Genders Aren’t Mixing At Work And It’s Hurting Women’s Progress


People think most one-on-one interactions with colleagues of the opposite sex are "inappropriate." Here's why that matters.

A recent study conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of the New York Times shed light on a facet of American work culture that has a significant impact on inequity: Women and men make each other uncomfortable in the context of working relationships.

In the survey of over 5,000 people, nearly two-thirds said individuals should take extra precaution around members of the opposite sex. In the proposed situations—having a drink, having dinner, having lunch, driving in a car, and having a work meeting—women found these one-on-one interactions to be more inappropriate than men did across the board. 

All of which isn’t surprising, considering the longstanding history of women being sexually harassed in the workplace. We’re seeing it play out on a horrific scale in Silicon Valley right now, and let’s be honest: Pretty much everyone and their mother (and their sisters and their cousins) can speak to a personal encounter with inappropriate behavior.

Men also expressed discomfort, with just under half saying having a drink or having dinner one-on-one is inappropriate. But when it comes to men and women feeling uncomfortable in these types of interactions, there’s an important distinction to be made, because the dynamics at play are not equal.

Whereas women largely fear for their personal safety, men fear perceived impropriety and their own lack of restraint.

As 29-year-old construction worker Christopher Mauldin put it in the Times article, he has concerns that “false accusations create irreversible damages to reputations.” He also acknowledged that “temptation is always a factor.”

A few months back, Vice President Mike Pence made news with re-surfaced comments from 2002 explaining that he doesn’t eat alone with women other than his wife and that he won’t go to events where there is alcohol unless she’s with him.

From this we may draw two conclusions: 1.) Mike Pence doesn’t trust himself to behave appropriately around women who are not his wife, and/or 2.) He believes women won’t behave appropriately around him, because we’re all a bunch of seductresses.

Either way, deeply problematic. Despite the progress that’s being made, men still dominate the workplace. They hold more positions of power, and because members of the opposite sex are scared of interacting, women will continue to be left out of opportunities big and small that add up to career progress—that after-work scotch in the boss’ office, that three-day trip to close a deal across the country. 

Does it really need to be this way, though? At the heart of this is issue, there’s a deep-rooted problem of accountability. Since time immemorial, men have gotten a pass as they act on their “animal instincts,” while women—in humanity’s lamest-ever attempt at flattery—are depicted as morally superior, charged with upholding the pillars of society (good luck, Mrs. Pence). 

But the thing is, women aren’t morally superior. We have the same ability to make an inappropriate comment to a co-worker as men do. But the lack of consequences men have seen on this front has morphed itself into blamelessness.

And until we can acknowledge that we’re all equally capable of making mistakes and showing restraint, these damaging inequities will live on. 

Words: Deena Drewis
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch