A Guide for Allies
What can men do to make women feel safer in the workplace?
In March 2021, the disappearance and subsequent murder of Sarah Everard in South London sparked not only a much revisited conversation about the safety of women in the streets, but also a conversation about what men can do to make women feel safer in public spaces.
Twitter user Stuart Edwards placed partial responsibility on men to tackle the issue of harassment towards women, by asking the question of what “men can reasonably do to reduce the anxiety/spook factor”.
Although it has always been expected of women to ensure their own safety whilst out and about, with every kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder it becomes clearer that no matter what a woman does to attempt to protect herself, they are always at risk. However, change cannot come about solely from women - there is an evident need for men’s support on the issue as well.
The tweet currently has over 1300 replies, with responses ranging from men keeping their distance and subtly alerting their presence, to using their own privilege to raise awareness of the problem.
Nevertheless, all of these tips for men are limited to the context of public spaces. Given that most workplace harassment cases are experienced by women and a large amount of harassment occurs at work whilst going unreported, we need to ask ourselves what men can realistically do to make women not only feel safe in public spaces but also in a working environment.
How can we make women feel safe and secure in the workplace?
1. Don’t make inappropriate comments about women
Unwelcome explicit sexual behaviour is not the only kind of harassment. Any type of unwelcome behaviour, explicit or implicit, that's offensive, humiliating or intimidating is also included and thus the way men talk about female colleagues, or women in general, in the workplace is of the utmost importance to how women feel and are perceived in the office.
2. Don’t stare at a female colleague’s outfit or body
Again, the way women are looked at in the workplace plays a massive role in how safe they may feel in that environment. Staring at a woman, even if not intended in a harmful way, can be extremely disconcerting when coming from a man, especially in a place where power dynamics are heavily involved.
3. Be an active bystander in other situations of harassment
Simply not partaking in a form of harassment is not enough, as it does not prevent this type of behaviour from occurring again. One must actively aid the target and prevent the perpetrator from doing any more damage. This may include, for example, calling out male colleagues when they act inappropriately in order to avoid repetition of these situations and ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.
4. Listen to women’s experiences and feedback
Education, understanding, and the subsequent appropriate action are the most powerful tools that we have available to end workplace sexual harassment. It is absolutely crucial to actively seek and understand women’s views on harassment at work in order to be able to eliminate it, as well as internalising the fact that the intent of an action might not be how that action is really perceived.
Only discouraging harassment is not enough, men must be active allies to women at work
It is important to remember that sexual and other types of harassment are only one part of workplace gender discrimination. Although men should aim to eliminate gender specific harassment by recognising their own part in it and calling out their colleagues, men should also be active allies to female colleagues in other aspects of working life.
Men need to actively support and stand up for women at work. Someone saying they are not sexist is not enough without the action behind the words. Action can take many forms. For example: men in senior leadership roles being better mentors to women, sticking up for a woman who keeps being interrupted, or being involved in gender equity focused initiatives and programmes. Listening to women’s thoughts and experiences in a way that really inspires trust and respect.
There is also a need for tackling toxic masculinity in work environments, as this toxicity affects men’s wellbeing just as much as it affects that of women and therefore harms how safe and respected all individuals feel at work.
Actively addressing gender discrimination and safety at work not only aids in increasing women’s productivity, but also encourages more women to apply or aim for senior positions in companies, which has extensively proven to increase the profitability and success of an organisation.
Men actively helping to make women feel safer at work and discouraging any type of harassment and therefore being good allies to their female colleagues in the workplace, essentially benefits all involved. Men, although it may be uncomfortable to face certain aspects of your own or other’s behaviour in the workplace, it is time to gear up for the challenge.
Written By: Patricia Fernandez Gimeno, Research Ambassador at Metta Space
Edited By: Paula Koller-Alonso, Head of R&D at Metta Space