It’s Women’s History Month, so it is a good time to talk about avoiding sex discrimination in the workplace.
This topic came to me by way of a personal experience. It recently came to my attention that a male opposing counsel in a large litigation matter sent an invitation to join him and his trained dogs on a bird hunt. However, the invitation was sent only to the male members of our litigation team. Mind you, this is a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in employment matters; you’d think he’d know better. But the “boy’s club” mentality can be deeply ingrained. And if you have male managers at your company with the same mentality, you run the risk of losing qualified female workers or worse, drawing a sex discrimination lawsuit.
Here are what to look for: male groups of managers (we are going to focus on management here) that socialize together inside and outside of work, to the exclusion of female managers. Worst-case scenario–the male managers who like to regularly go to strip clubs to socialize or conduct business. As a practical proposition, this type of activity serves to exclude women, and let’s face it, the optics are horrible in the era of #metoo. Less obvious but still problematic–the tight-knit group of male managers that keep a secret stash of liquor and sit around and drink and shoot the breeze because they work long hours. Or regularly go out to a bar together after work. Maybe they even make comments about female employees or customers while they are hanging out. They do not invite any women to join them. (This fact pattern occurred in a recent lawsuit filed by a female manager who was denied a promotion). If participating in these activities is the way that people advance up through the ranks at your company, you have got a problem that could eventually result in a lawsuit.
There are other consequences, too. For a time, I worked with a male senior attorney who openly bragged about taking clients to strip clubs as a form of client development. I didn’t complain or file an EEOC charge. I just left the firm for another job. And that’s what a good number of well-qualified women will do if they feel excluded because they are not a member of the “boy’s club.” Or maybe that kind of atmosphere makes them annoyed or uncomfortable. Especially now, it is easier to leave one workplace for another that is more inclusive. In this job market, where employers are competing for good talent, it makes no business sense to have a work environment that essentially repels half of the available workers.
Finally, as for the male managers that tell you the reason that they don’t socialize with women is that they “don’t want to say something wrong and get hit with a sexual harassment lawsuit,” those gents are perfect candidates for anti-harassment and sensitivity training. They are all but telling you that they are lawsuits waiting to happen. boy’s club
Kathleen J. Jennings is a former principal in the Atlanta office of Wimberly, Lawson, Steckel, Schneider, & Stine, P.C. She defends employers in employment matters, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, Wage and Hour, OSHA, restrictive covenants, and other employment litigation and provides training and counseling to employers in employment matters.