Challenging Husbands to Do More in the Workplace


As each day brings the news of another case of sexual harassment or assault, I find the topic occupying more of my thoughts. Who will we find out about next? When will the accused or the accuser be someone I know personally? What changes will come as a result of these revelations? Is this really the sea change that people are speculating it is?

Although I’m clear it’s not my responsibility (nor that of any other woman) to change the behavior of men, I don’t want to sit by and do nothing waiting for men to do the right thing. Anyone taking his penis out at work is clearly not who we should put our faith in to lead the revolution.

I know #notallmen are whipping it out at work. However, many men are complicit in the existence of a hostile workplace. If a man doesn’t harass, does he fail to speak up when someone else does, such as being silent after the telling of an inappropriate joke? (My son told me that’s called being a “bystander” instead of an “upstander.”) Even if a man hasn’t witnessed sexual harassment, is he doing anything to create more opportunities for women to have positions of leadership in his organization?

I believe having more women at the table can influence workplace policy and decrease the likelihood of sexual misconduct. With that in mind, I’m trying to effect change in a small way by supporting the advancement and fair treatment of women in corporate environments. The only problem is that I’m self-employed and don’t work in an office. But my husband does. Therefore, one role I can play is to shine a spotlight on situations where women he interacts with may not be getting equal opportunities.

This is actually a role I’ve played for a while. The feminist in me will always call attention to situations when women are not getting equal treatment. Fortunately, it’s not a difficult for me to have these conversations with my husband. He’s a progressive man who sees the value of having women in leadership positions. He also respects my opinions and judgement, so he listens thoughtfully when I raise questions about the perceptions and treatment of women.

Recently, there have been three particular issues I’ve asked my husband to be mindful of in professional settings:

1.     Men often talk over women in meetings. Male allies need to look out for that and be advocates for making female voices heard. A comment as simple as “Can we circle back, I want to be clear on what Jessica said” could be very effective.

2.     Men often perceive women in senior roles as overly aggressive while a man behaving similarly would be viewed as assertive. Progressive men need to challenge their own opinions of executive women, as well as the opinions of their male colleagues to uncover implicit bias.

3.     Much of the relationship-building that helps people achieve success at executive levels happens in informal settings. Men need to make sure women are included in these outings, even if it sometimes means forgoing that round of golf at a conference (unless of course you’re inviting female colleagues who play to join.)

Although I think my husband was aware of these behaviors, this is a time when every man should be encouraged to be hypervigilant. That means even if your man was at the Women’s March wearing his pussy hat, you may want to challenge him to find new ways to take his activism to work.