Careers

Sheryl Sandberg has an answer for men who say they're 'afraid' to be alone with women

Sheryl Sandberg
Kimberly White | Getty Images
Sheryl Sandberg

There's a long overdue conversation happening on social media, among friends and in many offices right now — how to stop, as well as address, the sexual harassment and misconduct many women experience at work. As part of this, many men are looking inward, wondering how they can stop being part of the problem.

But according to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, there could be an unintended consequence of public conversation, and it could spell bad news for women.

"The percentage of men who will be afraid to be alone with a female colleague has to be sky high right now," Sandberg writes.

Isolating women would have many negative impacts, most tangibly, that women would lose out on mentorship and sponsorship opportunities. This could exacerbate existing problems, such as the fact that women are already less likely to be promoted than men. They're also more likely to be underpaid.

There's a simple solution, however, according to the Facebook executive.

"Whether that means you take all your direct reports out to dinner or none of them," Sandberg writes, "the key is to give men and women equal opportunities to succeed."

"Doing right by women in the workplace does not just mean treating them with respect. It also means not isolating or ignoring them — and making access equal," the COO adds.

Leaving women out of important meetings or conversations, Sandberg says, would be a step in the wrong direction.

"Only 13 countries and six percent of Fortune 500 companies are run by women," she writes. "Just 13 percent of police officers are women, and only a few hundred are police chiefs. And less than 20 percent of the U.S. Congress is female."

Sallie Krawcheck, who founded the investing company Ellevest, says that this leadership gap also affects businesses' bottom lines.

In a New York Times op-ed, she writes, "Despite research showing that companies with more diversity, and particularly more women in leadership, offer higher returns on capital, lower risk and greater innovation than firms without such leadership, Wall Street has been, and is, predominantly male at the top."

Fixing the way women are treated at work, Sandberg says, is better for everyone.

In response to the post, Facebook CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckberg expressed his support, writing, "This is so important and I know the advice to establish clear principles and policies will help improve many organizations."

"This is a critical moment to remind ourselves how important this is. So much good is happening to fix workplaces right now," Sandberg writes. "Let's make sure it does not have the unintended consequence of holding women back."

Read more: 5 ways men can address and help prevent sexual harassment at work