The #MeToo movement may have started with good intentions, but it is already leading to a number of unforeseen consequences. In addition to the elements of the movement that demonize men and declare that all women must be believed regardless of whether or not the evidence is on their side, the #MeToo movement has now begun to harm the careers of many women as well.
The #MeToo movement has made men in positions of power very wary. That was largely the intentions of the movement all along – to put men in power on notice and let them know that they won’t be able to get away with sexual assault and harassment. The problem is that the #MeToo movement has made men in positions of authority who have no intention of abusing their power or committing sexual misconduct very wary as well. They have seen the results of others who have been wrongly accused of sexual misconduct in the workplace, and, for some of them, the answer to mitigating this risk is to avoid working with women entirely. It’s a sad, unfortunate response, but an unavoidable one nonetheless.
In an era where any woman can destroy the entire career of any man with just a single, unproven claim, hiring women inevitably becomes a risk. It’s true that the vast majority of female employees would never make false claims about their employer. However, those employers have no way of knowing whether or not the woman that they are interviewing is willing to ruin their career. All they know is that, thanks to the #MeToo movement, any woman they interview is capable of ending their career.
Recently, Bloomberg interviewed 30 different senior Wall Street executives who all said that they were “spooked” by the #MeToo movement and the workplace environment that it has created. According to one unnamed wealth advisor in the interview, hiring a female employee is now “an unknown risk.”
It doesn’t have to be this way. When a wealth advisor takes on a new client, he doesn’t have to worry about that client falsely claiming he is embezzling funds or stealing from them. The client may very well make such a claim, but they wouldn’t be able to prove it if it wasn’t true, and the wealth advisor wouldn’t suffer any consequences unless they actually committed the crime. Under the new rules of the #MeToo movement, though, even a claim of sexual misconduct comes with dire penalties.
An executive who is falsely accused of sexual misconduct may not go to prison if his accuser cannot prove that he is guilty, but he will likely lose his job as well as his reputation, effectively ending his entire career. These consequences come no matter how little proof the accuser may have. In the era of #MeToo witch hunts, the safeguard of “innocent until proven guilty” loses all value. Faced with this reality, the solution for far too many executives is to simply avoid working with women entirely.
Not hiring women due to fear of false sexual misconduct claims is not only very damaging to women in the workplace, it’s also a risky line for male executives to walk as well. According to one employment attorney named Stephen Zweig, “If men avoid working or traveling with women alone, or stop mentoring women for fear of being accused of sexual harassment, those men are going to back out of a sexual harassment complaint and right into a sex discrimination complaint.”
Male executives who fear false sexual misconduct allegations are really left with no good solution. Likewise, women who are now struggling even more to fit in and climb the ladder at work are left with no good solution as well. It’s safe to say at this point that #MeToo movement is backfiring in a big way.
The only answer is to get back to treating sexual misconduct allegations just like all other criminal accusation – the accusations must be tried in a real court rather than the court of public opinion, and the accused must be proven guilty before they are forced to face any consequences for their supposed actions. In our current environment regarding sexual misconduct, though – the environment that the #MeToo movement has created – this may no longer be a possibility.