Lisa Kimmel is president and CEO of Edelman Canada.
A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine – who happens to be a male executive – confided in me that he had been accused of sexual misconduct at a recent company function. “I didn’t do this,” he implored, “but I know my career and reputation are over.” The sheer panic in his voice was terrifying. The allegations against him were subsequently proved to be false.
I was rocked by this news (both the initial allegations, and their resulting dismissal), not only as his friend, but as a female executive who has commented on the business implications swirling around even the threat of such accusations.
There’s no question that my view of the #MeToo movement has evolved since I wrote about the issue in January. I have had the opportunity to talk about my thoughts at the recent Women’s Forum Canada debate about whether the movement will inevitably help unify men and women in creating better workplaces. While my position on the matter may not be the popular one, I’m steadfast in my evolving belief that #MeToo is worsening the divide between men and women, instead of bridging the gap towards meaningful change.
To be clear: I’m supportive of #MeToo so long as justice is pursued through due process; but as I’ve witnessed first-hand, that’s not always what’s happening. If we don’t correct the current course, I firmly believe the movement will ultimately hurt – not help – women in the long run.
Consider the following: The “Mike Pence rule” is alive and well. The Mike Pence rule refers to something the now-Vice-President of the United States said back in 2002. He reportedly does not eat alone with a woman or attend an event where alcohol is being served, unless his wife is present. I’ve heard anecdotally from many male executives that this rule is smart – even “brilliant” in some cases – because retreating from being alone with female co-workers reduces their risk profile to zero. This sentiment was also reflected in a LeanIn.org study that found that male managers are three times as likely to say they are uncomfortable mentoring women and twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman. The personal and professional implications of such a rule for women are many.
Without due process, everyone loses: There is a difference between the likely bad judgment of the Tom Brokaw, Ryan Lizza and Glen Thrushes of the world, and the likes of Harvey Weinstein, an alleged rapist and serial predator whose actions were an open secret in Hollywood. Yet in an era of trial by Twitter, the #MeToo movement immediately paints everyone with the same brush. Given the systemic challenges and barriers that have been faced by women for generations, it’s easy to dismiss the concerns of men in the era of #MeToo. But the reality is, there is a spectrum of behaviours and actions, and we simply can’t ignore the need for due process. Men who are accused of misconduct must be seen as innocent until proven guilty. Failure to do so will only hurt women in the long run, as men will increasingly retrench from supporting and advocating for us.
Ultimately, we need to protect the right to due process for anyone accused of sexual harassment. We can’t pursue justice through unjust means. Feminism is not gender tribalism.
We need for both genders to come together to engage in a conversation around what is the new normal and figure out actionable steps to take for true gender equality to exist in society, or else further gender polarization – and its resulting consequences – will ensue.