Twana Harris

Twana Harris teaches a class about diversity and inclusion. — Courtesy of Exude Inc.

As high-powered men across various industries have faced a reckoning for their treatment of women in the wave of the #MeToo movement, other men have stepped back from interacting with women in the workplace.

Recent polls show men are distancing themselves from mentoring their female colleagues, which prevents those women from gaining additional knowledge and the promotions that come with it.

“Women have a particular challenge in finding mentorship, specifically women of color, and we must be mindful of the unintended impact of a positive movement like the #MeToo movement,” said Twana Harris, a senior human resources consultant with Exude Inc.

Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce (49.6%), but hold only slightly more than a third (40%) of management positions, according to data from Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works with businesses to make workplaces “that work for women.” Approximately 32.6% of management positions are held by white women, 6.2% are held by Latinas, 3.8% are held by Black women and 2.4% are held by Asian women.

Studies have shown that having an influential mentor can help an employee advance in the workplace.

Yet a 2019 study by the Harvard Business Review found that 22% of men and 44% of women agreed that men are generally likely to leave women out of social settings.

And 60% of men in management positions surveyed by LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey.com said they have been reluctant to spend one-on-one time with women outside of working hours.

“I really like mentoring, however, why should I put myself at risk of the perception of wrongdoing that could ruin my career?” said a male business leader who spoke at one of Harris’ seminars.

“The office place should be a zone where no one should have to be worried about being singled out, accosted or otherwise attacked,” said Chris Salley, a double certified human resources professional who works at Comcast.

However, Salley sees men shying away from women in the workplace as a personal problem.

“Anyone who has reservations about one-on-one meetings probably has deeper issues that need to be sorted out,” he said.

Harris suggests that companies create safe social events where men can interact with and mentor women, such as group mentoring circles and virtual mentoring opportunities.

“It’s important now, more than ever to reassure co-workers and friends that their networks can offer support to those who seek it,” Salley said.

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