DETOXIFYING THE WORKSPACE
By Aashna Bhatia
“By far the worst thing we do to males — by making them feel they have to be hard — is that we leave them with very fragile egos.”
— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, award-winning author
In the recent past, the term “toxic masculinity” has become more of every jargon instead of being a topic that was only relegated and spoken about in gender studies classrooms. Most scholars use the term “toxic” masculinity to refer to stereotypical gender roles that restrict boys and men to only portray certain masculine emotions and expect them to live up to the social expectations of playing the role of dominant “alpha” male.
According to a Harvard Business Review Study, when a workplace encourages masculinity based contests, it promotes a toxic regime which eventually given rise to subtle as well as non-sable instances of toxic masculinity by employees.
This research defined masculinity contest culture as behavior comprised of four components:
Not showing weakness
Over-rewarding on the basis of strength and stamina
Labelling employees "good" if they put work above all else
Championing the "dog eat dog" mentality of unhealthy competition in the workplace
The not showing weakness part refers to the fact that boys are taught from a very young age to not express their emotions openly and be tough all the time because “boys don’t cry”.
Anything deviant from this norm makes them “weak” or “feminine”.
A work culture that places supreme importance on physical prowess is a work culture that overtly promotes physical strength, that men biologically possess more than women to be more important as an attribute and thus promote inequality at workplace. An office where employees are encouraged to put work before anyone or anything automatically diminishes the value of anything outside of work, be it family, mental health or personal illness.Such things are regarded as a sign of a weak person.
Additionally, cultivating a “dog eat dog” mentality at workplace turns a healthy working competitive work culture into a toxic environment which ceases to remain a safe space for employees.
It is imperative to understand that toxic masculinity is not just damaging for women, but it is damaging to the basic fibre of a company. It severely affects the creativity, individuality and collaborative nature of an organisation.
What we need now is a detox. A way to detoxify this culture of toxic masculinity at workplace to create a safe and collaborative environment for everyone involved.
There are certain steps one can take to promote non-toxic masculinity at workplace:
1. END THE TABOO SURROUNDING MENTAL HEALTH : A lot of corporates today are designing specific programmes to promote discussion about mental health and make it an indispensable part of their company culture. For instance, António Horta-Osório, the CEO of Lloyds Bank talks about ending workplace taboos around mental health. He describes how he’s made mental health a big focus for his company due to his personal experience. He talks about how we need to give mental health the same importance and treat it as we treat physical illnesses. “A change in mindset is needed,” he says, “with a culture of adequate support and sufficient time off, an employee can return to work with confidence and without embarrassment”.
2. LISTEN MORE: One of the easiest way to fight a toxic culture is to listen to your employees. Do not disregard, talk over or talk down to employees or colleagues even when their opinion does not align with your own. Do not dominate of take over a conversation. Make sure everyone gets an equal say in meetings, company decisions and at reviews. A silent employee should never become an invalid one.
3. GIVE UNRESTRICTED HELP: In a lot of workplaces, women do not report subtle instances of toxic masculinity as they're socially conditioned to attribute such behaviour to “locker room talk”, “boys will be boys” or just due to the fact that such enquiries sometimes lead them to lose their jobs for causing unnecessary trouble. Organisations must make sure that their sexual harassment guidelines are regularly updated and a policy of open communication ensures any and all complaints must be registered and must lead to a stern action.
4. CHECK YOUR BEHAVIOUR TOWARDS WOMEN: Do you subconsciously enter a room and greet the men in a meeting before the women? Do you make comments about how a women at work dresses or behaves? Do you assume a women’s interests and hobbies based on hegemonic gender norms? Are you okay being reprimanded and taking orders from a female colleague? If you answer no even remotely for any of these instances, you have in some ways subtly engaged in perpetuating a culture of toxic masculinity at workplace. It’s time to consciously check and change your behaviour.
The corporate culture needs people who are held accountable for their actions, who create positive conversations around toxic masculinity to ensure a healthy working environment for everyone. In addition to this women must be included in the forefront of such conversations instead of being a secondary character in the periphery. We need women changemakers and lawmakers at workplace.
Lastly, we need men talking to other men, be it their fathers, brothers, sons or friends. We need to start with one ally, who has to at some time decide to redefine the boundaries of masculinity and manhood and make it inclusive, safe and non-abusive for everyone around him.
The ad is the first time a major brand directly talks about the #MeToo movement and Toxic masculinity that can lead to bullying and abuse. It reaffirms the fact that men need to be accountable for their actions and their misogynistic behaviour.
Writer for We Hate Pink
Masters student at London School of Economics, pursuing a degree in Gender, Media and Culture.
Aashna is writing about gender, media representation and trends. Focus on cultural practices across different countries and the psychology behind politics