How It Feels To Be That Woman Not Allowed To Eat With Pence

We need to be #atthetable.

As the Washington Post reported earlier this week, Mike Pence has a rule that he will never dine alone with a woman who is not his wife. Although Mike Pence himself has never uninvited me to dinner, someone else has, so I can relate to any of the female campaign managers, aides or reporters he interacts with and how they may have felt.

What Happened

I am a soon-to-be-graduate of a well-respected MBA program, yet one of my professors actually taught this Pence logic in class — including encouraging the men to be “very, very careful about touching women” and to “never be in private places” with them.

The class makeup is 80 percent male and 20 percent female, but I found the courage to raise my hand and assert that this line of thinking holds women back from valuable mentorship from senior men (citing a 2010 HBR book). I often get drinks with a male mentor because we are no longer at the same company and it works best for both of our schedules.

While I could see the professor was beginning to understand where I was coming from, he told the class he likely still wouldn’t go to a bar with me (specifically) because he “draws the line at where my wife would take offense.”

Me, sitting at a table, eating dinner.
Me, sitting at a table, eating dinner.

How I Felt

Needless to say, I was embarrassed and ashamed. Where I thought he viewed me as an engaged student interested in the subject matter ,  I now felt sexualized. Did everyone in the class think I had hit on him? It was discouraging and deflating.

Luckily, due to his invitation at the beginning of the semester to provide him with candid feedback, I knew he would see this as a learning opportunity. Once I explained how it made me feel, we had an incredibly candid and fruitful conversation. I understood his insecurities (how it would look, wanting to be respectful to the woman and his wife); this stuff isn’t cut and dry. He graciously listened and ultimately updated his curriculum as a result.

What Do We Do About It?

  • It is not easy to call things out in the moment, and that is okay. Cool off and confront it when you’re ready.

  • Use it as a full learning opportunity for your counterpart.

  • Let’s all work together to de-stigmatize men and women being #atthetable together. For hetero men, the next time you question the appropriateness of a meeting with a female colleague ,  reflect on if you would question it with her male counterpart. Bring a female colleague out to a casual happy hour drink and tweet “#atthetable.”