Men behaving badly gives women a turn, but still not equally

Not even men behaving badly gives women an equal shot at leadership

A New York Times report indicates that at least 201 prominent men in America have lost their jobs or roles after public allegations of sexual harassment since the Harvey Weinstein story broke the #MeToo floodgates.

Among these are men who had allegedly been harassing and abusing women for years without encountering anything remotely like accountability. That 200 men have lost substantial authority and influence is, evidently, not nothing and yet there is something troubling in the New York Times’ analysis.

Of the 200 men dismissed, 124 have been replaced. In 54 cases the replacement has been a woman, compared to 70 men.

It is clear that even when men behave spectacularly badly, when they are fired amid public storms for their misconduct, women are still not afforded parity of opportunity.

It is sobering to consider that only 43% of #MeToo offenders have been replaced by women.

That number is, obviously, better than if women comprised just 10% of replacements, or 20% or 30%. But if women cannot even achieve parity of appointments in this scenario, when the vacancies arise because men have disgraced themselves en-masse, in many instances abusing the very power discrepancy that exists between men and women in organisations where women are not represented in senior leadership, it’s difficult to imagine when they ever will.

Stepping in to clean up the mess left by a serial #MeToo protagonist might not be any person’s professional dream and could well be described as another ‘glass-cliff’ scenario.

In many cases it is naive to imagine that the behaviour which was finally called to account, courtesy of #MeToo, was unknown. If nothing else #MeToo has exposed the toxic truth that sexual harassment has rarely been perpetrated in isolation by the odd lone wolf: in too many cases it has been systemically protected.

For a replacement navigating the dynamic of who had known and was involved in the minimisation or concealment of the offender’s misconduct may well be messy. A poisoned chalice, even. But if women aren’t given an equal shot now when will they ever?

If an organisation is serious about redressing a culture in which harassment flourished, in which the power imbalance between men and women could too readily be abused, looking for female replacements seems an obvious starting point. And yet not even half of organisations that have dismissed an offender have done that.

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