No dinners with female colleagues under 35. Avoid one-to-one meetings. If you must, have it in a room with windows and keep the door open. When travelling do not sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Hiring a woman these days is an "unknown risk", a wealth adviser let on in a recent report on Wall Street's reaction to the #MeToo movement. What if she took something he said the wrong way? It creates a sense of walking on eggshells, was how one former Morgan Stanley executive put it. Collectively, these defensive measures also have a name: the Pence Effect, a nod to United States Vice-President Mike Pence, who famously said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife.
Just over a year after the #MeToo movement was sparked by the Harvey Weinstein scandal, politicians, academics and senior executives across industries and countries have had careers cut short by accusations of sexual harassment. While such acts are inexcusable and should be punished, there is growing concern that #MeToo created unintended consequences that could hobble or shut women out of male-dominated industries. Women are grasping for ideas on how to deal with it, because it is affecting their careers. It is inevitable that a movement as strong as #MeToo would generate reactions, whether out of political correctness, resentment or fear of false accusations. Indeed "MeToo" lost out on top place to "single use" - a nod to sustaining the environment - in Collins Dictionary's list of 10 new and notable words that "reflect an ever-evolving culture and the preoccupations of those who use it". Still, paranoia is not helpful. Granted, gender relations are more fraught these days because of shifting social mores, but witness the current debate generated about whether a decades-old song, Baby, It's Cold Outside, is about date-rape. Surely it is time for everyone to stay level-headed.