With more and more sexual harassment allegations being reported in South Korea in recent months thanks to the #MeToo movement, women are noticing that their male colleagues are avoiding and excluding them in the workplace.
Korea’s office drinking culture involves teams and co-workers attending group outings after work, but now men are deliberately excluding women to make sure they can’t be reported for bullying or harassment.
Women are feeling like they are being treated unfairly as a result.
A 29-year-old office worker at a mid-sized company in Gangnam, Seoul said she felt ostracized when her boss told the female staff to go home while he took the men out drinking.
“I feel very uncomfortable at work these days. I didn’t do anything wrong, but I felt like I was being treated like I had.”
— Female Office worker
Another office worker at a shipping company in Seoul said her relationship had changed with her boss, and he apparently told other workers that he feared that his comments would be misunderstood by female staff.
“I rarely talk with my boss these days. He used to be very chatty with the female staff, but nowadays he only gives instructions by text message. I feel like I became invisible in my office.”
— Shipping office worker
The reaction among men at work is being called the “Pence Rule” after the evangelical US Vice President Mike Pence who said he avoids being alone with any woman without his wife present.
Online forums have also been filled with comments from men saying their female colleagues scare them because of the #MeToo movement.
“We need to keep our distance from women since we don’t know what they may do.”
— Korean male netizen
“My male coworkers are telling each other to watch out for female staff who may jump on the #MeToo bandwagon. My friend advised me recently to avoid interacting with women at work.”
— Male office worker
But some women are suffering career disadvantages due to the “Pence Rule” which is keeping them from performing vital tasks and losing them opportunities. A 29-year-old staff member of a medical equipment maker in Gyeonggi Province said she was excluded from a business trip that she had been responsible for organizing.
“I spent a lot of time convincing buyers in China as I prepared for the business trip, but all my efforts were wasted. Since the #MeToo campaign started, my boss seems to be scared to go on business trips with female staff. This will reduce opportunities for me to achieve results at work.”
— Female worker
Professionals are criticizing the response and calling for the #MeToo problem to be addressed as a joint issue.
“The ‘Pence Rule’ is a flawed approach. Avoiding addressing the crux of the problem will only deepen the rift between men and women in the office. We need to find ways to address the issue together.”
— Koh Kang Sup from the Young Professionals Institute of Korea