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The Number of Men Who Are Uncomfortable Mentoring Women Is Growing

#MeToo has shaken up the workplace. Good—it needed shaking up. A safer workplace for women is a better workplace for everyone.

Still, we have a long way to go before the workplace is truly equal. To get there, we need men to support women’s careers. That means hiring women, giving them the stretch assignments that get them noticed, and promoting them. It means mentoring and sponsoring women—which in turn means spending enough time with them to really help them progress.

We wish we could say that more men are stepping up for women in these ways. In fact, the opposite appears to be happening.

New research by LeanIn.Org and SurveyMonkey reveals that 60% of managers who are men now say they are uncomfortable participating in common job-related activities with women, such as mentoring, working alone together, or socializing together. A year ago, that number was 46%. And senior men are now more hesitant to work with junior women than junior men across a range of activities. One-on-one meetings: senior men are 12 times more likely to hesitate to meet with a woman than a man. Business travel: nine times more likely to hesitate. Work dinners: six times more likely.

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This is disastrous. The vast majority of managers and senior leaders are men. They have a huge role to play in supporting women’s advancement at work—or hindering it. If they’re reluctant even to meet one-on-one with women, there’s no way women can get an equal shot at proving themselves. Instead, women will be overlooked and excluded, which is a terrible waste of talent, creativity, and productivity. It’s not good for business or for anyone.

How can we close the gender gap if senior leaders and managers—the people with the power to hire, promote, and mentor—choose men for too many of the plum assignments requiring close collaboration?

How can a rising star keep rising if she’s excluded from work dinners or passed over for important business trips—not because she’s lacking in talent, but because she’s a woman?

How is that fair? How is that good for business?

There’s not a company in the world that can afford to leave talent on the sidelines because that talent is female. But that’s what will keep happening unless all of us—especially men—commit to doing better.

#MeToo kicked off a new era. The culture is changing. Ugly behavior that once was indulged or ignored is finally being called out and condemned. Now we must go further. Avoiding and isolating women at work—whether out of an overabundance of caution, a misguided sense of decorum, irritation at having to check your words or actions, or any other reason—must be unacceptable too.

Men, if you’re worried that meeting alone with a woman might not look right, please find a better solution. Uncomfortable with one-on-one dinners? Group lunches for everyone. Don’t want to hold closed-door meetings in your office? Move them to a coffee shop, or just keep your door open. Whatever policy you put in place, apply it to both women and men—and treat everyone respectfully. That’s what being a fair manager looks like.

Beyond that, it’s time for men to rethink what it means to be a good boss—or even just a good guy. We’ve had many conversations since #MeToo with men eager to say, for the record, they never did anything inappropriate at work and never would. That’s great. But not harassing women isn’t enough. More deliberate action is needed to support women and make the workplace better for everyone. That means taking a hard look at whose work we celebrate and whose talent we invest in. It means making sure our hiring and review processes are as free from bias as possible. It means going the extra mile to mentor and sponsor people—like women—who are often outnumbered and underestimated.

Our careers have been possible because people along the way believed in us and made sure others knew it. They gave us challenges that let us stretch and prove ourselves and offered generous advice about how to succeed. If a new generation of women is denied that support because men decide that avoiding women is safer and easier than having their backs, it will be a major loss—for women, for men, and for the workplace as a whole.

Let’s expect more of ourselves and one another. That’s how we’ll achieve a workplace that is truly equal for all.

Sheryl Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook Inc. and the founder of LeanIn.Org. Marc Pritchard is the chief brand officer at P&G, a partner of Lean In.

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