#MeToo has highlighted the necessity for male allies in the workplace but new research suggests they may suffer for speaking up on behalf of others.
The #MeToo campaign zeroed in on a list of men behaving badly, prompting a mountain of global investigations into workplace sexism and gender discrimination which saw some men on the chopping block, while others put their heads down and focused on their own business. Notably, there were some men who stood strong as supporters of their female co-workers. According to new research from Dublin City University, these last men are likely to suffer for their advocacy.
Speak up and risk losing your power
The study surveyed 149 employees, the majority being human resources professionals. The research didn’t focus on men who spoke out about sexism or gender-based violence in particular, but on those who advocate for others in general, referred to as “other-advocators”.
Participants were asked to review the job applications of both men and women, which framed applicants as either gender-atypical or typical. This stems from the idea that men aren’t seen as other-advocators as much as women are.
In the applications, male and female applicants were portrayed as either self-sufficient “lone wolf” leaders that advocated for themselves or a community-minded leader who advocated on behalf of others. The participants were asked to rate each applicant, taking into account their likability, competency and if they’d want to keep this person around during a company restructure.
In the study, men identified as other-advocators received less positive results than the self-advocating group. And when separating “other-advocating men” from “other-advocating women”, surprisingly, the men came off second best.
The researchers concluded that “atypical, other-advocating men were judged to be low on agency and competence and penalised with job dismissal”.
It should be said that the study relies on the interpretation of job applications rather than a more rigorous recruitment process. And it’s important to keep in mind, that it’s only indicative of 149 people’s opinions, and there are plenty of others who would argue that females have to fight harder to be seen as competent employees. But it’s interesting that this wasn’t the case in this study, and that these particular results came from an HR dominant group.
The gender vanguard
The researchers refer to those exhibiting gender-atypical behaviour as “gender vanguards”. The results reinforce the damaging and culturally driven expectations placed on men and women in the workplace. Men have enjoyed work opportunities since the beginning of human existence – hunting, building and protecting – whereas women are still trying to shake the homemaker roles forced upon them, which continue to seep into their professional lives.
The expectation that females take on the “softer” communicative roles in the workplace, while males focus on jobs that require some elbow grease, has been cemented. And when gender vanguards challenge this they’re often considered abnormal and, according to this study, less competent.
Pushing past the stereotype
As HRM has previously reported, we tend to value leaders for the wrong reasons. We’re often drawn to people who “seemed to have stood against impossible circumstances, elevated and alone” instead of looking to the people who are best at utilising not just their own skillset, but that of those in their team – people more likely to be “other-advocators”.
“Although we may laud the integrity or compassion of men who speak out on others’ behalf, we may simultaneously question their competence compared to men who do not advocate for others,” says writer Daisy Grewal for the Scientific American.
Is this really the message we want to be sending to employees, be they male or female?
Research from Catalyst suggests that male advocates may be the key to achieving gender diversity in the workplace and that “a shift away from this ‘win or lose’ mentality to a recognition that everybody benefits from gender equality can lead men to become greater advocates of change”.
While the study seems to prove that some people still strive to define employees into their specific boxes, the gender vanguard is incredibly important in this day and age. Whether our biases are conscious or unconscious, it’s important to encourage advocates to continue pushing through systemic workplace problems.
Image: startupstockphotos.com via Pexels.
Support change and improve diversity outcomes by raising awareness of conscious and unconscious bias in your organisation, with AHRI’s corporate in-house training course ‘Managing unconscious bias’.