The surge of high-profile sexual harassment reporting in recent months that’s been dubbed as “the reckoning” has also been described as the dawning of a “new era” for workplace equality. But while the number of men being held accountable for harassment may be new, we know that the existence of workplace sexual harassment is anything but.
Fairygodboss surveyed 500 women in our community and found that 43 percent have experienced harassment at work. Sadly, that’s hardly a surprising statistic — but what was surprising was the picture respondents painted of the average harasser. Seventy percent of respondents said their harasser was under the age of 40, and 57 percent described them as a colleague. Meaning? The more senescent Harvey Weinsteins and Charlie Roses of the world may not, in actuality, be the typical harasser.
With the knowledge that harassment isn’t just coming from the top-down, between senior-level men and more junior women — what can men do to help hold their peers accountable? Many men, like Rick*, have been asking themselves that same question in recent weeks.
“I think the #MeToo movement and everything that’s stemmed from Harvey Weinstein has kind of opened the floodgates for a lot of people to reconsider their past experiences,” Rick said. “They’re reflecting on things and thinking about what they would have done differently and what they should do differently moving forward. I know that’s certainly been the case for me.”
One incident Rick would handle differently, given the chance? Treating an older male colleague’s tendency to heckle young female hires outside the women’s restroom as “something to laugh about.”
“We all knew about it but kind of laughed it off, including the women,” he recalled. “No one really did much about it… it’s been normalized as, ‘Well, men are shitty, and everyone has a story.’ But if we want things to change, it’s time for people — men included — to point out that behavior when they see it happen and say, ‘No, don’t do that.’”
In Rick’s case, this particular offender did happen to be older and more easily billable as “creepy.” But what happens when harassment is subtler and committed by peers whose acceptance men may feel greater anxiety over losing? For Sam*, witnessing subtler harassment and discrimination in the office was his reality not long ago.
“After the Matt Lauer news broke, a couple of colleagues argued for a policy similar to Mike Pence’s ‘don’t dine alone with women’ approach,” he said. “They felt the only way they were safe from ‘harassing’ women was to be in group settings.”
Thanks to the past year’s political climate, Sam says his approach to situations like these “has certainly evolved — the election really opened my eyes to how backwards many people’s views are (and not just on gender), and it’s made me a more vocal activist.” In this scenario, he put that vocal activism to good use by speaking out against his coworkers’ sexism.
“I mentioned that it was a really stupid policy that unfairly punished women, because they don’t get the face time with senior people, aren’t included in office happenings, and things like that,” he said.
When the harassment isn’t perpetrated by colleagues, but rather by a client, external business partner, or investor, it’s just as vital that men speak out, something executive recruiter Bruce Hurwitz spoke to.
Before starting his own recruitment and career counseling firm, Hurwitz was the acting director and head of fundraising for a branch of the Young Men and Young Women’s Hebrew Association. At his branch, a female colleague was running a successful gymnastics program for children.
“A man showed up, introduced himself, and said that he wanted to make a donation to fund the program,” Hurwitz recalled. “I took him to the gym and we watched the teacher interacting with the children. After a few minutes, the man said he had seen enough. He was willing to make the donation, but first he wanted to meet the teacher for dinner.”
Realizing that the man was taking a greater interest in the teacher than was appropriate, Hurwitz stepped to her aid.
“I said I would speak to her and that I was certain there would be no problem; that WE would be happy to join him for dinner,” he said. “He insisted on having dinner alone with her, and I insisted that he leave the building.”
These kinds of conversations may sound uncomfortable, but they’re inherently necessary for men to have if a fairer and more equal workplace is going to be achieved. And they need to happen sooner rather than later, explained Rick, who’s since dealt with — and, this time, reported — a second perpetrator of harassment at work.
“If these people are going to go out of their way to make women feel uncomfortable, then they deserve to be made to feel uncomfortable, too, and they need to have their place in the workplace reevaluated,” he said. “Don’t just be shocked by it. Don’t let it pass by. Go back to him, confront him, and stop working with these people."
But also, Rick warned, men should be careful not to get involved with the wrong intent, too.
"If you’re going to be an ally to women in the workplace, don’t expect a reward for it or to be called some kind of hero," he said. "Do it because it's the right thing to do. Don’t make it about you and your own expectations. It’s something everyone needs to do to make the workplace better for everyone."
Need to report sexual harassment at your workplace? You can find more resources here.
*Names have been changed by request.