Recently the New York Times published an article about whether or not it’s perceived as appropriate for a man and woman to meet inside the workplace and out, even including car rides to meetings in the mix. The article cites a high percentage of people – both men and women – who feel it’s not appropriate to meet one-on-one with a member of the opposite sex.
What is this – the When Harry Met Sally Theory of Co-ed Business??
In the wonderfully iconic movie, Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) tells his former college flame Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) that “Men and women can never be friends because the sex part always gets in the way…. because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive [because] he always wants to have sex with her.” And that gets in the way (watch the full clip here).
And apparently, many people still believe this. Fears associated with mixed-gender two-person meetings, according to respondents to the 2017 poll, include sexual harassment, the appearance of impropriety, and presumably temptation.
The article in the Upshot section of the NYT is apparently in response to a recently revived quote from Vice President Michael Pence. But more on that in a minute…
Here is an excerpt of the NYT article:
“Many men and women are wary of a range of one-on-one situations, the poll found. Around a quarter think private work meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate. Nearly two-thirds say people should take extra caution around members of the opposite sex at work. A majority of women, and nearly half of men, say it’s unacceptable to have dinner or drinks alone with someone of the opposite sex other than their spouse.”
This follows an article from the Washington Post on March 28, profiling Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, in which an old quote from Mike Pence is revisited.
“In 2002, Mike Pence [said] that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side either,” according to the Washington Post. In this earnest look at Karen Pence’s role in her husband’s professional life, we see a portrait of a strong bond between husband and wife. I am happy for Mike and Karen Pence that they are so close and mutually devoted. But I have to wonder, what exactly is the driving force behind this absolute restriction? Fear of temptation? Prevention of gossip and rumors? Distrust of women (i.e., fear that they will accuse him of sexual harassment)? Prevention of spousal jealousy? It seems awfully extreme to me. We live in a world where much business is done not only on the golf course, but also in restaurants and yes, even coffee shops and bars.
The NYT article goes on to point out some of the pitfalls of this restrictive approach to human interaction in and around the workplace.
“One reason women stall professionally, research shows, is that people have a tendency to hire, promote and mentor people like themselves. When men avoid solo interactions with women — a catch-up lunch or late night finishing a project — it puts women at a disadvantage,” says NYT Upshot author Claire Cain Miller.