Saturday, December 22, 2018

#MeToo Backlash Hits Wall Street

For some Wall Street male movers and shakers, because of the #metoo movement, the Mr. Bean gif to the right could become the preferred model that any man with something to lose will use when interacting with women in the workplace.


No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings. In fact, as a wealth adviser put it, just hiring a woman these days is “an unknown risk.” What if she took something he said the wrong way? Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women. Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.

Interviews with more than 30 senior executives suggest many are spooked by #MeToo and struggling to cope. “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells,” said David Bahnsen, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley who’s now an independent adviser overseeing more than $1.5 billion. This is hardly a single-industry phenomenon, as men across the country check their behavior at work, to protect themselves in the face of what they consider unreasonable political correctness -- or to simply do the right thing.



The upshot is forceful on Wall Street, where women are scarce in the upper ranks. The industry has also long nurtured a culture that keeps harassment complaints out of the courts and public eye, and has so far avoided a mega-scandal like the one that has engulfed Harvey Weinstein. While the new personal codes for dealing with #MeToo have only just begun to ripple, the shift is already palpable, according to the people interviewed, who declined to be named. 

They work for hedge funds, law firms, banks, private equity firms and investment-management firms. For obvious reasons, few will talk openly about the issue. Privately, though, many of the men interviewed acknowledged they’re channeling Pence, saying how uneasy they are about being alone with female colleagues, particularly youthful or attractive ones, fearful of the rumor mill or of, as one put it, the potential liability.


A manager in infrastructure investing said he won’t meet with female employees in rooms without windows anymore; he also keeps his distance in elevators. A late-40-something in private equity said he has a new rule, established on the advice of his wife, an attorney: no business dinner with a woman 35 or younger. The changes can be subtle but insidious, with a woman, say, excluded from casual after-work drinks, leaving male colleagues to bond, or having what should be a private meeting with a boss with the door left wide open.

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Anyone refusing to hire women is wrong. That's illegal. But everything else referenced was predictable. Men and women being who they are, I doubt that every man who claims to be running scared will change his behavior. It's just not (male) human nature

But when people who should know better are agitating to remove more protections for the accused, are making negative generalizations about men, are stating that women should always be believed, or are claiming with a straight face that it's no big deal if a man should lose his job, education, business, income, savings or reputation over false or unprovable decades old allegations it's unsurprising that prudent men will do more of their own risk management. 

People ridiculed Mike Pence for his rules about being alone with women not his wife. But so far no woman has popped up accusing Pence of saying or doing something inappropriate to her two decades ago. Some teachers no longer hug students or allow themselves to be alone with students. It's for the protection of both student and teacher. It's the same precaution here.  Other non Wall Street companies are second guessing holiday parties and warning people to be careful about how "frisky" they get in a work environment.
There are still too many men in some workplaces who look and behave like the fellow in the gif at the left anytime they see an attractive woman or worse, get a little bit of power over any woman.  Those men should absolutely be punished when they misbehave. 

No one intelligent or decent questions that. The professor or doctoral candidate who touches his graduate assistant's sensitive areas without invitation or permission, the manager who crassly comments on his direct report's sex life, the regional vice-president who bluntly tells the new hire that if she wants to get ahead that she needs to be "nice" to him, or the Hollywood big shot who puts actresses and other employees on call for office sex are all lower than pond scum. 

Such men must be identified, stopped, removed from whatever position they hold and even charged criminally if need be. But that's not everyone. The immediate retort from some people will be that if you are a decent man you have nothing to fear or that only weak fearful guilty men would be worried. Well maybe. Maybe not. When I hear that logic,  I also hear a police officer saying that only guilty people need lawyers or object to warrantless searches. 

It is offensive and insane to believe that every single woman is a loon just waiting to make false accusations or misinterpret things for her own inscrutable reasons. But women can and do lie or make mistakes, just as men do. So it's okay for both genders to do what they have to do to protect themselves.

Some precautions will be unfair to the vast majority of women who have no interest at work other than making money and moving up the ladder. Knowing more than a few Wall Street types I think many are drastically overstating their attractiveness to the opposite sex or their vulnerability to false charges. 

If some women lose out on platonic mentoring/networking opportunities that they might otherwise have obtained, that's unfortunate

But you can't force people to go above and beyond to mentor you, be your friend or pull your coat about professional opportunities. Much earlier in my career I remember being surprised that certain people in my workplace got the chance to befriend or interact with higher ranking managers and others did not. 


Black people, particularly black men, didn't often get those opportunities. Some white managers didn't want those sorts of relationships with certain people. They often kept most Blacks at a social distance. Blacks had to find other ways to advance. So it goes. 

If we want people to feel safe about social interactions then we must insist that someone accused of harassment or worse crimes is not automatically considered guilty. And not every violation needs to be met with the social equivalent of the death penalty. Because if that becomes the accepted state of affairs, avoidance will in turn become the new social norm. Count on it.
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