AnnaMarie Houlis
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Journalist & travel blogger

It's no secret that some men feel uncomfortable with women in the workplace following the onslaught of sexual harassment cases with the #MeToo movement in 2016. In fact, a burgeoning body of research suggests that some men are evading engagement with women altogether, such as individual meetings with female entrepreneurs, potential recruits and women who ask for informational or networking meetings.

What does it mean when your boss avoids you (especially if your boss is male)?

Men are avoiding women at work for a whole host of reasons that all stem from the same fear: They don't want to lose their jobs.

According to one study by the Center for Talent Innovation, for example, 64 percent of senior men and 50 percent of junior women avoid solo interactions. A May poll by Morning Consult also found that nearly two-thirds of men and women agree that people should take extra caution around the opposite sex in the workplace, and about a quarter think that private work-related meetings with colleagues of the opposite sex are inappropriate.

In short: Men are concerned that any one misunderstood comment, any single false accusation, the risk of workplace rumors or mistaken motives could jeopardize their careers. But men's avoidance of women at work is setting women back in the workplace even more.

This is especially true when male bosses avoid female employees.

That's because having leaders who advocate for you plays a significant role in your success. Research suggests that women would benefit from professional private conversations with senior staff, many (if not most) of whom will be men who might serve as advocates and mentors for their male subordinates but are afraid to do the same for their female subordinates.

Research shows that establishing rapport with senior staff is one of the most important contributors (if not the most important contributor) to your career advancement. These relationships with senior staff are often referred to as “sponsorships,” which are defined by sponsors who facilitate potential opportunities for certain employees, like you, and actually push for those employees.  According to a study by the Center for Work-Life Policy, women who have sponsors in the workplace are more likely to earn challenging assignments and, thus, raises and to say that they are satisfied with their career progress. They're also more likely to receive actually helpful candid feedback (which women don't receive enough in performance reviews that are too often vague and not so constructive), according to research by the nonprofit Lean In.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, founder and chief executive of the Center for Talent Innovation, which studied sponsorship, told The New York Times that sponsorships are crucial for “getting from the middle to the top.”

What to do when you feel disrespected by your boss?

You might be wondering, how can you tell if your boss likes you?, worried that your boss' avoidance of you is a sign of their disapproval. But it may have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Your boss may be nervous about interacting with you for the same aforementioned reasons.

"I try to avoid being alone with women at my work because of everything that's happened recently — I don't want my words or actions to be taken for something they're not," Erjan, an information security analyst told Fairygodboss. "I wouldn't say I avoid women. But I don't feel comfortable being in a situation when no one else is around. If I need to talk with a female colleague one on one, I'll just grab a meeting room, and since they all have glass walls, it helps. If one of those rooms isn't available, perhaps we grab lunch somewhere in a public place where we can still talk and hear each other."

He's not alone.

"My business partner (also male) and I are very careful when we have one-on-one discussions with our female employees," Matthew Ross, the co-owner and COO of RIZKNOWS and The Slumber Yard, also told Fairygodboss. "Obviously, we try to be cordial and courteous to all employees, male or female, but we also acknowledge the current social environment we live in. We typically always leave the door open and make sure we are in view of other employees. We want to make sure none of our words or actions can be misconstrued later. We've also taken other steps, as well. We recently purchased EPLI insurance to protect ourselves and our company from lawsuits pertaining to wrongful termination, discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation."

If you feel disrespected by your boss, it may be because of a miscommunication or discomfort. You might want to have a conversation with your boss about feeling disrespected — this, of course, can be a conversation you have in a private room with the door open or over lunch to make both of you feel comfortable.

If, however, you worry that you're simply working for a toxic boss that doesn't respect women in the workplace because of sexist reasons that go beyond them taking precautions (albeit harmful precautions), it's probably time to look for a new job. Here, for example, are signs of a toxic boss — from taking credit for your work to not giving constructive feedback in performance reviews and micromanaging you. It may be hard to tell a toxic boss when you have one, but toxic bosses are likely to behave poorly, saying outwardly and subtly sexist and disrespectful things.

Here's more on how to deal with a toxic boss.

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AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.

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