Morning Consult surveyed over 5000 people. Women were asked “Is it appropriate or inappropriate to do the following activities alone with a man who is not your spouse? Having a drink, having dinner, having lunch, driving in a car, having a work meeting.” Men were asked the same, “With a woman who is not your spouse?” I do not know if the data were adjusted for sexual preference. The findings:
- Inappropriate to have a drink alone with opposite sex: 48% (men); 60% (women)
- Inappropriate to have dinner alone with opposite sex: 45% (men); 53% (women)
- Inappropriate to have lunch alone with opposite sex: 36% (men); 44% (women)
- Inappropriate to drive in a car alone with opposite sex: 29% (men); 38% (women)
- Inappropriate to have a work meeting alone with opposite sex: 22% (men); 25% (women)
From the print article by Claire Cain Miller:
- “Men and women still don’t seem to have figured out how to work or socialize together.”
- “Many men and women are wary of one-on-one situations”
- “(Women) are treated differently not just on the golf course or in the boardroom, but in daily episodes large and small, at work and in their social lives.”
- “When men avoid solo interactions with women – a catch-up lunch or late night finishing a project – it puts women at a disadvantage.”
The sociologist Robert Bell (1981) wrote about cross-sex friendships:
- “Over the years probably the most universal restriction on friendships has been to limit them to persons of the same sex.” (p. 95)
- “a greater number of cross-sex friends were reported by persons in white-collar occupations and with some college education” (p. 102)
- “If one believes it is wrong, shameful, or threatening to become friends with the opposite sex, then the chances of doing so become seriously restricted.” (p. 103)
- “The power and pervasiveness of the sexual dimension in cross-sex relationships is the result of social conditioning from an early age.”
- Many believe “mild sexual feeling for one another” will create problems.
- Others see sexuality “as an uncontrollable drive, which is a gross exaggeration.” (p. 108)
Kim Elsesser and Letitia Anne Peplau (2006) researched the difficulties of building cross-sex friendships at work and how this can impact careers. They call these barriers to cross-sex friendships “the glass partition.” The impact is less for men in female-dominated organizations than for women in male-dominated organizations. From Elsesser and Peplau:
- “those not able to form friendships are at a career disadvantage”
- “Friends (provide) information access, work-related assistance . . (and) psychological support”
- “relationship with those more senior . . (can) be valuable to the careers of junior employees”
- “A preference for same-sex friendships restricts an individual’s pool of potential friends.”
- “Increased awareness of sexual harassment with organizations may impact cross-sex friendship development.”
- “The glass partition may differentially disadvantage women who work in predominantly male organizations.”
Women in the Workplace 2016 is a report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company. It describes the uneven playing field for women and recommends (p. 18) companies:
- “make a compelling case for gender diversity”
- “ensure that hiring, promotions, and reviews are fair”
- “invest in more employee training”
- “focus on accountability and results”
1. I find the New York Times survey discouraging. I concur with Elsesser and Peplau that difficulties in creating and maintaining cross-sex friendships in the workplace can limit co-workers helping and supporting each other. The “glass partition” probably explains at least in part the “glass ceiling.”
2. For some, cross-sex friendships may be difficult but what is the alternative? My guess is the glass partition contributes to issues for women in many workplaces, and probably is a major factor affecting women in STEM careers. Women need men as partners in the workplace and vice versa. So much of what is accomplished in the workplace is done informally. And it is through interactions such as lunches, dinners, meetings, and such that we learn about each other and build trust.
3. In my opinion the glass partition is a larger and more intractable issue than the glass ceiling. It is more subtle and part of our sex role development from childhood. We make progress by recognizing problems and then finding solutions. Is the glass partition inherent or can we create cultures where we work truly as equals?
4. Where are we today? In reading the comments to the New York Times article, I think Patrick from Oregon summed it up:
“Probably too simplistic, but I suspect that the bottom line is this:
1. For women, it's concern, or fear, about harassment, or worse.
2. For men, it's fear of false accusation and litigation."
Bell, R. R. (1981). Worlds of friendship. Sage Publications.
Cooper, M., Epstein, B., Finch, A., Konar, E., Krivkovich, A., Kutcher, E., Thomas, R., & Yee, L. (2016). Women in the Workplace 2016. LeanIn.Org & McKinsey&Company.
Elsesser, K., & Peplau, L. A. (2006). The glass partition: Obstacles to cross-sex friendships at work. Human Relations, 59(8), 1077-1100.
Miller, C. C., (July 1, 2017). “It’s Not Just Mike Pence. Americans Are Wary of Being Alone With the Opposite Sex.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/01/upshot/members-of-the-opposite-sex-at-work-gender-study.html?
Image, “Woman in Black Suit Jacket Facing Man In Blue Denim.” Obtained from https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-black-suit-jacket-facing-man-in-blue-denim-dress-shirt-same-standing-165907/ No permission required. https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/
© John Ballard, PhD, 2017. All rights reserved.
Author, Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016.
Please visit www.decodingtheworkplace.com.