The first step is to clarify what they specifically mean – ”what’s an example of things swinging too far in the other direction?” They may mean one or more of these below. Depending which one will help set where you’d like the conversation to go.
The PC Police. They personally feel like they (and other men in general) have to censor their perspective from fear of being shamed for not being PC enough. This is most likely based on an experience in which they were called out, they witnessed someone being called out for something they might have said themselves, or they had something like this happen to a friend.
The Witch Hunt. They have read about some man’s career that was ruined or is in jeopardy based on [probably very credible] allegations, and they don’t want to be accused of impropriety and judged without “due process”
Mike Pence Rule. They’re scared to have coffee meetings with women, mentor and sponsor women, or any type of one-on-one meeting. They used to hug everyone, but now they only gives hugs to men and handshakes to women. They don’t know what’s going to land them in trouble, so they are trying to limit close contact with women. (Mike Pence has a rule in which he does not spend one-on-one time with any woman except his wife).
Lowering the Bar. They see various diversity programs, policies, or actions that specifically help women and people of color and think this either (a) isn’t fair to them, or (b) “lowers the bar”
If it’s The PC Police, find out more about a situation that exemplifies this for them. It can be useful to mix empathy with facts and a question. For example, “Wow, that sounds like a really difficult situation you were in, and I know that I’ve said things before without realizing that people around me would be angry or upset and I felt pretty horrible and defensive. I can also imagine how your comment might rub someone the wrong way given ____ (situational or general fact). Where do you think the person was coming from?”
For The Witch Hunt, they’re probably either seeing somebody get called out for past actions they’ve done themselves and think are fine (i.e. Aziz Ansari), seeing a man get called out for past actions that were ethically wrong but socially acceptable for the time and don’t want coming to light today (Al Franken), worried that women are making up accusations to gain power (no example of this actually happening come to mind), or are trying to get elected to the senate in Alabama (Roy Moore).
For the Mike Pence Rule, find out what kinds of actions they’re doing differently or not doing at all. Suggest having breakfast or morning coffee meetings which can help meeting both feel and look less like it’s crossing a line. If they’re still meeting one-on-one with men, that’s going to be harming women’s careers, so suggest that whatever they decide to do, that they apply the same principle to men and women. Some facts:
Men and women who have a sponsor are equally likely to say they’re satisfied with their career advancement (around 70%). Women with sponsors are 27% more likely to ask for raises than non-sponsored peers. And yet, women are 54% less likely than men to have a sponsor (source)
In a recent survey about the effects of the #metoo movement, almost 50% of male managers reported they were uncomfortable with a work activity with a woman such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing (164). The survey also finds that the percentage of men who feel uncomfortable mentoring women has tripled from 5% to 16% But if male business leaders (and most of them are male) avoid young women and only work with young men, the unfortunate pattern of women being excluded continues. (source)
For Lowering the Bar, check out the “Lowering the bar” entry below.