The Role of Men in Stopping Sexual Harassment

Too many recent high profile sexual harassment cases in the U.S. and Canada resulted in initiatives for women to stop and expose these detestable acts. The Washington Post called it a “moment of reckoning for men” and these initiatives resulted in me asking myself what the role was for men in stopping harassment and I recognized that, for many people, the perception was that the only role for men was to stop harassing women. In conducting harassment investigations I interview respondents that are guilty of these revolting and hurtful acts but I have also interviewed many male witnesses who work hard to treat others with dignity and respect but perhaps failed to step in and speak up when they were aware that it was happening. These men would never consider committing harassment but bear responsibility for not stopping it from happening. Men have many roles that they should fulfill in stopping sexual harassment.

As a Parent – Fathers have a duty to talk to their sons about the need to treat others with respect and the consequences of not doing so in both their education and later working careers. They also have a duty to talk to their daughters about the need to take appropriate action for any incidents where they may be a victim or have concerns that they may be victimized. Many cases that I’ve dealt with were complaints from young women, new to the work world and under the impression that sexual harassment was a behaviour they had to endure.

As a Fellow Employee – Men who witness or suspect that harassment is taking place have a responsibility to take action. Appropriate action will vary depending on the circumstances but may vary from a private talk with the woman who may be a victim to discussions with the appropriate personnel within the company.

As a Supervisor or Manager – Many of my reports result in findings where the boss or supervisor knew or ought to have known that harassment was taking place. In one case a manager was aware for two years that harassment was taking place and when asked why he didn’t do something about it said that he was concerned that the complainant might cry if he talked to her about it. People are often promoted into these positions because of the skill they have in their profession but they may not have the managerial skills to deal with harassment. Supervisors and managers have an important role in following up on suspicion of issues where there may be harassment and dealing with it at an early stage before it becomes more serious and causes greater harm. They also have a duty to ensure that a victim receives support where harassment has taken place.

As a Role Model – Being a good role model not only means doing the right thing but also taking appropriate action when one messes up. We all make mistakes and sometimes we say inappropriate things that we regret. A good role model will recognize when they blunder and will apologize and take appropriate action to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.