At GGGrit, we strive to think about things differently. I am a true believer that the past is a guide, the present is a result of a series of events and that the future is something that has yet to unfold. It is an approach that allows us to explore what we thought we knew to be truths and test our presumptions that can predict an outcome. So recently, when we wrote about a topic that is usually whispered about in the hallowed halls of the workplace, I fell prey to my own assumptions, believing I knew what the response would be. I was, thankfully, so very wrong. You see, by shining a light on the topic of sexual harassment in the workplace, we ended up with was a conversation about the underbelly of gender equality.
What sparked conversation was an email that I received from a gentleman that I know and have worked with in the past. He read the post and in response he asked for my advice. He wrote,
Timely article.... I just promoted a woman. I'm a social person, we travel a lot, and often I have meetings with people over dinner. I do a lot of 1x1's at dinner. I also like to eat :-) A 1x1 with a female colleague after work I won't do, for fear of a mistaken signal. The article today, which I agree with, is the reason why I won't do dinner alone with a female colleague. I feel wrong doing this, as I am treating genders differently, but am afraid otherwise (also why I will never friend on Facebook a friend of my daughter, but friends of my boys I am far more OK with). Outside of saying hello --- I was curious if you had any thoughts here? It's not obvious what is right, I just feel wrong both ways. People also talk --- which is a secondary troubling point."
My first instinct was to tell him that his actions do more harm than good, that by treating his female colleagues unequally, he is sending the wrong signal, that if he won't take a female colleague out to dinner, then he can't do the same with male colleagues, that he should suck it up and not worry about what others think, that change is simply doing the unexpected. In my mind, there are many "gender-equal solutions" to his problem but in reality, I know that they are unrealistic. In the real world, he is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. By looking at gender equality differently, through his eyes, he is told to be one way (unbiased) and judged differently (with bias). How do I know? Because I am party to his circumstances. If I think about the situation differently and I am truly honest with myself, I too would think it strange if he friended his daughter's friends on Facebook and I too would 'notice' dinners. The fact is, he can't really 'win' here because what we 'expect' of men in our quest for gender equality in the workplace is convoluted, at best, and has no immediately obvious remedies.
My advice then is this: Re-frame the problem into a question and ask everyone to weigh in. Talk about it with anyone and everyone who will listen including your female and male colleagues, the human resources department, your wife, and your friends. Most importantly, talk about this with your daughter and your son. Their father's past is the guide that should help shape a different, arguably, better, future for both men and women alike.