Strategies for Men to Address Sexist Behavior from other Men in the Workplace
GCG Leadership Development Team

Most men globally likely support gender equality and believe they are contributing in meaningful ways. While some men may be involved in interpersonal allyship — through mentorships and professional relationships that support women — fewer engage in public allyship, which involves actively championing equity, dignity, respect, and fairness in the workplace. This disparity indicates that men need to do more to challenge inappropriate behavior and advocate for change.

The Challenge of Confrontation

Challenging other men about sexism, bias, harassment, and other forms of inappropriate behavior can be the most difficult aspect of male allyship, but it is absolutely essential. Challenging entrenched masculine norms in the workplace can be daunting, but it is necessary for true gender equality. Confrontation involves bringing sexist attitudes and behaviors to the attention of men who, knowingly or unknowingly, perpetuate these issues.

Why Men Must Confront Misbehavior

It is crucial for men to confront other men when they witness demeaning, offensive, or harassing behavior, even if it is unintentional. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Women who call out bad behavior often face negative evaluations and are perceived as less competent compared to men who do the same.
  2. When a man confronts bias or sexism, observers are more likely to be persuaded, as it appears more objective and less self-serving.
  3. The impact of a confrontation is often greater when it comes from someone within the same group. Men are more likely to heed criticism from other men, who can frame it as, “This is not who we are,” or “This is not what we do.”
  4. Many men fear they are the only ones objecting to sexist comments or jokes, even though evidence suggests many are offended. Speaking up can empower other male allies to voice their objections.

Practical Strategies for Confrontation

While the prospect of speaking up can be overwhelming, there are effective strategies that can make it easier. Here are six confrontation techniques to apply in workplace interactions:

1. Use the Two-Second Rule:

Combat the bystander effect by responding immediately to sexist comments or jokes. Use the “what’s that” technique: simply say “What’s that?” or “Come again?” to buy time to formulate a clear response, such as:

  • “Are you sure you mean that?”
  • “We don’t do that here.”
  • “That was not funny.”

2. Own Your Statements:

When confronting another man, use clear I-statements to express how the behavior affected you, rather than attributing it to the presence of women. For example, say, “I didn’t find that joke amusing. I don’t appreciate how it demeans women,” or “I’d appreciate it if you’d stop referring to our female colleagues as ‘girls.’ They are women.”

3. Use Socratic Questions:

A thoughtful question can disrupt gender bias and prompt self-reflection. For instance, if a woman’s idea is co-opted by a male colleague, ask, “How is that different from what [female colleague] suggested a few minutes ago?” This can remind everyone of the original source of the idea and encourage fair recognition.

4. Share Personal Experiences:

Sometimes, sharing how bias or sexism has affected someone close to you can be powerful. For example, “My wife experienced this at work, and it’s unacceptable. I don’t want women to experience that here.” This personal connection can make others see their behavior in a new light.

5. Use Humor:

When appropriate, humor can be an effective tool, especially if you have an established relationship with a colleague. For example, if a man calls a female colleague “sweetheart,” you might say, “Do you call all your software developers ‘sweetheart’?” This can defuse tension while making a point.

6. Show Support:

Behavior change is best achieved with a blend of challenge and reinforcement. Let the person know you are on their side and that your concern comes from a place of care. Have a direct conversation, using I-statements to express how their behavior impacts you and others. Follow up with positive reinforcement when they show gender awareness.

Creating a Supportive Culture

Confronting other men about their behavior is not about shaming or anger. It’s about fostering a culture of respect and equality. Sometimes, a private conversation will be more effective, especially with well-meaning but unaware colleagues. At other times, public confrontation is necessary, particularly if the behavior is egregious or if the person is a repeat offender.

In Summary

Allyship and confronting inappropriate behavior require courage, empathy, and a strategic approach. Leadership coaching can play a crucial role in guiding men to become effective allies. Coaches can provide the tools and support needed to navigate these challenging situations, fostering a culture of accountability and respect within the organization.

At Global Coach Group, we are committed to helping businesses foster leadership excellence and create inclusive work environments. Through tailored leadership coaching programs, we support organizations in building resilient, motivated teams that drive long-term success.

For leaders who want to become coaches or coaches looking to enhance their leadership coaching skills, Global Coaching Group (GCG) provides a comprehensive leadership coaching certification program. GCG’s internationally acclaimed coaching tools and resources can help you improve your coaching proficiency and empower you to guide others.

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