Some Members Of Congress Are Afraid Of Women In The Workplace

Photo: Bill Clark/Getty Images.
As if the regular indignities of workplace inequality weren't enough, some female staffers in Congress have to deal with bosses who are afraid to be alone with them, according to a story in the National Journal.

The story, which relied on anonymous sources to protect against professional retaliation, reads more like something from the Mad Men era than from the 21st century. The women quoted in the piece reported being shut out of high-level meetings, denied one-on-one face time, and kept from staffing their bosses at evening or weekend events.

The piece does point out that these anecdotes are not the norm, but if even a handful of offices run this way, that means dozens — if not hundreds — of women have had to deal with insurmountable professional hurdles just because their bosses were worried about the perceptions of others or their own discomfort.

As one staffer told the National Journal, the practices are insulting and misguided. "It's demeaning for the staffer. It prevents our access. If you're serious about your career, you're not going to go around screwing your boss."

This sort of behavior isn't just gross, it's potentially illegal. Legal experts weighed in and said that if this were an official policy, it would violate discrimination laws. But, like much of what women and minorities deal with in their careers, if it's simply a preference or a mostly unspoken rule, it would be difficult to launch a legal case.

Based on what information the story does reveal, the issue certainly seems to affect a lot of Republican women. Congressmen Jason Chaffetz (Utah) and Tim Huelskamp (Kansas), both Republicans, have policies that regulate all staffers' work hours in a way that cuts down on the appearance of impropriety. There is no way to know if there are any Democrats who operate this way (the colleague who infamously made sexist comments to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand turned out to be a fellow Democrat), but the story does suggest it's a bigger problem for Republican staffers.
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