Friday, October 15, 2021
Ann C. McGinley, #MeToo Backlash or Simply Common Sense?: It’s Complicated, 50 Seton Hall L. Rev. 1397 (2020).
The #MeToo movement brought much needed awareness and momentum to societal and workplace culture change. Indeed, some perceive that the “movement has led to increased employer response, including updating of sexual harassment policies, providing guidance about appropriate work behavior, providing information about reporting harassment, and stopping or removing problematic employees.” Unfortunately, the movement has also led to unintended effects of decreasing sponsor and mentor opportunities for women by men in leadership who fear sexual harassment allegations. Such fears, as discussed in this article, arise from stereotypes prohibited by law and include an unsupported presumption of frequent false allegations, not to mention are predicated on a heterosexual worldview. These fears can lead to men in positions of leadership refusing to engage in common work activities such as “mentoring, socializing, one-on-one meetings,” and travel with a female colleague or subordinate, although they will engage in these activities with similarly situated male colleagues. While this article acknowledges that something needs to be done to address these fears, Professor McGinley is adamant that “refusing to mentor and sponsor female lawyers is not the way to go.”
In fact, it is detrimental to the advancement of women in the workplace. “Research demonstrates the importance of sponsorship, particularly for women and people of color” and “[i]n order for women to succeed [equivalent to their male counterparts], men must actively mentor and sponsor them.” This is because, as Professor McGinley points out, that with the “vast majority of manager and senior leaders” being men, they have a central role in whether women’s advancement is promoted or hindered at work, simply by their choice of whether to be a sponsor. The importance of sponsorship is summed up in this anecdote:
One tax attorney described how he supported his protégé all the way to partnership, having hired her in the first place. He was confident of her ability to deliver and when long-term clients demurred at liaising primarily with a junior person, this attorney vouched for her expertise. When she became the target of unfair criticism by another partner, he intervened, extorting from that partner an apology and a promise to look at the evidence and be less judgmental. In subtle and overt ways, he ensured that she was able to thrive which indeed she did, making partner in four years.
Professor McGinley takes the reader through the current status of sexual harassment law and its drawbacks in addressing this problem and others. The article also sets forth solutions for how the law and employers can move forward in advancing women in the workplace by addressing more effectively sexual harassment and its direct and indirect effects.