The XX Factor

Female Staffers on the Hill Are Being Shut Out Of One-On-One Meetings with Bosses

For female congressional staffers, gender gets in the way of one-on-one meetings with bosses. 

Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The National Journal conducted a study of women congressional staffers on the Hill and has been releasing some of the findings in a series of articles. On Thursday, Sarah Mimms highlighted how women are still held back from certain networking and career opportunities. Many staffers, she writes,  are “not allowed to spend one-on-one time with their male bosses.”

Several female aides reported that they have been barred from staffing their male bosses at evening events, driving alone with their congressman or senator, or even sitting down one-on-one in his office for fear that others would get the wrong impression.

This is what happens when appearances are put ahead of substance. Sexual harassment shouldn’t be reduced to the appearance of impropriety. Sexual harassment is an active choice that the harasser makes, and the way to fight it is to hold men who harass accountable, not to act like life on the Hill is taking place within a Victorian novel. Instead, because some powerful men mistreat women, the solution is to deprive women of opportunities for career advancement. 

In Missouri this week, state house speaker John Diehl was caught in a “sexually charged” relationship with a college freshman interning in his office; Missouri Southern State University responded by shutting down the internship program. That is punishing people who have little or no power because some middle-aged man allegedly gave in to some teenager’s flattering attentions. 

You’re not taking sexual harassment and abuse of power seriously if your solutions focus on depriving victims and potential victims of job opportunities. These women are willing to run the risk that some gross older man will get grabby with them in order to advance their career; their bosses should meet them halfway by running the risk of “impropriety.”