traction. Women were already behind before #MeToo.
A Harvard Business Review report in December 2010 found women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor — a person who mentors and advocates for promotions. It found women enter the workforce at a slightly higher rate than men (53% women to 47% men) but fall away at the C-suite, executive level (79% men to 21% women). That number has improved to about 5% of top companies with a woman as chief executive officers and 24% as directors.
It’s mostly men at the top with the most power to elevate women.
“Women who are qualified to lead simply don’t have the powerful backing necessary to inspire, propel and protect them through the perilous straits of upper management. Women lack, in a word, sponsorship,” states the report (“The Sponsor Effect: Breaking Through the Last Glass Ceiling”).
Reasons for this top-heavy male structure vary. Older supervisors stay away from younger staff to avoid an appearance of an affair. Women traverse some unspoken judgments in issues such as wardrobe and family choices.
The answer to bridging this gap is not creating more distance between supervisors and workers.
The solution is not substituting email and text for personal dialogue. If workers can get hands-on instruction or opportunities to socialize, those should be made available for all staff.
Common sense dictates how men and women can interact. Meet in public places. Include significant others and spouses in socialization. Have routine meeting times. Communicate clearly.
This shouldn’t have to be said; but anything a guy wouldn’t say to his wife, mother or grandmother shouldn’t be repeated to a coworker.
All our lessons about treating each other with respect should have been learned in elementary school. It’s a workplace, not a locker room or frat house (though I have been treated respectfully in both).
Don’t use #MeToo to hide behind technology and avoid women. Use it to ask questions, learn and promote worthy employees.
It can only improve a company’s bottom line.
Actor Jason Lee talks about his new photo exhibit that is being shown at the same time as photos from Larry Clark's iconic photo book "Tulsa."