April 4 2017
Quote of the Day:
But normalizing date-like socializing as a means to succeed in the workplace isn’t particularly feminist and can actually create even more barriers to women’s professional advancement.
--Asha Rangappa, associate dean of Yale Law School, in the Wall Street Journal
Vice President Mike Pence's revelation that he never eats alone with a woman not his wife continues to flutter the feminist dovecots. Nevertheless the veep is receiving some positive reinforcement for this policy.
Outraged feminists are claiming that Pence's rule makes it difficult for women to succeed in the workplace. Mary Vought, however, president of Vought Strategies, LLP, offered her own shocking revelation in the Washington Post. Her article was headlined "I Worked for Mike Pence. Being a Woman Never Held Me Back." She confessed the following:
Pence’s personal decision to not dine alone with female staffers was never a hindrance to my ability to do my job well, and never kept me from reaping the rewards of my work. In fact, I excelled at my job because of the work environment created from the top down, and my personal determination to succeed. I engaged in senior staff meetings and strategy sessions side-by-side with the congressman and my colleagues, and I never felt sidelined because of my gender. My proposals and suggestions were always valued as equal with those of my male counterparts.
As time went on, I was able to prove that I could handle increased responsibilities, and so more responsibilities were provided to me. My gender never factored into how my work was evaluated, or whether my responsibilities were expanded. In fact, the congressman would sometimes send me to GOP leadership communication meetings to represent his voice — and more often than not, I was the only woman in the room. My work product determined my success — not private dinners with the congressman. When looking back on my time in the office of the man who is now vice president, I don’t consider it to be a period of missed opportunities.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not as though then-Congressman Pence was out having private dinners with male staffers and I was excluded. He wasn’t having private dinners much at all. He had children at home, so as often as possible, after voting and his daily duties, he’d race home to share a meal with the people that mattered most to him most: his family. Frankly, he modeled for male and female staffers alike that it was possible to serve in a public role with excellence while being wholly dedicated to his family.
Vought cleverly (and astutely) describes Washington as "a place where many moral compasses go to die." So good on Mike Pence for having rules, even if some of us might consider them a little strict, designed to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Writing in The Federalist, Hans Fiene suggests that the left has its bloomers in a twist over the Pence policy because, unlike Christian conservatives such as Pence, is doesn't accept the idea that men do evil things.
But perhaps the most surprising support for Pence's rule comes from a Yale Law School associate dean, Asha Ranguppa, who argues that a modified "Pence Rule" would actually be good for women. She writes:
Most troubling are the ways in which one-on-one interactions have the potential to be used as weapons against women by men who abuse their power. Most men can be trusted to behave professionally when they are alone with women. But the prevalence of sexual harassment claims, more than 80% of which are filed by women, demonstrates that many cannot. Sexual harassment is rarely an isolated quid pro quo. Rather, the blurring of boundaries between the professional and personal occurs slowly over time, which is why he-said/she-said scenarios are much more common.
A woman shouldn’t have to forgo professional mentoring and advancement if she begins to sense that something doesn’t feel right in her interactions with a superior. But her continued willingness to be alone in casual social situations with a male colleague can later provide him with both cover and a defense if he behaves inappropriately, by suggesting that the woman’s claim is fabricated—and perhaps even that she pursued the advances.
The answer isn’t to shut down informal socializing, which would make most workplaces unbearably monotonous. Sarah Skwire illustrates this well by imagining what would happen if men applied The Rule equally to male and female colleagues. But more than just an interesting thought experiment, this points toward a new Rule 2.0: What if workplace norms simply encouraged informal networking to take place in groups of three or more, regardless of sex?
In an age when sexually related pitfalls could occur as easily among members of the same sex, it would help avoid these situations entirely. The inconvenience of having to include at least one extra person in a social invitation would be offset by promoting inclusiveness and connection across more diverse colleagues. For senior women, who are often expected to fulfill the same mentoring responsibilities as their male counterparts despite having potentially less time to do so, larger gatherings have the added benefit of allowing them to meet this expectation more efficiently.
Structural changes—like increasing parity between men and women in senior positions, or having more equal distribution of child-care responsibilities in marriages—would go a long way to correcting some of the shortcomings I’ve described. Even so, a woman’s success shouldn’t rest on her gazing into her boss’s eyes in the corner of a candlelit bistro. At the very least, Mike Pence has offered us an opportunity to examine, and even challenge, the social dynamics that lead to women’s professional success. He might have unwittingly become a feminist pioneer.