New Catalyst research reveals that a climate of silence in the workplace can play a significant role in men’s willingness and ability to interrupt sexist behavior. When speaking up is not encouraged by those who hold power in organizations, employees are more likely to remain quiet when witnessing sexism against women. Catalyst

When asked how they would respond to incidences of workplace sexism, 86% of men said they wanted to help address and interrupt sexist behaviors in the workplace, but only 31% of those men said they felt confident to do so in a new study from Catalyst.

According to the report, Interrupting Sexism at Work: How Men Respond in a Climate of Silence, workplace climate is an important factor in how men perceive and respond to sexism. Men who experience higher levels of a "climate of silence" – an environment in which employees feel restrained from constructively speaking up about organizational or work-related problems, concerns, or challenges – feel both less committed to, and less confident in, speaking up against sexist comments or behaviors.

Catalyst researchers Emily Shaffer, Ph.D., Negin Sattari, Ph.D., and Vice President of MARC Alixandra Pollack surveyed 338 men across job levels working in Mexico and found:

  • As organizational silence increases, men are 50% less likely to be committed to interrupting sexism and 40% less likely to be confident in their ability to interrupt sexism;
  • As organizational silence increases, men are 30% less likely to question a colleague and 35% less likely to challenge a colleague who makes a sexist comment against a coworker; and
  • Indirect responses in the form of sarcasm or humor are 75% more likely to be used as organizational silence increases.

"The good news is that this study shows there are men willing to be a part of the solution and interrupt sexism in the workplace," said Catalyst President and CEO Lorraine Hariton. "We know it's not easy to dismantle an organizational climate of silence, but this study is a call to awareness and action for companies and leaders to address the factors that may influence employees who are deciding whether it feels safe to interrupt sexism at work."

Based on the survey data and interviews with men, the report's authors assessed what prevents men from or encourages men to interrupt sexist behaviors they witness at work. The authors conclude that it is critical to identify power dynamics and privilege; speak out against sexist behavior in the workplace, and challenge assumptions that things "are just the way they are" to "dismantle" the climate of silence and help male leaders interrupt sexism.

Catalyst engages male leaders as role models and influencers for gender equity through its flagship program MARC (Men Advocating Real Change). Interrupting Sexism at Work: How Men Respond in a Climate of Silence is the first in a series of reports that focuses on understanding how men interrupt sexism in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific.

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