How to be a male ally to prevent sexual harassment

Women’s History Month is all about celebrating every different type of woman, all across the world. But the sad reality is that many women are facing men who seek to discriminate against them, belittle them, abuse or harass them, or worse. According to the Sexual Harassment Survey by the Government Equalities Office, a staggering 84% of women have experienced sexual harassment in their liftetime as of 2020. This is a statistic that has to change, especially when by law, employers must do everything they reasonably can to protect staff from sexual harassment.

We attended a webinar by the Fawcett Society on “Creating a safe workplace to prevent sexual harassment” which noted that male allies play an integral part in this change. We also attended the Health and Wellbeing @ Work Conference at the NEC that had a great seminar by Paula S Rome from Julian Taylor Solicitors on how to manage sexual misconduct and harassment claims in the workplace. Paula also believed that male allies can help set a good example of how to empathise with and support female colleagues who are victim-survivors of sexual harassment.

Our report “Protecting your people” shows that more than 70% of people who have experienced problematic behaviour at work felt like they had nobody to turn to. And the statistic was similar for those who at the same time felt like their colleagues didn’t step in to support them.

It’s time for men to fight alongside women to stamp out sexism, misogyny, harassment and violence towards them.

So how can you become a better male ally and how can male allies help?

  • Believe and support

Too often women do not want to report harassment because one of their understandable fears is that they won’t be believed. If we believe them when they are courageous enough to come forward it could encourage others to do the same and they know they will have support.

If you know sexism or female sexual harassment has taken place because either you’ve been told about it or you’ve seen or heard it yourself, let that woman know you will support them if they wish to disclose it to a senior member of the team. Having you as backup to provide evidence or give a statement could be crucial to their case.

If they don’t want to disclose it yet, or ever, then just listening and supporting them is an important part of allyship. They may just need someone to confide in, hear their story, and possibly give advice. 

  • Sympathise and empathise

While sexism and sexual harassment at work towards men does of course happen, known cases of it are far less than those towards women. However, if men can understand how the potential incidents that happen make them feel even if they haven’t experienced it, it can hopefully stop perpetrators from doing it and encourage others to stop it.

Imagine if it was a woman you knew - your partner, sister, mother, daughter or friend - who was the victim, would you like them being on the receiving end of sexual harassment at work? Empathise with all women who experience sexual harassment as you would with a loved one.

  • Call it out

“Lad culture” is seen by many as a growing problem in workplaces and “banter” is often used by people as an excuse for what they say or do. Inappropriate comments and jokes should be called out so everyone is aware that they aren’t acceptable - whether it was intentionally discriminatory or not. Some men might be uncomfortable doing this for their own fear of repercussions or exclusion, but if it isn’t called out, it isn’t going to stop. 

Worryingly, a survey conducted by Catalyst shows that 86% of men said they wanted to interrupt sexist incidents, but only 31% of them felt confident in their ability to do so. In addition, our data shows that 25% of men would distance themselves from somebody being bullied in the workplace to avoid conflict themselves. More than that, 27% would distance themselves because “it’s not worth the hassle of getting involved”.

This can be known as “organisational silence”. When organisational silence is seen as “the norm” within a business, it can be difficult to fight and change.

This often comes from a fear of speaking up or a preference for passiveness - not openly condemning poor behaviour, or thinking if you don’t participate or ignore it you can’t be responsible isn’t good enough if you want to be a better male ally. This silence is usually because of a company’s leadership though. In fact, our data shows 38% of men say they have felt silenced on issues that matter to them in the workplace. This is where anonymous reporting tools really come into their own because it enables people to take action, without putting themselves in an uncomfortable situation.

But with the growth of many social trends that focus on injustices against minority groups such as #MeToo, #TransLivesMatter, #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate, there has been a growth in a speak up culture in general and at many workplaces.

Be brave enough to take a stand and challenge sexism and harassment. Be part of the minority who do speak up and become the majority.

  • Report it

Of course, you can also report the incident yourself. Our research shows that 30% of men wouldn’t get involved if someone was being bullied by somebody senior to them for fear of repercussions. And only 34% of men have reported workplace misconduct before but 58% would be more likely to report workplace misconduct if they had an anonymous platform to do so.

By reporting anonymously, you can protect yourself but know that you are helping the victim. Making your employer aware of the problem means they can set about tackling it.

The benefit of anonymous reporting using Culture Shift’s system is that a reporter can choose the person/team within your organisation that will be responsible for dealing with the incident they disclose. It doesn’t automatically have to be someone from HR or a senior leader.

A factor for the lack of reporting incidents through the traditional route  is that there is a significant amount of distrust in people who work in HR and senior leaders are often known to be less accepting of the true extent of problems, or they’re often the cause of the problematic culture. Whilst this is certainly not true in all organisations, HR and senior leaders have a tough reputation to overturn, so it’s important you work as hard as possible to encourage a speak up culture and show your people that they can trust you.

Alternatively, if your organisation is in the position to hire, DEI professionals are the perfect candidates for effectively dealing with these issues as they live and breathe championing diversity, equity and inclusion and caring for a company’s employees.

  • Lead by example

Simply doing things such as believing and supporting women and calling out unacceptable behaviour, as well as showing your respect towards all women, shows others how to behave.

If you’re a senior leader, this is one of the most important things you can do. During the Fawcett Society webinar, it was said that companies with senior female leaders and CEOs are better at dealing with sexual harassment than those which are male-led. This can stem from a greater empathy sometimes based on their own experiences.

Male CEOs need to step up and take more responsibility. Whether it be diversifying their boards and their company so more female employees are given representation and have their voices heard, taking part in and implementing training about sexual harassment, reviewing their gender pay gap, or revising policies that make it clear what sexual harassment constitutes and what the severe consequences will be.

For some companies and their leaders, knowing the costs of sexism and harassment can be a catalyst for change. This is in addition to being aware that employers can be responsible if it happens, which is called “vicarious liability”, but many fail to take or admit responsibility.

Our data shows women are more likely to have been a victim of problematic behaviour at work (42% compared to 37% of men) so why aren’t more companies pledging to do more to address that? And our research proves that when problematic behaviour goes unreported, unchallenged and unresolved, there is a marked increase in absenteeism and presenteeism, and a decrease in engagement and productivity. Employees’ mental health can also be poorly affected.

So men, it’s time to let women and your senior leaders know they don’t have to carry the responsibility of dealing with sexism and harassment towards them alone. It’s time to be an active male ally and make a difference to the lives of female colleagues and your workplace culture.

Good news is, you don't have to do it alone. Culture Shift are here to support you, so if you want to make your workplace safer, happier and more inclusive for everyone, get in touch today.

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