Getting men who are uncomfortable, comfortable

I read about the survey done by and then someone sent me the findings post the sexual harassment reports that men managers are three times as likely to be uncomfortable mentoring women, twice as uncomfortable working alone with a woman and senior men (not sure what denotes senior) are three and a half times hesitant about meeting a woman solo at a work dinner and five times hesitant about traveling with a junior woman.

These findings are interesting on many levels.  They were done by Survey Money so people (men) did them in the privacy of their own place so we can assume they are true.  On one hand, I wonder why men who have upstanding behavior would feel uncomfortable so I have to believe it is the ones who are either insecure or fearful of themselves in these situations biting them in the ass.  Quite frankly, the latter is scary and doesn’t say much about the men that took the survey.  In fact it says that these men are the type of men that I make me wonder who kicked them up the ladder.

Mentoring young women is an extremely important part of achieving equality in the workplace.  It is essential to bring young women up the ladder where they are learning from their male leaders and counterparts and of course their female leaders but the reality is there are more male leaders.  By mentoring young women it helps them gain respect and move into more powerful roles.  I appreciate the PR campaign that is being tweeted out by some major male CEO’s saying Men Commit to Mentor Women #Mentor Her/ but not exactly sure how that is going to move the needle.

What do we do with the men who feel uncomfortable in these roles?  We need to come up with solutions so they do not feel uncomfortable.  Mentor two women at a time.  Don’t close a door when it is just a male executive and a female executive until you feel comfortable.  We should absolutely be highlighting powerful men who have mentored women through their careers and show how that has been impactful to the women and even to themselves but that is just amplification.  Shouldn’t we be teaching men and women how to behave in business situations from a young age? To learn what is is responsible behavior in the workplace?  What we should be thinking about is how do we get the men who feel uncomfortable, comfortable?

Comments (Archived):

  1. awaldstein

    This is important.I’ve mentored a number of women and been lucky in my career in tech to have worked for some of the early women pioneers.So maybe i’m an exception.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I would hope that you are the norm. It appears from this survey you are not.I fear that PR around this issue is short lived. How do we change the men who are afraid of themselves?

      1. awaldstein

        I just got off a call with a client who decided against a well qualified applicant who gave inklings of concern. I know it is not necessarily scalable but we/I can begin by voicing my thoughts and being cognizant of the importance of this as a core component of being a leader.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Interesting. Let’s hope that companies are hiring the good guys.

          1. awaldstein

            Being aware is always the first step to change.

          2. Gotham Gal


          3. pointsnfigures

            @awaldstein you are independent. If you are a male and work for a company or partnership, there is reason to tread carefully. The threat of a lawsuit combined with social media attacks are real. They are career enders. I know of people at large firms that have been threatened by women-unfairly.I think one of the problems today is no one knows what the right behavior actually is. Can a man ask a woman if she’s married? Kids? Or is that sexual harassment? Can a man open a door? Can a man say you look nice today?Clearly, if you are at all self aware you know the things that are off limits. No touching. No using your position as a power play to get a woman. But the problem is the lines are very blurred right now. Some of what is right and wrong is totally subjective and not objective.I don’t disagree with @thegothamgal, men should freely mentor women. Women are a part of the workforce, and by the way, the workforce is better with them in it. Without mentorship, they aren’t as productive. They will also grow up and mentor the next generation-so it’s also about company sustainability.

          4. Gotham Gal

            You aren’t reading what I wrote. Men should absolutely mentor women and figure out how to feel comfortable doing it

          5. Pointsandfigures

            I think I am. They fear lawsuits and reprisals

          6. awaldstein

            I don’t dismiss your concerns.But I see no business instance where whether someone is married or has children is ever a concern for me unless brought up. Management training has been harping on language and sexism for the last decade so that has nothing to do with meto.Whether it is sexist to open a door let a women in your building out of the elevator, kinda ridiculous honestly.But I do agree that in structural organizational jobs being smart is just that. And it creates all sorts of problems that force owners to never be alone with employees especially female and in turn impacts your ability to manage. That is real.

          7. pointsnfigures

            Asking someone about their family is how you build a human relationship. We aren’t robots. One of the most striking things in the book LeanIN is that when men give performance reviews to women at investment banks, they are robotic. Same review, same situation with male on male there is totally different body language and conversation. The underlying reason-fear of a sexual harassment lawsuit.Today, it takes longer and is harder to build professional relationships with someone from the opposite sex.Is it ridiculous? We are seeing all kinds of crazy things today.Maybe data is helpful. Did you see the study where female Uber drivers earned 7% less than male drivers?… Similar to the reasons Marianne Bertrand found in other occupations.Additionally, I think we need to get away from the immediate rush to judgement. Let the facts come out. The Duke Lacrosse team wasn’t guilty, the frats at Virginia not guilty. You wonder if some of the settlements which were paid were just a calculation of it being cheaper than going to court.At the same time, it’s naive to think there isn’t sex harassment. Very tricky razor blade to tread on.

          8. awaldstein

            I think you are missing my point.Certainly you need to be aware. Certainly I am not a robot. Factually I have given thousands of reviews to people and in marketing orgs, were always a large percent women as I made it so in mine.But–you cannot and should not ever in a professional environment ask for personal details unless volunteered. During an interview asking if you are married is the same as asking if you believe in god, are gay or anything.Everything comes out but you never never ask anything in that arena. Been in guidelines for decades. Certainly any grown mature adult can handle a conversation without overtly demanding information.

          9. TanyaMonteiro

            staying aware is too

  2. Jim K

    Controlling what’s hard wired into men is much harder than you think

    1. Jim K

      Ubiquitous video recording/monitoring aka radical transparency can fix it

    2. Mariah Lichtenstern

      If you are referring to sexuality, it is hard-wired into all of us as evidenced by puberty. What makes us unique as humans is the ability (barring some pathology) to elevate beyond our carnality for various civil / spiritual / practical reasons. As some men have shared with me when discussing this topic, there are some “thirsty” women out there too. They are as obnoxious as the men catching heat. The difference is the power dynamics. I’ve also been met with “women are distracting,” and assumptions of marital strife associated with cross-gender mentorship. When it comes down to it, I can think of a multitude of solutions for each objection including a lack of interest / motivation among the most stubborn and sexist men.What needs to happen – at every level – is training and conditioning so that men and women can speak openly about their respective concerns and expectations, recognizing that there will be diversity of views even among genders, and become “comfortable” as Joanne puts it with our differences and commonalities. Put men and women of different ages and backgrounds in a room with dry erase markers and post its to discuss each and every aspect of the problem and its solutions. Instead of a war room, make it a peace room where a treaties of Co-Ed empowerment can begin and evolve. Solutions today may be drastically different 5-10 years from now.One resource that has a degree of accountability and can be bolstered is SBA’s SCORE, which has opened up beyond retired professionals. It would make a lot of sense to have an incentive program for executives, managers, etc. to participate in SCORE as mentors. Facilities are available to meet (I regularly met my SCORE mentor at Starbucks and a quite restaurant with WiFI) and each chapter has a social component that affords structure, support, and socialization. The program could really use more enterprise-minded mentors as most mentors presently have SMB backgrounds. It could also use a little CivTech.Regarding family / spouse / partner concerns, choosing a confident spouse and being a partner with integrity goes a long way, but having regular family socials through an organization like SCORE extends the support system and could help address some of the cross-gender mentorship concerns.

  3. LE

    On one hand, I wonder why men who have upstanding behavior would feel uncomfortable so I have to believe it is the ones who are either insecure or fearful of themselves in these situations biting them in the ass. I don’t work in a ‘corporation’ (like that – it’s my corporation) but in terms of being a business person I can tell you the issue is this. It’s not how I feel or what I would do, but what my wife would think. She would not be happy with me having any repeat personal meetings with women (as a mentor) so it pretty much ends right there. And it has nothing to do with trust at all either. We discussed this within the last few weeks (think it was even as a result of something you wrote actually.)There was one woman that I did mentor (prior to getting engaged/married for the 2nd time). I really enjoyed it and she found it valuable (and it helped her get on Shark Tank twice ). However I never forget the time that her husband showed up to see who I was and check me out where we were meeting. She used to show up at the Starbucks with her notepad and ask me any and every question. It was clear she was going out of her way to be there when I was (nothing formal setup). But I was single at the time. Not sure I would do that today I wouldn’t feel comfortable. She also thanked me in person when she met my wife for what I had done for her. Since I had only been dating my wife for a short time that really felt great.

  4. JLM

    .Men working with women is not a new phenomenon. Neither is men misbehaving. [Normally, this is when I would say this generation did not invent sex or business, but that might be out of line given the subject, so I will not.]It is a CEO’s job to create a work environment in which people can do their best work, part of which is to create a “safe” environment. Allow yourself the luxury of defining that feeling of safety as broadly as you desire.The mark of a gentleman is to make others feel comfortable in his presence.A CEO should be both a good CEO and a gentleman. They are not in conflict with each other.Part of being a gentleman is to be courteous to all, but, in particular, women. There is no downside to being mannerly in running any enterprise. I might even suggest that good manners set an example for the entire enterprise and, who knows, maybe they might become contagious.A CEO should take care to ensure that as part of his environmental culture he does not allow the presence of conditions which would trigger or provide a fertile basis for mischief of all kinds.Toward that end, I have always been cautious as to what situations I allow myself to create or be drawn into.Yesterday, I was mentoring a young woman CEO at Austin Tech Stars. I make it a practice to meet at Tech Stars and to use one of their glass walled conference rooms. I am not a prude, but there is no reason to create an atmosphere which might be misconstrued. I am not even remotely uncomfortable, but I am prudent.As to having a meeting, dinner, traveling with a junior woman, I would simply not do it.I had female division chiefs and CFOs, but I would never allow myself to be in a situation which could be misconstrued or make the woman feel uncomfortable. This is just common sense.What we all should do is be professional, dignified, gentlemanly, and fair. CEOs should lead by example. Force feeding is not the answer.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

    1. lisa hickey

      “A CEO should be both a good CEO and a gentleman.” Or a CEO can be a woman. None of those things are in conflict with each other.

  5. Pranay Srinivasan

    The biggest issue occurs when ‘Men’tors conflate women mentees passion for “professional growth using their advice” with passion for “them”

  6. Steve Mushero

    Interesting – I used to feel a bit this way when I was a young(er) startup VP, being careful of long 1:1 meetings with female subordinates in their office or other no-visibility locations, in theory just to avoid any problems or insinuations. I no longer worry about this, as it’s both not fair and just a bit odd – but I do understand the sentiment, and I speak as someone who has long mentored, promoted, and supported women in a wide variety of roles.

  7. jason wright

    it’s called going defensive.

  8. SJury

    “On one hand, I wonder why men who have upstanding behavior would feel uncomfortable so I have to believe it is the ones who are either insecure or fearful of themselves in these situations biting them in the ass. Quite frankly, the latter is scary and doesn’t say much about the men that took the survey. In fact it says that these men are the type of men that I make me wonder who kicked them up the ladder.”I don’t know how the questions were phrased but your comments are a little surprising.I’ve mentored many women in my career and will continue to do so. I have never been accused of harassment or inappropriate behavior, however I like many other men, now feel more uncomfortable.The reality is that if I went on a business trip with a 30 year old female, and she came back and claimed that I did, or said something that made her feel uncomfortable, do you honestly believe I would get a fair hearing? I stand to lose a career, a reputation and considerable wealth. The downside skew is absurdly against me.Your response would be that if I’ve never done anything, what do I have to fear. Maybe. But what if someone sees a way out of their sub-par performance issues, a way to goose that disappointing bonus? Cynical but I ask again, is the risk/reward skew in my favor? What’s the upside.That’s why men with “upstanding behavior would feel uncomfortable”.

  9. Jeremy Robinson

    I’ve been coaching and mentoring people my entire professional life- in fact, I made it my profession about 30 years ago. So….sometimes when we mentor people who are very much different than us- for whatever reason- we get uncomfortable. I want to underline in bright lines that getting uncomfortable emotionally or intellectually has nothing to do with sexual attraction. Sexual attraction has no place in mentoring or coaching. Period. If you can’t put that off to the side and have those boundaries with people, don’t mentor or coach them. Assuming you can, when you get uncomfortable it probably is a good thing- it means that person is way different than you or is triggering something emotionally. Tolerating these differences is how we grow. Living in the land of only being around people who make us comfortable is what TS Elliot referred to as “death in life.”

  10. TanyaMonteiro

    Relate to so much in this post. It’s absolutely the key forward. Let’s start a feed sharing examples of male mentors we have worked with in our lives. Totally agree with the person who said #radicaltransparnacy – this is a medicine for so so much in business today. Looking forward to more on this topic,

  11. jason wright

    to paraphrase Shakespeare…no man of woman born. where does it all begin to go wrong with men who behave badly? Is it nature, is it nurture, what is it?

    1. Gotham Gal

      nature, nurture? that is a big question.