“Anything that evens out the opportunities for men and women is the right practice. Some will get there by adopting a no-dinner policy; others may adopt a dinner-with-anyone policy.
In either case, we need practices that can be applied evenly”-Sheryl Sandberg
Bob Steel caused a stir at Goldman Sachs when he instituted a “breakfast or lunch only policy.”
Bob felt uncomfortable going out to dinner with female employees.
So instead of accepting dinner invites from men and rejecting those from women, Bob set a standard that made access equal for everyone.
Want to pick Bob’s brain?
It better be over breakfast or lunch.
Dinner was off-limits for any one-on-one networking.
Think about how it looks
We need more men who are gung-ho about mentoring women (for the right reasons).
However, smart allies have to consider the optics of their actions.
Bob Steel thought about “how it looked.”
He not only chose a professional time of day, but he also chose a neutral place: a cafe near the office.
In “Good Guys,” W. Brad Johnson and David F. Smith urge male allies to think about the when and where:
“With this simple tweak, junior women felt more comfortable meeting with [Bob], and neither party had to be concerned about rumors.“
Keep men and women safe
When I’ve shared this policy with women looking for mentors, they acknowledge how it helps them feel safer accepting a networking invitation.
Women can become uncomfortable when men seek them out as mentees. It can come off as creepy when an older man wants to spend time with them one-on-one. Women may not trust their intentions nor do they want to become the source of office gossip.
The “no dinner policy” helps women to feel more safe and comfortable—not only because it creates equal access, but because it keeps one-on-one conversations in open daylight.
Reinforce being home for dinner
The “no dinner policy” also helps to reinforce family priorities in your workplace.
Women are often self-conscious of leaving early to pick up their kids from school or declining drinks with coworkers because they have to help with bedtime. We avoid mentioning our family responsibilities for fear of not being taken seriously at work.
With no dinner meetings, bosses set the example; you can be dedicated to your job and still eat dinner with your family every night.
This policy helps to model and promote better work-life balance by putting family first.
Allies at work: No dinner policy
Bob’s candor was seen as “heroic” to the women at Goldman, despite the backlash from some men.
I’ve heard a lot of great men say that they don’t want to have any kind of 1:1 interactions with women at work—from being seen alone together in the break room to carpooling to a client appointment.
While I really value their integrity, these strict boundaries can create unfair advantages for the men who get access to those casual 1:1 mentorship moments.
Two men driving to a client meeting together may naturally speak about their ambitions and share advice, while a woman who has to drive herself won’t gain that feedback or sponsorship.
Bob’s rule makes it equal for everyone, keeping everyone safe and keeping relationships professional.
Worried this policy won’t work for you?
What if you love eating out with your work friends? What if dinner is your favorite meal to bond, mentor, connect?
There’s a workaround.
Include your partner if you’re planning to socialize outside of work.
This can apply whether you’re having dinner with a male or female colleague. Tell the mentee that you’re bringing your partner with you and encourage them to bring a date or a friend.
This makes it clear that you’re not pursuing a romantic dinner, and frankly, adds witnesses to protect either of you from gossip or allegations.