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My friend Madhav hosted a dinner for his foreign counterparts visiting India. As his millennial team had had no experience in attending formal get-togethers, he gently guided them to dress and behave suitably. To his pleasant surprise, the team outdid his expectations by dressing immaculately and appropriately engaging the guests, making the party a roaring success.

Wanting to get home before late night, most of the female team members left the dinner as soon as the overseas colleagues had left, leaving Madhav and most of the male team members to settle the dinner bill and arrangements. Characteristic of his appreciative demeanor, Madhav, instantly thanked those around him for taking the extra effort of dressing and conducting themselves fittingly.

The next day at work, Madhav intended to thank his female team members for taking the effort to dress suitably but felt uneasy. He wasn’t sure if he was required to formally get them together to thank them or do so individually during casual breaks. The more he thought about it, the more hesitant he became. He worried that in the wake of the #MeToo movement, female team members ‘might’ take amiss his well-intentioned and genuine feedback. Not wanting to provide scope for any misunderstanding, he reserved his comments, convincing himself that it was better to ‘err on the side of caution’. In doing so, he knew that he ran the risk of bringing his male team members closer, and alienating his female team members.

Like Madhav, employees across the world, have re-evaluated their everyday comments to avoid being misinterpreted as sexual harassment, thanks to the incredible impact of the #MeToo movement on both organizational and individual behavior at the workplace.

Yet, one of the unintended fallouts of the #MeToo movement is the further alienation of women from the seat of male power. Not wanting to be embroiled in complaints of sexual harassment, many men in positions of power have now oscillated to the other end of the continuum to keep female employees at arm’s length.

For instance, ‘The Pence Rule.’

What is ‘The Pence Rule’?

Named after the 48th vice president of the United States, Mike Pence claims to never eat alone with a woman other than his wife. He is said to also not attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side1.

It’s negative impact:

Men in power with self-imposed rules, safeguard themselves from potential complaints of sexual harassment, at the cost of female workers. However well-intentioned, the Pence Rule:

  • Widens the gap for women to network with men
  • Makes it tougher for women to obtain and work on opportunities with men
  • Unfairly limits women from getting mentored or sponsored by the opposite gender

Men in power, are now wary of spending alone-time with female workers:

A key finding of the online survey by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey in 2019 indicates that2:

“Senior-level men are now far more hesitant to spend time with junior women than junior men across a range of basic work activities. They are:

12x more likely to hesitate to have 1-on-1 meetings

9x more likely to hesitate to travel together for work

6x more likely to hesitate to have work dinners.”

Also,

“36% of men say they’ve avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look.”

Across the world, power is still concentrated in the hands of men, and, women need unfettered access to work with them, to be present when key decisions are being made and to find opportunities to grow in their career.

For sure, the Pence rule runs counter to diversity and inclusion by excluding women, isolating them, impacting their career progression as well as regress the advances caused by Diversity and Inclusion related initiatives of the last decade.

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