As the sexual assault allegations by Professor Christine Blasey Ford against Judge Brett Kavanaugh have played out, too few men — but especially male politicians — have publicly supported an open and respectful hearing of her assertions. This week, Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), her frustration boiling over at male congressmen who have questioned the integrity or mental status of Blasey Ford, or worse, remained conspicuously silent on the issue, spoke for many when she said, “I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing, for a change.”
The problem of the silent — and therefore tacitly complicit — man festers at the root of America’s ubiquitous workplace sexual harassment and gender exclusion. Reasons for male silence are legion, but most often relate to lack of awareness about the experiences of women at work, ignorance concerning the rarity of false accusations from women about sexual assault, flat-out apathy, or cowardice about backlash from other men. Publicly supporting a woman in this situation can feel risky, particularly among men with a fragile sense of masculinity.
Where should we begin efforts to break the cycle of male silence and collusion in perpetuating harassment and dismissal of women? Start with a few good men. In the wake of the “Marines United” Facebook group photo scandal, Marine Corps leaders continue to face criticism for a culture that fuels harassment. Yet, there is a glimmer of hope. Marine Corps General Glenn Walters recently testified before the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services and observed, “What I’m encouraged by is that some of the [harassment] reports are being generated by male Marines who are seeing another [male] Marine doing something wrong.” He added: “It’s not a significant number. It’s probably in the 8% range. But that’s 8% that we didn’t have.”
True, 8% may seem like an insignificant number of guys who get it, men willing to put some skin in the inclusion game. Yet, we also recognize that this group of men is a critical component in creating seismic culture change, ultimately leading to elimination of sexual harassment and gender inequities in the workplace. These “8 percenters” must be empowered as messengers, or “tempered radicals,” male Marines who can become instrumental in influencing the behavior for the other 92%. Leaders looking to make real change must identify and leverage these men.
This small core group of men are deliberate male allies — men who actively promote gender fairness and equity in the workplace through supportive and collaborative personal relationships with women. They also demonstrate allyship through public acts of sponsorship and advocacy intended to drive systemic improvements in the workplace culture for women. Evidence suggests that these are men who have an awareness of how gender bias creates workplace inequities. This awareness is often motivated by personal experiences and a strong sense of fairness and justice. To be clear, these are men who don’t just talk a good game. They act with conviction and in the face of real social and political backlash.
When it comes to communicating the salience of male allyship in the workplace, it turns out that the source matters. There has been a groundswell of pressure for male leaders to advocate for gender equity initiatives and role model male ally behaviors. Consistent messaging from senior leaders is crucial. However, if men don’t easily relate to allyship messengers (leaders, diversity and inclusion experts, HR administrators), their message may not produce intended behavioral change — or even worse, backfire. There has been a growing list of examples where unconscious bias training, diversity training and sexual harassment training produced unintended consequences.
Male-to-male peer pressure is often a more powerful — and persistently neglected — source of influence for internalization of norms, pro-social behaviors and ally identity-confirming behavior. When a cohort of male allies call out sexist or harassing behaviors, both men and women are more likely to report sexual harassment or check sexist behavior. Women also report more self-confidence, higher self-esteem, and less sex stereotyping when male allies are present in the workplace. Deliberate role modeling by particularly influential peers can influence acceptance and expectation for ally behaviors—respectful attitudes and acts that make women feel included and fuel gender parity. Male allies call out sexism and create a work environment that emboldens other men to question and call out deviant behavior. Such lateral ally influence can redefine what it means to be a man in an organization in such a way that gender equity or partnership becomes regarded as a defining feature of the in-group (“who we are”) and its norms (“what we do”) in men’s everyday lived experiences.
Perhaps Congress can take a lesson from the Marine Corps’s “8 percenters.” Let’s identify the fledgling cohort of male allies on Capitol Hill, and recognize and honor these insiders who can leverage their understanding to redefine norms. Smart organizational leaders of all stripes should be looking for these guys, telling their success stories, and rewarding their advocacy and courage. This form of talent management has the potential to change the workplace landscape in ways that will increase performance, profits, and fairness that will have far-reaching effects in organizations and society.
Originally posted on https://hbr.org/2018/09/where-are-the-male-allies-in-u-s-politics