By Anja van den Berg
If the topic of sexual harassment hasn’t come up in your office – either in formal or informal conversations – now is the time to shine the light on this very real problem.
While harassment can be experienced by anyone, data shows that 25% of women report being sexually harassed in the workplace – more than double the percentage of men.
With the ongoing #metoo campaign, and the almost daily headlines about men accused of harassing their co-workers, this subject is top of mind for many of us.
That said, if a woman is victimised in this way, it – often unfairly – casts all of her male colleagues in a bad light. Moreover, the husband or life-partner of the woman being harassed is also a secondary victim of the harassment as it is bound to affect her wellbeing and self-respect.
Despite wanting to participate in the conversation, many men feel unsure of how to ask questions or demonstrate their support for their female co-workers without taken a misstep or potentially causing offense. What can male co-workers do to support and protect their female colleagues? Here are some guidelines:
- Respect begins at home
“Men being willing to have dialogue with their families and friends, and to disrupt sexist remarks, jokes and behaviour, is integral to change,” says Ashley Judd, who broke the ice by speaking up about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. “Learning to let women speak up, and being open and teachable, is crucial. Imagine if we could simply say, ‘stop’ and ‘no,’ and men stopped? These micro interpersonal interactions hold transformative power.”
- Be a stand-up guy, not a bystander
It’s easy to turn a blind eye to an incident when you feel you aren’t directly involved, but failing to address inappropriate behaviour that you’ve witnessed causes harm. Not speaking up is equal to wordlessly condoning the behaviour. “If you see a colleague being sexually harassed, or hear comments about women that are demeaning or derogatory, say something in that moment,” says Noreen A. Farrell, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates. “You will win the respect of the people who matter – including the other men you work with.”
- Correct harassers, even when females are not present
Being an ally for women experiencing sexual harassment goes beyond just speaking up in their presence. “If there are guys gathered around a water cooler talking about a female colleague inappropriately, call them out right there so that it doesn’t perpetuate,” says American Association of University Women CEO, Kim Churches.
In a Harvard Business Review article about male silence on sexual harassment issues, United States Naval Academy Professor W. Brad Johnson and United States Naval War College professor David G. Smith explain the difference between men who model passive gender inclusion and those who model active gender inclusion.
The former includes attending gender diversity workshops and monitoring your own individual behaviour, while the latter includes vocally demanding respect and equality for women even when no-one is watching.
“A man’s legitimacy as an ally to women is only fully expressed when he is an intentional exemplar and fierce watchdog for the behaviour of other men,” write Johnson and Smith.
- Privately speak to the woman being harassed
Before reporting an incident of sexual harassment to a higher authority, it’s always best to speak with the person affected by the incident first. Check on how she is doing and ask if she would like you to take some kind of action, whether it’s alerting a supervisor or reporting the abuse to Human Resources. Let her know that, as a man, you are offended by your fellow male colleague’s behaviour. “It helps female employees to know they have a group of people supporting them, and it leads to them not being quiet,” says Churches.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2018/01/getting-men-to-speak-up
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/12/how-to-talk-about-sexual-harassment-with-your-coworkers
Gulf News: http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/sexual-harassment-isn-t-just-a-women-s-issue-1.2114520