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Thom Dennis

Serenity in Leadership Ltd


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Men must act now against gender violence

Men need to tune into the sexual harassment conversation and acknowledge their part in taking action

The time for men to tune into the sexual harassment conversation and acknowledge their part in taking action is long overdue. This became apparent from the dialogue events we recently ran on issues relating to #MeToo and #TimesUp. During these sessions it became clear that, for the most part, women wished to discuss the subject and men did not. 

At the same time, a poll of American men revealed they thought 44 per cent of women had experienced sexual harassment in their lives whilst the actual figure is 81 per cent

Millions of nonviolent men today fail to see gender violence as their issue and our language supports this – we talk about: “She was raped” – we make the victim the subject as opposed to focusing on the assailant, and so we create an expectation that this is the victim’s (mostly a woman’s) problem and so men feel no need to tune into the conversation.

But whilst misogyny is a man’s issue and whilst women have, and continue to, agitate for action, it is for men to acknowledge their part and to act. 

Change will only come when men in power make gender-violence issues a priority

Denormalise sexism

Ask a group of men what steps they take on a daily basis to prevent themselves from being sexually assaulted and the typical response is a confused silence. 

Ask a group of women the same question and the response is usually long, copious with consistent themes, and the sad fact is that we live in a society that has normalised this situation.

A study published in 2018 in the Psychology of Men and Masculinities journal examined men’s reactions to #MeToo through a qualitative examination of the #HowIWillChange Twitter campaign. 

They found that men’s responses clustered into three general categories: 1) Men who wanted to be part of actively dismantling rape culture; 2) Men who were ‘indignantly resistant’ to social change, insisting they should not be held responsible or called to action because they had done nothing wrong; and 3) Men who expressed denial, and ‘hostile resistance’ to social change. 

And now Andrew Tate, a self-styled 36-year-old misogynist, has a following of millions of young men who have settled on him as a role model. As one reflected: “The reason why he’s taken off is because there’s such a shortage of masculine role models for young males like me.”

So what does this all have to do with the corporate world?

‘Feminine’ traits are crucial

First, psychologically safe environments are more productive and creative and enjoy lower absence and turnover of staff. 

Secondly, organisations are predominantly led by men to the advantage of men yet there is overwhelming evidence that the ‘feminine’ traits of intuition, listening, compassion, creativity, all so often derided as ‘soft skills’, are the ones most needed, and effective, for the changing and challenging times we face today. 

Thirdly, as the young follower said of Andrew Tate, there aren’t enough role models. And corporations need to help fill this gap – their futures depend on it. 

Establishing reasonable dialogue

Our society is increasingly focused on extreme views which are being propagated on social media, accompanied by a silencing of moderation – reasonable dialogue is hard to come by and it’s not just for governments to act. 

It is also simply the right thing to do, and requires leadership awareness, alignment and long-term commitment. 

Until more men involve themselves, there is no chance that the violence and inequity will be reduced. Change will only come when men in power make gender-violence issues a priority.

The aim must be for male leaders to set and maintain a tone in which sexist and abusive behaviour is considered unacceptable.

It is for men to acknowledge their part and to act

Progressing through introspection 

Gender harassment prevention needs to be a routine component of leadership training at all levels.

One of the most important steps any man can take if he wants to be an ally to women is to be honest with himself, and willing to examine his own attitudes and behaviours about women, sex and manhood. 

Because defensiveness is the enemy of introspection it is vital that men find ways to transcend their initial defensive reactions about men’s mistreatment of women.

Let’s unite

Build multiracial and multi-ethnic coalitions that unite men across differences around their shared concerns about lack of equality, harassment, misogyny and sexual exploitation. 

It is hard to be an empowered bystander, to call out sexist or abusive behaviour of one’s friends, peers and co-workers but this is what is required in spite of the potential personal consequences that may accrue. 

Always believe

The way organisations are configured, the tendency is for women who report sexual violence or misogyny to be disbelieved and labelled liars, troublemakers, hysterical and unreliable. 

It is often forgotten how much courage is needed for them to speak out, so it is crucial for men, whenever possible, to personally and publicly support survivors, particularly when the alleged attacker is popular. 

Opening up

Create company-sponsored spaces in which facilitated dialogue may take place. The aim in the first stage is to gather men and women separately for an exploration of experiences, feelings and beliefs. 

Our work shows that when the space is safe enough, men do open up and will explore topics which normally they would avoid. 

These have to be places without rank in which individuals of all different groups are welcome. Once initial conversations have taken place, the next stage is to bring men and women together to listen, as much as possible without judgement, to each other.

Finally, in organisations that try to improve inclusion through racial awareness, they should explore the connection with men’s violence. 

If you enjoyed this, read: Does your workplace value toxicity over trust?


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