Sunday 18 August 2019

Why toxic masculinity in the workplace is everyone’s problem

Aoife Geary - Independent Jobs

We all contribute to the culture of our working environment, so we all have a responsibility for how that culture impacts others.

We owe it to our colleagues to ensure that our workplace behaviour does not make them feel uncomfortable, unsafe or unequal. We owe it to our colleagues to recognise damaging behaviour and to say that it needs to change. We owe it to each other to call out toxic masculinity.

Because toxic masculinity in the workplace is not just damaging to women, it’s damaging to everyone. It seeps into the fabric of a company and corrodes the creativity, the individuality and the collaboration of an organisation.

Toxic masculinity refers to harmful attitudes about how “real men” should act. It fuels antiquated notions like men should suppress certain emotions and in a workplace context it encourages hyper competitiveness, posturing and a need to appear dominant. It means that anyone who doesn’t fit this depiction of a strong man is somehow less valuable and anyone who displays stereotypically feminine traits will be less successful.

To truly achieve gender parity in the workplace, we need more than equal pay and better parental leave, we need men to assess their behaviour and challenge the convention. For too long, aggression has been seen as a valid form of leadership. Those who shout the loudest don’t just get listened to, they get awarded above those who don’t shout. Why?

Because we’ve excused their actions with outdated and inaccurate caveats, tired phrases to validate bad behaviour. Instead of rude, we say direct. Instead of belligerent, we say doesn’t suffer fools. He mightn’t be very PC but he gets shit done. Does he? And at what cost?

Discussion around toxic masculinity isn’t an attack on men or manliness. Such discussion tends to cause mild outrage but if you’re offended by the notion that your behaviour may be damaging, then there are larger problems at play.

Not all masculinity is toxic. But some forms are.

How to counteract it:

Listen

One of the simplest ways to combat a toxic culture can be to listen more. Make a conscious effort to not talk over people even if you don’t agree with what they’re saying. In meetings, strive to give everyone equal air time. Not everyone will be as assertive or as loud as the dominant voices in the room, that doesn’t mean what they have to say is less valid.

Ask for help

Nothing facilitates collaboration more than asking for assistance. It shows you value the input of others and aren’t too egotistical to take direction. Then, if someone does help you out, afford them the credit they deserve.

A pinch of competition can help productivity but too much of it can lead to hostility. People stop communicating effectively, learning from each other and working towards the same goal.

Assess your behaviour towards women

Be honest. Do you sometimes address the men in a meeting before the women? Do you make judgements or comments based on a woman’s appearance in a way you wouldn’t with a man? Do you make assumptions about a woman’s interests or hobbies based on traditional gender norms? Are you more comfortable getting feedback from your male colleagues rather than your female colleagues?

We all contribute to the culture of our working environment and so we all have the power to change it.

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