The indispensable 1923 tome “Reminiscences of a Stock Operator,” a fictionalized account of the life of the securities trader Jesse Livermore, refers to a chap who was not like the others. He never volunteered advice or bragged of his winnings. He listened attentively but did not seem keen to get tips. When he did get one, he always thanked the tipster very politely. If it went wrong, he never whined — so no one could tell whether he followed the lead or let it slide by.
When asked his view, he would say “You know it’s a bull market,” as though he were giving you a priceless talisman wrapped in a million-dollar accident insurance policy. When one customer gave him a tip that had done very well, then recommended that he sell, he refused to. When the customer pressed and told him he had sold his own stake, he responded: “I hope you can repurchase your substantial concession, but it’s a bull market, you know.”
The point is, although you can try to chip away at the margins, it is tough to buck a trend. Cognizant as I am of the risk of naysaying society’s and the workplace’s biggest trend (indeed, its tsunami), the #Metoo movement, I see unintended consequences already pulling at its seams:
— In the same way that maternity leave legislation makes employers reluctant to hire women of childbearing age, or the way minimum wage leads to increased unemployment among lower-income workers, the #Metoo movement has caused many employers to think about the risks of having women in the workplace. The consequence is that women will have a more difficult time obtaining employment and promotions.
— U.S. vice-president Mike Pence appeared a Philistinic lout when it became known that he refused to dine alone with any woman other than his wife. Some now view him as a prescient visionary. Mentoring not only means working together, it means working late together, travelling together, etc. A recent Survey Monkey poll conducted by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of “Lean In,” found that 50 per cent of U.S. senior managers say they are afraid to do a common work activity with a woman, are 3.5 times more likely to have dinner with a junior male colleague than a woman colleague and five times more likely to travel with him. And because mentoring is not only formal but informal, women are now more apt to be excluded from dinners, drinks after work and other forms of socializing that could have helped develop their careers.
— Many workplaces rely on camaraderie and teamwork. Dividing people based on gender and creating an environment of fear of allegations by women hampers team-building and is a serious blow to moving society to real — rather than formulaic (the type enforced by human rights tribunals) — equality.
— If an employee is to get ahead in a firm, he or she needs an advocate. But many men will be reluctant to develop such a relationship with a woman if they perceive any risk.
— A radical but vocal subsection of the #Metoo movement advocates that women making allegations of sexual predation must always be believed. The theory is that, given the historic social pressure to be silent, if a woman has the courage to come forward, she must be telling the truth. Of course, men have no monopoly on being liars or even perjurers. Some women, confident they will be believed, might well make false accusations, whether to settle old scores, obtain compensation or in response to relationships that have soured. They need not even lie. When it comes to affairs of the heart, retrospective (particularly ancient) memory is notoriously unreliable and often self-serving and revisionistic.
— Historically, companies have ignored or compartmentalized improper behaviour from an employee’s skill or value to the company. That should have been unacceptable. But now those walls have become porous. Most of the men toppled by the movement were well known to be predators yet not only survived but thrived. Just look at Bill Clinton, whose approval ratings exceeded any modern president at the end of his tenure, while Monica Lewinsky became a suicidal punchline. Will we now see the reverse where minor historic harassment, deserving of only a warning and training, will end the prospects of some companies’ strongest contributors?
— The person who has fared worst to date from the movement has been a woman. When actor Rose McGowan stated that Hollywood manager Jill Messick enabled Harvey Weinstein to abuse women, Messick became so distraught that she committed suicide last month. Her family‘s press statement said “she became collateral damage in an already horrific story.“ Make no mistake, many of the people who enabled the sexual predators were the legion of human resources managers, lawyers and so on, who negotiated and signed settlement agreements with the harassed women and arranged the hush money. Many of them are women. I expect them to be named in many of the lawsuits.
— “Due process” is the preserve of the court, not of human resources policies. However, too many companies, anxious to protect their brand from any allegations, now quickly throw the accused overboard without even the pretense of an inquiry. This not only incents false allegations but damages the trust employees have in their organizations and leads to successful lawsuits against the company. Whatever one thinks of the politician Patrick Brown (and I don’t think much) it is almost impossible to recover from even a false allegation of harassment.
So, as in a bull market, you don’t fight the trend — but you should be very careful not to be swept aside by false currents.
Howard Levitt is senior partner of Levitt LLP, employment and labour lawyers. He practises employment law in eight provinces. The most recent of his six books is War Stories from the Workplace: Columns by Howard Levitt.
firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter.com/HowardLevittLaw