May 2, 2017

MY SISTER'S KEEPER?


A few weeks ago, Washington Post reporter Ashley Parker revealed a bit of personal info about Vice President Mike Pence: He will not meet or dine alone with a woman who isn’t his wife. The Pences are known to be devout Christians, and with this restriction the Vice President is following the Billy Graham rule. (Graham announced decades ago, that he follows this policy.)

Is this a good or bad thing? I don’t know. But is Pence truly deserving of the scorn that has been heaped upon him in recent weeks?

On the one hand, Scripture cautions us, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Eph 5:3). Private meetings between men and women can certainly provide that “hint.” Just ask Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, and Roger Ailes. With a third person in the room, their careers could have turned out very differently.
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But conversely, this kind of policy (however well-intended) turns every woman into an unwitting object of sexual temptation. Under this arrangement, how can they ever get ahead in their careers, if they get left out of meetings? How can they be “equal” in the workplace, if their male colleagues treat them like Kryptonite?

Oddly enough, when I watch the news for the past few weeks, the pundits try to take both sides: Pence is evil because he won’t, while Bill O’Reilly is equally wicked because he did, and the vice-president gets no credit for trying to do the right thing. As for me, if I have to choose between preserving my marriage and promoting a colleague’s career, I will opt for the former every time. For this, Pence should be applauded.

That said, I work in an industry that’s about 80% female. So it would be hard to make a living, without taking meetings with female colleagues. Several weeks ago, I traveled to New York City to meet with publishers. Among my 38 appointments, 32 were with women. How did they turn out?

First, on the way to Manhattan, I stopped in another city to visit a client. We met in the living room of her home. But I knew that her husband or her father or her children could enter the room at any moment.

I had two meetings at Simon & Schuster; one was at the editor’s desk in an open area, while another was behind a closed door in a private office. At Harlequin, we met in the company cafeteria. At St. Martin’s Press I met one editor at her cramped cubicle, and another (unplanned) in the hallway. At Hachette, we used a large conference room with clear glass walls. At Skyhorse, I didn’t even make it into the office; we arranged to meet at a local coffee joint. At Amazon, it was a small conference room with the door closed. At Random House and Little Brown, we met at their desks in high-visibility areas. (All of my appointments at Penguin were no-shows, due to the storm of the century that never came.)

Had I followed the Billy Graham rule, all but two of my meetings could not have happened.

That said, I know from experience that many women will be reluctant (or even refuse) to take a private meeting with me (or any man). They have their reasons, and I won’t argue. Some have religious reasons. Some are socially awkward. Others may have had an unpleasant experience in their past. Whatever the cause, Pence’s policy will be welcome news.
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