What Men Can Do to Stop Sexual Harassment

The recent explosion of sexual harassment accusations against high-profile men and the outpouring of painful sexual harassment experiences in #MeToo messages on Twitter from women (and some men) across the globe have, as reported by Nellie Bowles, shocked many men into reflecting on their own behavior. My own partner, a devoted feminist, began to question whether any of his actions might have recently caused discomfort for a woman friend. In our discussions he agreed with a recent observation by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times that he (Blow) has male privilege because he is over six feet tall, weighs more than 200 pounds, and never has to think about being sexually assaulted or harassed. This male privilege can make him and other men blind or oblivious to the impact of their actions on women, even when they think they are just being friendly. Blow also makes the point that, as a man, being a good listener and understanding women’s experiences intellectually does not equate to having the lived experience of physical vulnerability and multiple occurrences of sexual harassment that many women have. In another article, Blow challenges men to reexamine their cultural assumptions about toxic, privileged masculinity, starting with the obvious:

  • There is no sex without consent. Rape is not sex; it is rape.
  • Unwanted touching is not sexy; it’s assault.
  • Sexual advances in a work environment, particularly from those in a position of power, are highly inappropriate and possibly illegal.
  • In almost all environments, rubbing your penis against people, masturbating in front of them or showing your penis is wrong, humiliating, and possibly illegal.
  • If you become involved sexually with a minor, that is not a relationship or dating; it is exploitation of a minor and possibly statutory rape.
What can men do to stop sexual harassment and assault? Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe and Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times offer these suggestions:
  • Listen more to women and seek to understand their experiences.
  • Don’t be silent. Silence is the enemy. Speak out and stand up to other men.
  • Cut out “guy talk” in the workplace.
  • Think twice about hugging in the workplace. Shake hands instead.
  • Do not think that sexual harassment training is enough. Anti-harassment training is ineffective unless policies and procedures are changed to make it safe for women to report sexual harassment without fear of retaliation. Provide multiple reporting channels, follow up, and act on reports.
  • Do not comment on the appearance of female coworkers when not saying the same things to male coworkers.
  • Fire the men who sexually harass as well as the men and women who are complicit.
  • Have dialogue with family and friends and stop sexist remarks, jokes, and behavior when you see or hear them.
  • Be more careful about corporate offsite meetings or social events. Some leaders are limiting the availability of alcohol and holding social events in the day instead of at night.
  • Do not avoid mentoring or sponsoring women. Behave respectfully and check in with women about whether they feel harassed or uncomfortable.
Charles Blow adds:
  • Every man must become a feminist and work hard to elevate gender equality and to eliminate gender violence.
  • Every man must do the hard work of expanding his understanding, empathy, and experience to become an ally of all women.
  • Every man must advocate for cultural and policy changes that would make women’s lives better.
Blow believes that real change will have occurred when ordinary, powerless, invisible women and men can speak up and press charges against harassers without feeling fear of negative repercussions. He goes on to note that society has nourished the dangerous idea that unbridled male aggression “is prized,” that “boys will be boys,” and that men are not responsible for their actions because “horny men cannot control themselves.” This is all “a lie,” he says. Men can control themselves. Our culture has to stop nurturing hostile masculinity—or the courts will have to do it for us. Is your company reexamining its own thinking and practices more carefully? Let us know what efforts your organization is making to create a healthier workplace.   Photo by Kreg Steppe, CC BY-SA 2.0.  ]]>

Is Sexual Harassment Coming to an End? Good News and Bad News

First, the good news: dozens of women have been speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace in recent months, bringing their upsetting experiences into the light and out of the shadows after a long period of silence about this issue in organizations. Understandably, women have been coming forward slowly either because of pressure to stay silent or justifiable fear of negative consequences to their careers. Gretchen Carlson spoke out at Fox News and brought about the firing of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, and other women gained courage from her example to tell their stories of sexual harassment at Fox. Mike Isaac of the New York Times reports that “in February, the former Uber engineer Susan Fowler wrote a public blog post detailing what she said was a history of sexual harassment at Uber. That plunged Uber into crisis” and emboldened dozens of other women to come forward about the pervasive “bro culture” at technology firms. Shirley Leung of the Boston Globe  notes that while most women have not spoken out publicly because of fear of losing opportunities for jobs or startup funding, those who have are making an impact. Katie Benner of the New York Times  describes some of the results:

  • Dave McClure, founder of the startup incubator 500 StartUps, resigned after admitting to an accusation of sexual harassment. The company also had covered up an earlier sexual harassment charge against him when “the investigation was kept confidential.”
  • Binary Capital imploded due to sexual harassment charges lodged against Justin Caldbeck by several women.
  • Uber CEO Travis Kalanick resigned.
  • The New England Venture Capital Association invited members to sign a pledge of good behavior.
Now for the bad news: the voluntary signing of a good-behavior pledge is not likely to change much. While I agree with Katie Benner that “often change happens only when there is public revelation,” I don’t think that public revelation is enough to stop sexual harassment. I agree with Farhad Manjoo that sexual harassment is systemic, pervasive, and ingrained in many organizational cultures. Sexual harassment is systemic because
  • Organizational leaders ignore complaints or sweep them under the rug
  • Lack of transparency is built into employment contracts with arbitration clauses that rarely favor complainants
  • Lack of transparency is built into nondisclosure agreements required for settlements when sexual harassment claims are found to have merit
  • Abusive organizational cultures are enabled by a failure of oversight by boards and investors
The fact that a few dozen women have spoken out and a handful of high profile CEOs and investors have been dismissed does not mean that anything has changed. Katie Benner notes that “some venture capital firms [the sites of a lot of sexual harassment] are privately grumbling about having to deal with the issue.” She quotes Aileen Lee, a founder of Cowboy Ventures, as saying, “They’re asking when people will stop being outed.” As I have written in previous articles, steps can be taken to really change organizational cultures to be more hospitable to women: In the meantime, thank you to the women who have come forward publicly to put this important issue back into the spotlight. And thank you to the trustees of Uber who forced the founder to step down for a wide range of bad behavior, including sexual harassment at his company.   Image courtesy of US Embassy, Jakarta. CC by-nd 2.0]]>

Sexual Harassment and the Culture of Masculinity at Fox News, Uber, and in Society

Why is sexual harassment so widespread? Recent headlines reveal sexual harassment scandals at Fox News—against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly—and a long list of technology and financial organizations including Uber and Tesla. Additional offenders play on sports teams at multiple universities. Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes that we need to take a close look at the culture of masculinity in the United States to understand the source and the pervasiveness of sexual harassment. Bruni explains that the US culture of masculinity teaches that a man must be “a force of nature with untamable appetites” for conquering women, bullying opponents, and avoiding domestic chores such as changing diapers. He notes that Donald J. Trump won millions of votes by projecting a classic masculine persona, indicating that a large segment of Americans find this notion of manhood familiar and acceptable. Bruni cites a new study by Promundo, a nonprofit organization promoting gender equity, showing that the messages young men receive today about how to be a man have not changed. For example, in a sample of thirteen hundred American men between the ages of eighteen and thirty, 75 percent said they are supposed to act strong even when they are scared or nervous, 63 percent said that they’re exhorted to seize sex whenever available, and 46 percent said that they’re waved away from household chores. Bruni notes that the results of this study reflect “a constricted concept of manhood that includes aggression, hypersexuality, supreme authority, and utter self-sufficiency,” described by some sociologists as the “man box.” Bruni reflects that the cost to men of living in the “man box” is that these men are “more likely to act out in self-destructive ways such as substance abuse and online bullying.” Condoning a hypermasculine concept of manhood actively damages our society. President Trump currently

  • Surrounds himself with generals
  • Increases the military budget
  • Cuts funding for arts, science, healthcare, and the social safety net
Let’s not forget the message he is sending to men and boys when he defends Bill O’Reilly as “doing nothing wrong” by sexually harassing women. Fox News provides an example of a company culture that affirms hypermasculinity and condones sexual harassment. Emily Steel and Michael S. Schmidt write that the company stood behind O’Reilly for two decades while legally silencing multiple women and quietly paying millions of dollars to settle sexual harassment claims against him—even after dismissing Roger Ailes last summer and vowing “not (to) tolerate behavior that disrespects women.” Fox News continued to tolerate O’Reilly. Two of O’Reilly’s settlements occurred after the dismissal of Ailes, yet Fox didn’t punish O’Reilly. I wrote in a previous article about the ways that organizations like Fox News perpetuate cultures that condone sexual harassment. As long as organizations silence women and allow women’s careers to be ruined while protecting powerful men, sexual harassment will continue unabated. Uber is another example of a masculine culture negatively impacting women, but a glimmer of hope for change appears possible. Farhad Manjoo of the New York Times reports that revelations about the culture of sexism and sexual harassment at Uber were no surprise to women in other Silicon Valley organizations because
  • Sexual harassment is rampant in technology companies
  • The men responsible for sexual harassment are rarely punished
  • Nothing changes because of a deeply entrenched “bro culture,” described by Sam Polk in the New York Times
Manjoo says that Uber’s competition provides a glimmer of hope. He cites Karen Catlin, an advocate for women in the tech industry, who explained that there is a “heightened awareness of the issues women face due to misogynistic men” since the Women’s March in January 2017. The March marshalled grassroots social media energy to pressure Uber to change (#deleteUber). Uber lost many customers to competitors because of this pressure. Certain key investors have declared their intention to hold Uber accountable for change. Manjoo writes, “It could take years of careful and publicly embarrassing actions for Uber and other companies to become more hospitable to women.” Note the key concept here: publicly embarrassing actions. Transparency and accountability are essential. We must eliminate nondisclosure forms that silence women and prevent accountability. Maybe Uber will lead the way in creating a corporate culture more hospitable to women. Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen at Fox News.   Photo courtesy of futureatlas.com/blog. CC by 2.0]]>

What About Men?

When I make presentations to audiences of women and men about my research on women in organizations, they often ask me, “What about men? What’s happening for them?”  Recent studies, reported by Richard V. Reeves and Isabel V. Sawhill, reveal some important changes for men in the United States workforce.  Specifically, Reeves and Sawhill note, “the old economy and the old model of masculinity are obsolete.” While women have been pushing, for the most part successfully, into previously traditionally male roles, men have not been pushing into traditionally female roles.  Because the jobs that men used to do are largely disappearing, men either need to adapt and move into the female-dominated HEAL (health, education, administration, and literacy) jobs, or men will have fewer and fewer prospects for participating in the labor market.  The thirty fastest-growing occupations are currently in the HEAL sectors.  The only obstacles to men entering these occupations are culture and attitude—men aren’t training or applying for these “pink collar” jobs. Here are some recent trends that do not bode well for men if they do not adapt and change:

  • Male wages are stagnant and, among the less educated, have fallen. Median earnings for men with only a high school diploma have fallen by 28 percent since 1980.
  • Men are now a minority on college campuses, accounting for 42 percent of graduates.
  • Girls demonstrate more focus, effort, and self-discipline as well as better study habits starting in the early grades, and, consequently, they have higher grades.
The authors note that what is needed is a “cultural recalibration” for men.  Many men are retreating into violent “hypermasculinity” in order to try to hold on to their old competitive edge over women.  Instead, we need campaigns that encourage men to see themselves in HEAL jobs the same way that campaigns currently encourage girls and women to see themselves in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs.  We need to balance participation and opportunity across all the sectors for both women and men. This cultural recalibration also needs to include adaptation by men on the home front.  In households where two parents work outside of the home, men are doing more childcare and housework than in the past, but not as much as they think they are doing.  Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times cites several rigorous studies of the division of labor for opposite-sex, dual-earner couples across the transition to parenthood.  While the division of labor for housework showed no gender gap before children, a significant gap emerged after birth.  While men in two-income families reported that they shared housework and childcare equally after birth, analysis of rigorous time studies showed that women shouldered much more responsibility at home.  This extra work for women, in addition to holding a full-time job, creates pressure and stress that can push them out of the workforce.  Miller cites the work of Paula England and others who note, “the gender revolution has largely been one-sided—women have entered traditionally male jobs but men have been reluctant to take on traditionally female activities.” Reeves and Sawhill sum up the challenges for men as follows:
“The way forward, we believe, is for men to embrace and adapt to the new, more androgynous world.  There is no point in harking back.  The world in which high-paid manufacturing jobs could support a family, and where women were expected to focus on being wives and mothers is gone.  Women have shown they are ready for this transition.  But what about men?”
  Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]]>