As the conversations continue around abuse in the workplace, I feel strongly that we be careful not to forget about men. The men who are understanding the dynamics of workplace power in a new way are reaching out to women and learning. They are retracing their work history and they are also seeing abuse of power as a puzzle that affects them too.
One of the organizations I worked for was as much a daily frat party as it was a place of business. Most of my time was spent navigating verbal assaults. Ignoring, joking along, directly calling “the boys” on their discrimination, and getting out of the office regularly were a few of the tricks I learned. I’ve often talked about sexual harassment when recounting this environment but the past few weeks have had me taking a closer look. The office was multicultural and while the “alpha males” were loud and often obnoxious, the sales floor included gentlemen. As I look back, I remember these gentlemen rolling their eyes, dodging insults, and staying respectful to their co-workers despite being made fun of for it. Both men and women from other departments dreaded having to enter the sales floor to resolve issues because of the culture. No one was safe … in addition to the expected frat party disgustingness like porn and bathroom jokes … racism, cultural differences, and politics were all attacked. Survival skills were in full use. Women making women jokes to avoid attacks. Men of color occasionally leading the pack on bad behavior to save themselves. Were we all miserable, women AND men, trying to keep up with the culture?
An incident happened last week at a business function that Cary and I attended. A man uncomfortably commented on my looks. I went into automatic mode and did something cutesy and moved away quickly. As I caught myself, I thought about those automatics that we develop subconsciously. As Cary and I stepped away he says … “So, that’s definitely a form of sexual harassment.” We later had a discussion around the subconscious agreements we make at work allowing us to function safely. These subconscious agreements consistently damage both men and women and keep us from doing our best work.
If you’ve worked in an environment where abuse of power is rampant, you have experienced the effects of being bullied. If you have been bullied indirectly, the person in power damaged your reputation to co-workers and you dealt with trust issues, team members distanced themselves from you, and it was more and more difficult to do your highest level of work. Men can also find themselves having their loyalty questioned when they don’t want to participate in bad behavior. Gentlemen have been passed over for promotions so that a boss can promote a woman who he is in a relationship with or wants to be in a relationship with. Men who are thoughtful and thorough in their work are often kept from promotion because a fellow philandering “alpha male” type will be more fun for a sexual harassing boss. Before they know it, men find themselves outside of their integrity making subconscious agreements to appear to be an employee who won’t challenge the person in power.
When your daily work becomes about protecting yourself in the power play and not challenging the boss … how on earth could you be doing your best work? How can that kind of environment be good for self-esteem? How does that not eat at your soul? What about the places this is happening that are service oriented? Government? Hospitals? Schools? These abuse of power workplaces are affecting the communities that we all live in. Women are finally getting their voices heard. Let’s include men … the good men AND men who could have behaved better but became part of their culture. I know I’m not innocent … there are plenty of subconscious agreements I made and mistakes that affected my co-workers negatively. When have asked why men didn’t speak up against sexual harassment, it was the same reason that many women didn’t. They would have also become a target to be harassed and bullied out of their jobs. They thought about their families, college funds for their kids, and the mortgage. Yet, staying silent to abuse of power has also affected men profoundly.
Let’s dig deep into this conversation, please share your comments. As a coach of both men and women, I want to support high achievers to see their work environments at a fully conscious level so that they can make effective changes or leave for a better workplace where their full talent can be fostered and appreciated. No more allowing subconscious agreements to eat at our souls … let’s work together.