How Toxic Masculinity Continues to Ruin Work for Women
We thought maybe it was wrapped up with the #metoo movement, that men could learn a few lessons and move on, grow, and de-toxify the workplace. Many did. Lots took those messages to heart and broadened their horizons, making room for women to feel much more comfortable at the office.
Then, of course, we moved out of the office and back into our homes to work. We started the culture of Zoom calls and at-home working, layoffs and reculturing our entire space. Stress reached an all-time high, and many of the things that worked before just simply…didn’t.
Martin Raymond, of The Future Laboratory, points out that traditionally “male” personality traits like confidence and competitiveness have in the past placed men as leaders. That same competitiveness, though, has to step aside and make way for the most valuable upcoming trait, emotional intelligence, which is a far more valuable skill for future workplaces.
Businesses have tried to ferret out toxic masculine behaviors, those that make women feel uneasy, whether sexual or just plain overbearing, more and more since the Weinstein debacle, but with mixed success.
The Kantar Inclusion Index, designed to examine business marketing and diversity practices surveyed almost 20,000 people in 14 countries, operating in 24 different industries, found that more than 1/4 of women (27 %) feel they don’t belong in their workplace. That’s a stunning number.
One difficulty in erasing the toxicity level presented by men in the workplace is a culture shift. Men still hold the vast majority of power in almost every industry around the globe. More than 77% of those in STEM fields, the largest growing professional sector, are male. They choke out the opportunities, especially leadership opportunities, for the remaining 23% of women by their mere overwhelming presence.
In my own field, technical writing, I was recently bullied and eventually dismissed from a position thanks to a toxic workplace culture. My manager frequently pointed out my minor missteps, finding frustration with errors in format or lack of technical acumen, but when I pointed out the same, errors in the publication pipeline or mistakes made by Subject Matter Experts that led to delays or caused bottlenecks, his ego took a blow. I was let go. What is good for the goose is not, in fact, good for the gander. An environment full of bravado does not allow room for equal growth, only for one-sided blame.
There are steps that companies of any size can take to detoxify the workplace, whether that toxicity is caused by males, or, in lesser numbers by women.
Business coach Jo Emerson recommends the Four A’s:
Being aware of the issue, the person or people generating the toxicity and a willingness to see the trouble at hand. Putting blinders on or chalking it up to “old boys club” behavior just won’t work.
Audit the company face to face or even virtually, but try to get a sense of what the culture is for real, not just a few anecdotes. Surveying, interviews, and other tools will help gauge the culture.
Taking an in-depth assessment of where you are and where you can go as a company is important. Review behavior, talk about best practices, put methods and new elements in place. It’s an ongoing thing.
Taking action where needed is probably the most important step. Any of the other items are useless without this. Acting on issues, communicating expectations, taking needed steps — all are essential to creating a non-toxic culture.
Any of us would love to say that egos are not fragile, that workplaces are safe, that no one takes hurt feelings out in a damaging way. That’s just not true. As the flailing economy and troubled times of 2020 have shown us, stress reactions are real and difficult. Unfortunately, just as women are striving to rise up in the workplace, more men are struggling to hang on.
With luck, and widespread vaccinations, we’ll see a better workplace in 2021 and beyond, but in the meantime, perhaps we can all take a few tips from this list and show them to our managers. And we can hope they respond well. OR maybe just leave them as an anonymous note.