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At the end of a glitzy office party, a few of us colleagues who were good friends continued the party at one of our houses. Taking a break from the regular boss-bashing, we instead, tore apart a senior leader who we noticed had got close to a female worker at the party. For, all of us had observed the senior leader hold the lady close while welcoming her; while introducing her as a top performer; and while bidding her adieu at the end of the party.
Appalled by his behaviour, we wondered as to why none of the other leaders present at the party, didn’t tell him to back off? Or if they told him in private later, we wouldn’t know.
As we continued to analyse the situation one of our male friends, clearly in high spirits asked with brutal honesty ‘How do you know that the lady didn’t mind his attention?’
Another emboldened friend chimed in with ‘Yeah, she’s a fiercely independent woman of today, she probably wouldn’t appreciate anyone stepping in to rescue her, who knows? And, she didn’t ask for help either.’
As you can imagine, the rest of us charged against them, handing them a lecture on sexual harassment at the workplace.
What we thought would be a fun-filled extension of the original party, turned out to be a serious volley of allegations around – “Why are men silent on the sexual harassment of women at the workplace?”
While the traditional reason to blame men for not standing up for women is sexism, in reality, it stems from a complex set of reasons. Let’s take a look.
Male silence on sexual harassment of women at the workplace
Many men want to stand up for women but fear no one will take them seriously due to their lack of vested interests. As simplistic as this sounds, it is backed by research findings.
Adam Grant, the famous organizational psychologist, and author quotes the findings from a series of studies by Rebecca Ratner (University of Maryland) and Dale Miller (Stanford) – that when men take action for women’s rights, they receive shock and resentment from both men and women to the tune of ‘What business do they have speaking up for women?’
Their findings explain people’s reluctance to act on behalf of causes even though they sympathize with it.
Standing up to other men who talk trash about women or behave unprofessionally with women, may mean being thrown out of the boy’s club. Instead, brushing it off as ‘locker room’ talk or a ‘boys will be boys’ approach helps them disregard the situation on hand.
They also fear retaliation by the harasser or the company by standing up for a victim.
Social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley, state that when someone is harassed, bystanders who idly standby feel a less personal responsibility to intervene.
‘The bystander effect’ refers to the phenomenon that individuals are less likely to offer to help a victim when others are present. The more the number of bystanders, the less likely that any of them would help. This may arise from ambiguity, diffusion of responsibility or group cohesiveness.
When men witness harassment, they do not know if they read the body language of the harasser and victim correctly, they do not know what to do next, whether to report it to their Line Manager or HR and whether they should do so before or after talking with the alleged victim.
To top it off, they are unsure of feminism and political correctness in such situations.
While the deafening male silence on the sexual harassment of co-workers is due to several reasons, they aren’t the only ones silent. Human Resources, Line Managers, and colleagues across genders play a complicit role in not being vocal about it. Yet, since men often hold positions of power at the workplace, when they stand up for women or anyone being sexually harassed at the workplace, it can make a huge difference.
Tags: harassment, harassment at workplace, POSH, PoSH Act 2013, Prevention of Sexual Harassment, Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace, Relationships at Workplace, Safe Workplace, sexual harassment, sexual harassment at workplace