Men Tell Why Other Men Don’t Interrupt Sexism at Work
What would you do if you heard a colleague say that women aren’t qualified for a particular job? Or if you heard them questioning another colleague’s work because they don’t believe she is capable?
For many men, the answer is complicated. Although most men (86%) surveyed say they are committed to speaking up when they witness sexist behavior, only 31% feel confident they can do so, according to recent research published by Catalyst.
Catalyst surveyed nearly 1,500 men working in Canada across industries, organizational ranks, job tenure, ages, and ethnic backgrounds. We also conducted in-depth interviews with 27 of these men to gain further insight.
The bottom line: organizational conditions play a key role. Below, men describe several aspects of negative environments in the workplace that can make it hard to interrupt moments of sexism, detailed in our latest report, Interrupting Sexism at Work: What Drives Men to Respond Directly or Do Nothing?
Please note that the men quoted below were responding to interview questions about the impacts of workplace conditions on men’s ability to interrupt sexism, not to questions specific to these climates.
Climate of Silence
“The people may take their cues from the leader, but if you have a culture where there is fear of reprisal for speaking up or fear of reprisal for challenging the status quo, I think that creates that environment … It takes courage to shift a culture, and so if you don’t have a culture that encourages courage to challenge the status quo to speak up, then you normalize certain behaviors.” – Senior director in financial services
“If leadership is perpetuating those kinds of [sexist] attitudes, then those who aspire to be leaders or have influence or power see that it’s permissible to do that. And then the consequences as a man to speak up and speak out are severe because you’re trying to take care of your income and your status, and all those kinds of things.” – Executive director of a nonprofit
“I think it’s just a mob mentality. They’re afraid to speak up because they don’t want to be the outlier. And if everybody else is doing it, well, just be quiet and go along.” – Mid-level leader in energy transmission
“You’ve got to be really confident in yourself to be wearing pink in a workplace like this…Wow, I thought I was in the stone ages.” – Senior leader in mining
“I was told that there was a female electrician, she did a job, and she was offered to go torque the nut down properly. After she was done another guy went out to re-torque it because they did not trust that she had the strength to torque it down properly.” – Senior director in utility
“They came from a culture of, ‘If you don’t agree with us, we’ll fire you.’ And I eventually was laid off from that company. Actually, [it was] a week after doing a presentation for women and equality on National Women’s Day.” – Mid-level manager in energy
Climate of Futility
“In that organization…I didn’t feel safe, and I didn’t feel like there was any point. …It felt like no matter what I did, nothing was going to change.” – Senior leader in mining
“[I felt] you know, frustration, disappointment…in people and in…the organization sometimes that in the year 2020…people still think and talk that way. [And]…a little bit helpless where that individual being more senior, et cetera…[so] I didn’t do anything about it. Yeah. So, frustrated, disappointed, discouraged would be how I feel when I hear those things happening.” – Senior director in food manufacturing
“When new ideas come in, sometimes people will say, ‘Oh, we’ve tried that before.’ …The other thing is you have to dress up the proposal in such a way that the other person sees a benefit to them. …You need to be careful not to put them on the defensive because in an environment where it’s hyper-conservative and not a lot changes, or change happens ridiculously slow, you have to slowly…lead them.” – Entry-level engineer in energy transmission
Leaders have the power to change these climates and ensure that all employees’ voices are heard. Negative organizational climates are explained in the infographic Does Your Organization Have a Climate of Silence? and the infographic How Combative Cultures Prevent Men from Interrupting Sexism.