Leaders Should Reject the Pence Rule – Here’s How

Vice President Mike Pence has a rule that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and does not attend events featuring alcohol without her present. Recent media reports in the wake of #MeToo indicate that employers seeking to deter sexual harassment may be tempted to implement this rule, out of an abundance of caution. In fact, many well-intentioned men have long avoided these situations to prevent an appearance of impropriety.

Despite these concerns, adopting the Pence Rule is a mistake – one that threatens the gains women have made in the workplace, and impedes further progress.
Here’s why:
  1. The rule invites inappropriate scrutiny of existing male-female friendships at work;
  2. The rule makes it harder for men to sponsor and mentor women in their advancement, reaffirming the erroneous assumption that a man’s professional sponsorship of a women is a sign of sexual interest;
  3. The rule imposes an arbitrary burden on coworkers who want to meet offsite over lunch, dinner, or for a mid-day change of venue; and,
  4. The rule reinforces the unconscious view of women as being “other” – a problematic condition that must be accommodated.

Because of current confusion at both the organizational and personal level, now is the time for leaders to provide clarity on the “gender rules of engagement” by going on the record to reject the Pence Rule. The message should include an explicit endorsement of mentoring and sponsorship relationships, and should explicitly refute the notion that work friendships create an appearance of impropriety.

It is also an important time for leadership to ensure that its house is in order to take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously, and respond to them appropriately (see my Sexual Harassment Training here and my last post). Once they are so assured, leadership can then publicly reaffirm its commitment to a harassment-free workplace.
By rejecting the Pence rule on the record, leadership will send an important signal, providing an even playing field for everyone in the organization.
For a consult on Sexual Harassment Training, call Mary McClatchey at 303-229-3597.