Former Secretary of State Dr. Condoleezza Rice vocalized what many women are thinking about the #MeToo movement. It’s good to bring wrongs to the light, but if we're not careful it can lead to a backlash against women.
In an interview with David Axelrod for CNN, he asked Rice if she had ever been exposed to sexual harassment. Rice was candid:
"I've certainly had people say inappropriate things. I've certainly had people suggest that maybe we should just go out — and you know — and situations in which it was somebody more senior than I.
“I've never faced a quid pro quo – an explicit quid pro quo. I've never had anyone do anything that I would consider assault. But I don't know a woman alive who hasn't had somebody say or do something that was inappropriate at best and aggressive at worst."
Rice is supportive but cautious of the #MeToo movement:
"I think that the movement to expose these circumstances is a good thing. Let's clear the air about it. I do think we have to be a little bit careful. Let's not turn women into snowflakes. Let's not infantilize women."
Her most notable observation is that this movement could lead to harmful unintended consequences for women in the workforce:
"I really don't want to get to a place that men start to think, 'Well, maybe it's just better not to have women around.' I've heard a little bit of that. And it, it worries me."
Dr. Rice is not the first high-profile women to recognize that in an effort to prompt women to come forward with their stories, there could be a backlash against women. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandburg made similar observations in an essay last fall noting the chilling of relationships in the workplace between men and women out of fear and how it hurts women who benefit from one-on-one time with more senior men:
Four years ago, I wrote in Lean In that 64 percent of senior male managers were afraid to be alone with a female colleague, in part because of fears of being accused of sexual harassment. The problem with this is that mentoring almost always occurs in one-on-one settings…
Those networking interactions such as coffee meetings, lunches, and happy hours are an opportunity for younger workers to create social capital as my colleague Hadley Manning writes. If men in position feel that such meetings could lead to accusations of harassment, they may be less inclined to be alone with young women. That hurts female workers, especially those in industries where women are underrepresented.
Sexual harassment is wrong and there’s no excuse. It’s a good thing to bring wrongdoing to the light, and even better to know that efforts are underway to help victims seek redress.
For too long crimes and serious wrongs have gone undressed. However, we have to guard against responses that paint all men with a broad brush as predators. Men are allies in changing society for the better. If we don’t, we may continue to see a chilling effect in the workplace that undoes the gains women are making.