How Will #MeToo Change The Workforce For A New Generation Of Women?

In a coffee shop a few weeks ago, two women sat down at the table next to mine and began discussing the intricacies – and potential repercussions – of the #MeToo movement. One was middle-aged and the other was quite a bit younger, and both apparently worked for major television networks. It was the middle of January, and the momentum of the movement was reaching its apex: the piece about Aziz Ansari had just published and the two were grappling, as I think many of us did, with the complicated definition of consent.
Despite their clear generational differences, the women agreed on several things. Both were devastated Transparent was being canceled, both were doubtful a show about Claire Underwood alone could sustain House of Cards, and both agreed there had already been a clear backlash toward their female colleagues. I found myself listening in part because I, too, was once a big House of Cards fan – but mostly because this was not something I had considered. As a college senior, it had not occurred to me that the repercussions of the movement might not be as universally positive as the emotion and public narrative would otherwise suggest. I had felt largely optimistic watching the succession of #MeToo moments unfold – in awe of the powerful women coming forward to voice their experiences and grateful for their efforts. If not a fait accompli, I believed (at a minimum) it boded well for women entering the workforce.
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But listening to their conversation provoked some surprising insecurities, and I began to wonder if when I graduated this spring, companies would be paradoxically less eager to hire me and my female peers, fearful of the “risk” we may pose. I decided to reach out to my friends at other universities to get their thoughts. Did they worry that being a woman in this environment would make them a less attractive candidate for a job because they might pose a ‘liability’ for instances of sexual harassment?

#MeToo has raised an array of questions that are particularly pressing for this next generation of women graduating college and entering the workforce.

What I found in my informal survey of my friends and their networks – at Bucknell, Wake Forest, Princeton, Yale, and UPenn, among others – was that I wasn’t the only one wondering how #MeToo might impact the workplace, and how our generation of young women might be affected by it. This has clearly been a powerful time, something everyone noted. But several young women also shared their anxieties about joining the workforce. The most consistent concern appeared to be the fear of a backlash surrounding the public unpacking of the more ambiguous #MeToo moments, no doubt brought on in part by the Aziz Ansari accusations.
“Individuals suddenly carry more potential to be damaging or risky,” one friend wrote. “I'm not sure this will directly affect whether companies hire women, but I think it might make an environment wherein people are more on edge/defensive/aggressive and these environments are invariably more damaging for the success of women and minorities.”
It’s not yet clear what impact the movement will have on the workplace. What we do know, however, is that #MeToo has raised an array of questions that are particularly pressing for this next generation of women graduating college and entering the workforce. How will businesses respond, and will those responses be wholly positive?
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Another friend responded with similar uncertainties. “I recently started at a startup that’s almost entirely male,” she said, “and I had been doubtful about whether I would be hired. I was concerned that bringing me into the company as an outspoken and very liberal woman in this environment could make things uncomfortable for them – that they would feel they would have to be careful with their speech, or would have to police their behavior and be somehow less “bro-y” around me.”

As the next generation of women graduates joins​ the workforce, steps need to be taken to ensure they are entering a world that is inclusive and supportive, not reactionary and closed-off.

Companies often invest in team retreats, holiday parties, and after-work drinks in recognition of the important ways people build connections with one another that extend beyond the emails they send and the meetings they attend. Comfort and inclusion in those social workspaces is important not only for making the professional world feel welcoming, but also (and maybe more importantly) for personal career development. These soft networking events allow people to relate to each on a personal level, outside the formalities and pressures of the office.
The women I spoke to have ambitions in a wide array of industries — from fashion, finance, politics, entertainment, journalism and behavioral psychology — but all seem concerned with how they will be included in the social layers of work. Whether their fears come to fruition, their nervousness as a fact of itself is incredibly important.
As the next generation of women graduates join the workforce, steps need to be taken to ensure they are entering a world that is inclusive and supportive, not reactionary and closed-off. Though the path of least resistance, and the simplest way to limit the potential for inappropriate conduct, may be to exclude women, to do so would be only to place a Band-Aid on a more endemic issue. We can’t lose sight of one of the most important objectives of the #MeToo movement: inviting women into more spaces, not fewer.
Mallory Edens is a model, former collegiate athlete, and freelance writer. Mallory is the daughter of Milwaukee Bucks’ owner Wes Edens. Her most recent piece titled, ‘The Problem With Pink Sport Jerseys’ was published in Motto, a Time Magazine publication.
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