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Balancing Act: A few pointers for the 60% of male managers who now say they’re uncomfortable mentoring women

Let's talk about that recent report finding 60% of male managers say they're uncomfortable mentoring or working alone with women.

LeanIn.org, an advocacy group that pushes for equitable workplaces, partnered with SurveyMonkey to research what men and women are experiencing in the workplace in the #MeToo era.

Some key findings:

– Sixty percent of male managers are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone or socializing together – a 32% jump from a year ago.

– Thirty-six percent of men say they've avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look.

– Senior-level men are more hesitant to spend time with junior women than with junior men in a range of capacities. They're 12 times more likely to hesitate to have one-on-one meetings with junior women than junior men, nine times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with junior women than junior men and six times more likely to hesitate to schedule work dinners with junior women than junior men.

Sheryl Sandberg, founder of LeanIn.org, cautions not to take the survey results as evidence that #MeToo backfired.

The movement – which got men and women speaking up about experiences they barely dared to whisper before, got companies thinking long and hard about their cultures, got a few serial predators moved out of their positions of power, got us refusing to keep playing by the old workplace rules, got us talking about consent – has done tremendous good.

"The thing is, it's not enough," Sandberg said in a recent CNBC interview. "It's really important to not harass anyone, but that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored."

I'm confused about the root of these male managers' discomfort. Do they not know how to interact with women in a way that doesn't accidentally (or overtly) imply they'd like to sleep with them? Or do they worry that #MeToo has women going around, willy-nilly, making up stories of harassment and assaults that didn't happen, and they can't risk being the subject of such stories?

The second worry is easy to address. False claims of harassment and assault are extremely rare and fall apart quickly upon closer inspection. (See: Smollett, Jussie.)

The first worry, I suppose, is trickier to answer, although it shouldn't be. By the time you're a grown-up, and certainly a grown-up who manages other grown-ups, you should be able to comport yourself in a way that doesn't make people worry you're trying to rape them.

Don't masturbate into potted plants, as Harvey Weinstein is alleged to have done.

Don't have a secret button that locks your office door behind people, as Matt Lauer is alleged to have done.

Don't send a bunch of gross, inappropriate texts to a direct report, as Kevin Quinn, a former staffer for House Speaker Michael Madigan, is alleged to have done.

Pretty basic stuff.

There's a wide spectrum of behaviors between "harassing" and "ignoring," and I'm confident that these nervous male managers can find a place to land somewhere along the middle.

My suggestions, if anyone is interested:

Treat your female colleagues and subordinates the way you'd want to be treated by a male in power. Would you want him to tell you how nice you look in that suit? Would you want him to ask if you're happy in your relationship? Would you want him to rest his hand lightly on your shoulder when he talks?

Talk to your female colleagues and subordinates about the same topics you talk to your male colleagues and subordinates about: The NBA Finals. Their kids' summer break plans. The China tariffs. The weather. Your book club. Why the break room coffee is so bad. The profit-and-loss report that's due later that day.

Think of your female colleagues and subordinates as humans, just like you. Humans who are there to do their jobs and use their brains and contribute to the company's bottom line and advance in their chosen field.

You don't have to picture them as your daughter or your wife or your mother or whatever other female relative is conjured when we read the latest #MeToo story and someone cries, "Do these guys not have daughters? (Wives/mothers/sisters)"

Humans. Just think of them, talk to them, treat them like humans. Humans who are your equals and your partners and, if you're a supervisor, your responsibility – to mentor, to invest in, to believe in, to lift up, to help. Ignoring them won't cut it.

I'm confident we can get there together.

Join the Heidi Stevens Balancing Act Facebook group, where she continues the conversation around her columns and hosts occasional live chats.

hstevens@chicagotribune.com

(Contact Heidi Stevens at hstevens@tribune.com, or on Twitter: @heidistevens13.)

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