And I’m not talking about the problem regarding the person currently occupying the hot seat.
Rather, this particular problem is about his Vice President, Mike Pence.
Pence doesn’t dine alone with women, other than his wife Karen.
He also doesn’t attend events where alcohol is served, unless his wife Karen is present.
It’s a minor detail that came up in a now much widely circulated profile piece on Karen published by Ashley Parker in the Washington Post last week. The detail was taken from a 2002 interview Mike Pence gave to the Hill.
The profile piece also revealed there’s a red antique phone in the Pence household, providing a hotline direct from Karen to Mike. It cites a number of sources who claim she’s the “force behind her husband’s social conservative stances”.
The ‘dine alone’ detail has sparked a number of articles noting it’s discriminatory to Pence’s female employees, seeing them potentially missing the opportunity for private conversations with their boss that could ultimately boost their careers.
But then a former Mike Pence female staffer has noted that the policy never hurt her career, or affected her ability to do her job well. She claims Pence rarely dined alone with any employees, male or female. The staffer added that Pence should be commended for only wanting to ever dine with one woman, his wife.
While it’s rare to find a politician with principles they actually stick to these days, this particular principle is problematic for many reasons.
It suggests there’s an element of infidelity in being alone with a member of the opposite sex, when doing so is increasingly becoming a standard practice of business as more women enter the workforce and step into leadership positions. It also suggests that avoidance is the only option for preventing so-called illicit temptations, and that some men believe being alone with a woman – even in a business context – is like being on a date.
Powerful deals are often done during one-on-one meetings, whether they’re in a three-hat restaurant or in the corner office. If women aren’t included in such meetings, women will miss out.
But then if women are made to feel uncomfortable during such meetings, women will also miss out.
And unfortunately, we’re still hearing too many stories about how one-on-one business meetings turn creepy. I can cite my own experiences, one in particular that stands out was meeting a (now former) contact in a bar at 4:30pm in the afternoon, and quickly realising his intentions extended well beyond work. I made an excuse, got out of there, and never worked with him or contacted him for a story again.
Last year Australian entrepreneur Jodie Fox shared her experience of being invited to meet with a male investor in a bar (something she said she wasn’t comfortable with, but that wasn’t unheard of) who looked her up and down when he first greeted her saying, “you look amazing”. The meeting quickly turned uncomfortable.
Take this piece on ten female founders sharing the sexism they’ve experienced while fundraising. As one founder, Jessica Perez noted: “I don’t think I’ve met a single female founder who hasn’t had at least one creepy situation with an investor.”
Blanket rules are ridiculous, especially for a the vice president of the United States who must, surely, as part of his work, at some point, need to have one-on-one meetings with women. There’s no hope for being able to achieve anything close to workplace gender equality if members of the opposite sex can’t be alone together – either in a meeting, working late or over dinner.
But sadly for many of us, common sense and staying on guard is still necessary during such situations.