As nonprofit professionals, many of us love to pat ourselves on the back for doing positive work and putting forth a solid effort. Don’t get me wrong – more often than not, it’s well deserved. We do this incredible work with our nonprofits despite the fact that as a sector, we have considerable room for growth in financially compensating our professionals. That being said, sometimes we are too quick to congratulate ourselves and overlook how we may be contributing to pervasive societal norms.
This is apparent with the many recent revelations of sexual misconduct perpetrated against women all across the country. While I’m hopeful to finally see a growing public awareness of an issue that has existed since the beginning of time, I often find myself unimpressed and concerned by the visceral reactions of many men. Even men who try to say the right thing have a tendency to distance ourselves from the issue, which can elicit harmful effects regardless of our intentions.
Every single person is responsible for helping to rid our communities of all forms of sexual misconduct. No one is excluded from this conversation, and I believe that men must stop distancing ourselves from these issues. Here are four basic pieces of advice that I’m going to assert that all men need to internalize immediately.
1. Even “Nice Guys” can contribute to (or be) the problem
Too many of us self-proclaimed “nice guys” think that since we would never sexually assault someone, this isn’t something we need to actively think about in terms of our own daily thoughts or actions. I have certainly found myself in this camp before. I’d hear about these horrible acts committed by men and then immediately dismiss those individuals as sick monsters, something clearly different from how I saw myself.
How is that thought process problematic? The fact is, as a male, I have a much larger responsibility than that. Just because you don’t see yourself as a sexual predator doesn’t mean you can ignore (or even worse, deny) the prevalence of this issue. Anyone can be complicit or even actively contribute to sexual harassment or sexual assault that’s happening inside or outside the workplace without even realizing it. You don’t deserve a cookie for not being the boogeyman, while your inaction and silence allows boogeymen to run rampant without consequences. Men need to accept responsibility and practice active self-reflection on a daily basis before giving ourselves credit for being “good”.
2. Know when to speak up
When you hear or see something that’s inappropriate, whether it’s egregious or more insidious, you have the responsibility to say something. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t actively engage in misogynistic “jokes” or as some fools call it, “locker room talk”, anywhere at all, but our roles go way beyond that.
Let’s stop tolerating the behavior of other men in our lives who are making these so-called jokes, not respecting physical space, or not keeping their hands to themselves. If we don’t say something in the moment followed by a timely and direct conversation afterwards, we are deeming these behaviors as acceptable. If it’s a friend, colleague, or even a stranger, men need to step up and say something to other men. Sure, it might be awkward or uncomfortable, but that’s a negligible price to pay for the safety and respect of others. Silence is simply unacceptable.
3. Know when to shut the heck up
On the other hand, it’s important for us men to know when not to speak. Please, don’t be that guy that’s sitting in the corner pouting, arms folded, saying, “But not all men!” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’ve completely missed the point and need to start listening more closely.
From sexual harassment to sexual assault, the prevalence of sexual misconduct is real, and to qualify women’s accounts with a defensive, tactless, and unsolicited rebuttal is at best foolish and at worst pernicious. So instead of feeling personally attacked when someone is brave enough and ready to share a devastating story, try saying “sorry”, “thank you for sharing”, “I believe you”, or maybe just keep quiet and listen to further understand.
4. Be a catalyst for change within your organization
Many people are quick to assume, sure, sexual misconduct happens elsewhere but definitely not at my organization. While we all certainly want that to be true, we know that it’s unfortunately not always the case. Regardless of your position, department, or seniority, we all need to be an active participant in creating a safe and positive work environment and working to maintain that for years to come. Here are some questions to ask yourselves and your organizations:
a. Does my organization have an explicit policy against all forms of sexual misconduct? Where can I find it?
b. Are there both onboarding and ongoing trainings for employees on these issues, or is it just a paragraph hidden in the stack of paperwork for new hires.
c. Do we as an organization have shared language around these issues? Does everyone in the organization fully understand what constitutes as sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault?
d. Is there a clear process laid out for how to submit a complaint? What is it?
e. What can employees expect from the organization after filing a complaint
These are just a handful of questions that we all need to be asking of our organizations and ourselves.
The time for all men to open their eyes and take responsibility is long overdue. Our organizations and communities will not thrive until women are treated with basic human decency.
So…what is your commitment to do better?