Partnership & Accountability blog series

Partnership & Accountability blog series

Accountability to the women´s and to social justice movements is crucial for building collaborative and equitable partnerships. Accountability requires the development of a receptive capacity in men and others who have been placed in positions of power and privilege, so that they can listen to the perspectives and needs of oppressed groups in order to become authentic allies. Accountability and partnership building also require us to engage in respectful dialogues, and a willingness to constantly address issues and concerns raised by our partners.

We hope that this blog series contributes to these ongoing conversations and serves as another platform to share useful information.

Blog posts are written by member and partners of MenEngage, for whom we provide a platform for dialogue. The opinions expressed in the posts do not necessarily represent those of the MenEngage Alliance.

To learn more about MenEngage & Accountability go to www.menengage.org/accountability

Friday, February 9, 2018

#MentorHer is a Feeble effort at Redemption

By Abhijit Das*

The global #MeToo campaign and movement by women, which called out the sexual harassment that women have to face in the workplace has now come up with a response #MentorHer. This campaign was launched on the 6th of February through the website LeanIn.org. The campaign has been informed by a survey among nearly 3000 men and women in the US and aims to “get more men to mentor women in the workplace”. #MentorHer has been launched to mitigate the potential backlash against women in the workplace, especially in the corporate sector. It acknowledges that now managers ‘feel uncomfortable working with a woman’. It assumes that once mentored more women will lead and when women lead the workplace will be ‘stronger and safer for everyone'. Thirty eight CEO’s have committed to mentoring women in the workplace. Mentoring is recognized as a powerful learning and grooming tool for leaders. It is a form of inter-generational learning, a tool for passing skills and values between trusted associates. It is also volitional, or mutual, where the best mentorship takes place only when the mentor and mentored both agree.

On the face of it #MentorHer appears to be a good strategy to develop women’s leadership in the workplace, i.e. in different industries and sectors. It would appear to be a good strategy to move women from the shop floor to the supervisor’s role, from the receptionist to the executive, and from the middle management to the upper management. If well executed it may well be the strategy that will allow women to break the glass ceiling in such a manner that it becomes part of history, and more women occupy the boardroom as well as the cabinet.

Women’s secondary situation in the workplace is a well-known problem, but the problem that #MeToo raised is related to the sexual harassment that women face while working. This could be an overtly sexist environment among peers to a more frank request for sexual favours by the superior. #MentorHer ignores this sexual harassment of women by men and does not address the issue of subordination and objectification of women. If it is being endorsed by CEOs, it means that the CEOs in question are making no call to review their attitudes towards their female colleagues and associates. This is where the problem #MeToo indicated lies, not in women’s lack of leadership abilities.

The mentorship proposition starts with a gendered assumption that the manager is a man who now feels uncomfortable because the subordinate woman will no longer be ‘quiet’ but has been ‘empowered’ and will call out his harassment. So some level of empowerment is being assumed and while additional mentorship may put women in more leadership positions, they will continue to remain prey to higher level male leaders who don’t mind making jokes about ‘grabbing pussy’. So the success of #MentorHer doesn’t address the key issue, just proposes to defer it to a higher level because as long as a ‘pussy grabbing’ kind of disrespectful attitude persists among men the problem remains.

With all due respect to the organisers of this effort I personally feel that #MentorHer falls short as a response to #MeToo. It continues to see women as being responsible for their own safety. If it is indeed supported and sponsored by male leaders of industry, I feel these leaders have failed to take any accountability for the failure of men in positions of authority and power to abuse this privilege in sexually abusing women subordinates. A simpler call like #IRespect would have been more direct and meaningful.

*Dr. Abhijit Das is the Director of Center for Health and Social Justice (CHSJ), India and Co-Chair of MenEngage Alliance.

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