The important conversation that has been taking place over the past six months in the US and around the world about sexual harassment in the workplace has focused mainly on the challenges women face in male-dominated industries where men in power feel free to take advantage of their female employees. Indeed, as the #MeToo campaign has highlighted, women experience sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace at alarming rates, while many more are treated as inferior to their male colleagues in other, less overt ways.
The victims of sexual harassment are by no means exclusively women, however. Marketplace reports on a new survey it conducted in partnership with Edison Research in which 14 percent of men said they had personally experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Also, 17 percent of all sexual harassment allegations filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2017 were filed by men.
If sexual harassment of men is less often discussed than that of women, that may be because men are less likely to report when they have been sexually harassed. “For men,” Marketplace’s Peter Balonon-Rosen and Kimberly Adams write, “stigma attached to sexual harassment can be a barrier to reporting it”:
“The biggest factor is that men are embarrassed,” said Todd Harrison, a partner at a California law-firm that specializes in employment law and sexual harassment cases. “They have pride that gets in the way, they don’t want to complain about it, especially to their male co-workers.” …
Men can be reluctant to come forward due to societal norms that say sexual harassment is not a male issue or because they don’t want others to know. … But men are hardly alone in being reluctant to report, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that most people who have experienced harassment, regardless of gender, never file a formal complaint about it.
The fact that men are also victims of sexual harassment underscores why organizations should not frame their response to this problem solely as a matter of gender equality. While most perpetrators are men and most victims women, talking about sexual harassment only as a crime committed by men against women may alienate men from the process of addressing it and invite a backlash, making men fearful of interacting with female colleagues or subordinates. This is counterproductive, as an organization’s success at stopping harassment may depend on engaging men as allies instead.
The kind of organizational culture that enables sexual harassment is often rife with sexism, but it also involves unhealthy power dynamics, permissive attitudes toward inappropriate behavior, and the absence of mechanisms for reporting and addressing misconduct—all characteristics that can be abused by perpetrators of any gender against victims of any gender. Sexism, meanwhile, also contributes to the stigma and shame that prevent men from coming forward as victims of sexual harassment or abuse. This reluctance to report reflects the same toxic attitude toward masculinity that discourages men from speaking up about work-life balance concerns.