Sheryl Sandberg: If you follow the Mike Pence rule, make it fair to women

Jessica Guynn
Sheryl Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and co-founder of Lean In, an organization promoting gender parity in the workplace.

SAN FRANCISCO — Sheryl Sandberg has a message for men: If you follow the Mike Pence rule, amend it so it's fair to women.

The rule, named for the vice president, made headlines after a reference was spotted in a Washington Post profile of his wife, Karen Pence. "In 2002, Mike Pence told The Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either."

The rule, common in evangelical circles, triggered criticism that it deprives women of informal networking opportunities that could advance their careers. With the flood of Me Too revelations, more men have said they have implemented the Pence rule.

"If men think that the way to address workplace sexual harassment is to avoid one-on-one time with female colleagues — including meetings, coffee breaks and all the interactions that help us work together effectively — it will be a huge setback for women," Sandberg warned in a Facebook post.

So Sandberg proposes that any men following the Pence rule change it up.

"Don’t want to have dinner alone with a female colleague? Fine. But make access equal: No dinners alone with anyone. Breakfast or lunches for all. Or group dinners only, nothing one-on-one," she said. "Whatever you choose, treat women and men equally."

On Tuesday, Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook and co-founder of Lean In, an organization promoting gender parity in the workplace, announced a new campaign from Lean In to mentor women in the workplace with the hashtag #MentorHer.

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Even before the Pence rule, lack of mentorship presented a "significant barrier" to women in the workplace, Sandberg says. And after Me Too, new numbers from a survey by Lean In and SurveyMonkey show that nearly half of all male managers in the U.S. say they are now uncomfortable participating in basic activities with women. Senior men are 3.5 times more likely to hesitate to have dinner alone with a junior woman than with a junior man and are 5 times more likely to hesitate to travel for work alone with a woman, Sandberg says.

"This is a big problem, because it undoubtedly will decrease the opportunities women have at work. The last thing women need right now is even more isolation. Men vastly outnumber women as managers and senior leaders, so when they avoid, ice out or exclude women, we pay the price," she wrote. 

The solution, she says, is not avoiding women but mentoring them.

"People with mentors are more likely to get promotions — yet women are less likely than men to be mentored, and women of color get the least support of all. If we’re going to change the power imbalance that enables so much sexual harassment in the first place, we need to ensure women get more mentorship and sponsorship, not less," she said.