Study: Men who stand up for others at work may face a backlash | Katz Melinger PLLC
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Study: Men who stand up for others at work may face a backlash


In the wake of the #MeToo movement, some have asked why women don't always stand up to those who commit sexual harassment or misconduct. Common answers include fear of not being believed, fear of retaliation, and settlements with nondisclosure clauses.

Now, a new hashtag-based movement is asking why men are reluctant to stand up and speak out when they see their female coworkers being harassed. Earlier this year, a Hollywood group released an open letter asking men to take on more of the responsibility for creating workplaces that are free from gender discrimination and harassment. They call their movement #AskMoreofHim.

The idea is that men, especially those in powerful positions, ought to advocate on behalf of victims and demand that their workplaces be free of sexism and abuse. The vast majority of men aren't taking part in illegal harassment or discrimination, and surely they would prefer their workplaces be safe and supportive for all employees. So, why don't we hear more from them?

A small study by researchers at Dublin City University suggests one reason; men who speak out on behalf of their female colleagues may be breaking a gender stereotype -- and they may ultimately pay for it.

Past social scientists have shown that those who break gender stereotypes are likely to face a backlash. They're considered less likeable, less competent, and less suitable for certain types of employment.

In this latest study, researchers recruited 149 professionals -- about half male and half female -- for an online study purportedly about perceptions and decision-making. In practical terms, each of the professionals was asked to assess the application materials of either a male or female job candidate.

Each candidate was randomly assigned a persona -- either as a competitive self-promoter who wants to receive credit where it is due, or as a strong advocate for others who diligently guides their team to success. The professionals were asked to rate the candidate's likeability and competence, along with whether the candidate would likely be retained if the company downsized.

Regardless of the gender of the reviewer or the candidate, the reviewers all rated those who advocated for their colleagues as less competent and more likely to be laid off. Moreover, the reviewers had lower opinions of advocating men than of advocating women.

In other words, the men described as strong advocates for their colleagues or teams were given the lowest ratings. Assuming the findings are representative of general attitudes, they don't bode well for #AskMoreofHim.

Gender stereotypes often seem harmless, but they can lock people into negative patterns of behavior. Meanwhile, breaking them can result in a negative perception. How much are our own stereotypes contributing to harassment and discrimination?

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