Did you catch the news that 60% of male managers are now uncomfortable in ordinary business activities with women? They worry about mentoring a woman, working alone with a woman, or eating a business dinner with a woman.

The research from LeanIn.org found senior men are way more likely to hesitate about doing any of those things with a woman versus a man who shares her level of experience.

Really? What are these guys afraid of?

The specter of a sexual harassment allegation apparently haunts male executives. They blame their heebie-jeebies on #MeToo.

They’re nervous that something they say or do will be misinterpreted. Or that their female colleague will just out-and-out lie, accuse them of something they didn’t do and get them in trouble.

More than a third of the men say they’ve avoided mentoring women or socializing with female colleagues because they were nervous about how it would look to colleagues, clients, and the little lady back home.

Okay, I’m kidding about the last part. Just because a guy refuses to align with advancement for women, it doesn’t mean he’s backward enough to call his wife “the little lady.”

My friends are more enlightened. Or not…

 Surely, I thought, the men I know aren’t preoccupied with avoiding sexual harassment allegations by simply avoiding women at work.

Well, maybe a few of them are. Here’s what they told me on Facebook:

  • “Unfortunately in the era of MeToo, no man is safe from false allegations.”
  • “The upside just isn’t there for him. Meanwhile, the downside is disastrous for him and his family.”
  • “There are way too many instances of false allegations for men not to be leery these days.”
  • “Trust us on this-It happens. And it only takes once. Not worth the risk. As a man in the workplace, here is what you say to your co-workers: ‘Good morning’ and ‘See you tomorrow.’ Nothing else.”
  • “It is not out of the realm of possibility for a young woman to use the current climate against a man to extract benefits from the company, ruining the man’s life in the process…the men who are now avoiding being alone with young women are being completely rational.”

Some men see it differently.

  • “I never had any issues with dealing one to one with women. Given that nearly half of all attorneys are women, it would be impossible for me to work if I did not meet with women.”
  • “Treat everyone with the respect they deserve and there should be no problems.”
  • “If men treat their women colleagues as they treat their male colleagues there shouldn’t be a problem. Or fall back on the old adage about treating all women the way you would treat your mother or sister.”
  • “From my perspective, it’s not about gender but more so about the caliber of the people involved.”
  • “Men And Women Can Work Together In The Office As Long As They COMMUNICATE!”

And what do women have to say?

  • “Sounds like another excuse to keep women down, no meeting, no chance of being in the know of what is happening. Don’t let the male ego dominate the situation.”
  • “Oh for Pete’s Sake! I read these comments and just face palm! I managed a retail store with 60 employees, many male. I was alone with them all the time. Men and women absolutely can work together.”
  • “I wish Facebook would add an eye roll button. Regarding the supposed trust issues/legal concerns brought up in this thread…that’s total rubbish.”

Who’s losing out here?

50% of men say that the consequences of sexual harassment are more damaging to the harassers than to those who are patronized, patted or propositioned.

The truth is, whether it’s real anxiety or a cynical smokescreen, this fear of interacting with women at work is a big barrier—for women.

LeanIn’s Sheryl Sandberg points out, “The vast majority of managers and senior leaders are men. If they are reluctant to even meet one-on-one with women, there’s no way women can get an equal shot at proving themselves.”

The reluctance to fully engage with female colleagues hurts companies too. As Sandberg says, “There’s not a company in the world that can afford to leave talent on the sidelines because it’s female.”

Aside from taking full advantage of the talent they have, LeanIn’s president says businesses benefit by hiring and promoting women. “When they employ more women, sexual harassment is less prevalent. And when women hold more leadership roles, profits are higher and workplace policies are more generous. Supporting women makes companies stronger and safer.”

You may be quaking in your boots about some woman saying something about you. Or maybe you think it’s possible for men and women to work together, support each other and create successful and profitable businesses.

Post a comment below and share your perspective.