Safe to say it’s not a very happy time right now. It feels surreal to talk about war in 2022.
I wasn’t sure whether I should write about Ukraine. My LinkedIn feed is filled with entrepreneurs, employers, business leaders, consultants, and freelancers sharing their feelings, thoughts, prayers, and other musings on the war. What more could my voice add?
But then, in reading all these posts and discussions, I reflected on my own feelings: sadness, disappointment, confusion… and then, anger. *Putin has entered the chat.*
I can’t speak to the history or politics of the Russian invasion of Ukraine – I’ll leave that to the smart people. But, since this is a newsletter centered around the workplace, I thought it might be relevant to talk about one of the drivers behind this conflict: toxic masculinity.
In support of our Ukrainian (and Russian) friends,
– Sophie 💙
Here’s a collection of donation links to support the people of Ukraine:
What Is Toxic Masculinity?
When I think of toxic masculinity, I mostly think of examples in pop culture – Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, literally any hip hop music video (or song, for that matter) from the early 2000s, and of course, Donald Trump.
It turns out, toxic masculinity is a psychological term. A study in the Journal of School of Psychology defines toxic masculinity as the following:
The constellationof is socially regressive [masculine] traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence."
This harmful sort of masculinity places importance on “manliness” based on strength, lack of emotion, self-sufficiency, dominance, and sexual virility.
Does Your Company Have a Hyper-Masculine Culture?
Toxic masculinity can range from seemingly harmless behavior like a man asking a woman to get him coffee to dangerous behavior like sexual harassment.
In the tech industry, toxic masculinity is well-documented.
At Uber – which has faced a neverending series of scandals, including claims of sexual and harassment and discrimination – former employee Susan Fowler described being repeatedly harassed and a “game-of-thrones” environment, where “every manager was fighting their peers and attempting to undermine their direct supervisor so that they could have their direct supervisor’s job.”
So, how can you tell if your company has a hyper-masculine culture?
Based on their research, which examines “masculinity contest cultures,” Jennifer Berdahl, Peter Glick, and Marianne Cooper identified four “masculine norms” that exist in a hyper-masculine culture:
Show no weakness. Your workplace demands confidence and (strongly) discourages admitting to doubt or mistakes and expressing vulnerable emotions.
Strength and stamina. For example, your workplace rewards those who work extreme hours.
Work comes first. Life outside of the organization, like your family, doesn’t matter – and it cannot interfere with your work. Taking a break or a leave signifies an inexcusable lack of commitment.
Ruthless competition. It’s a “dog eat dog”
worldworkplace, where “winners” focus on defeating “losers” and no one is trusted.
Both women and men must play the game to survive – but the game is rigged against women and minorities.
Obviously, “masculinity contest cultures” are bad – bad for people, bad for mental health, bad for humanity, and (because this is what the powers that be care most about, I guess) bad for business.
Hyper-masculine cultures lead to:
Low psychological safety. (As research has shown, psychological safety can create a safer, higher-performance environment.)
Low work-life balance.
Harassment and bullying, including sexual and racial harassment, social humiliation, and physical intimidation.
Higher rates of burnout and turnover.
Higher rates of illness and depression among both male and female employees.
Detoxify Your Workplace
While it is only a handful of men (and sometimes women) who perpetuate hyper-masculine cultures, the responsibility lies with all men (and women) to call out toxic behavior when they see it.
Here are a few things we can all do:
Talk about it. Have open and honest conversations with your coworkers about toxic masculinity and what it looks like.
Stay away from phrases like “man up” and “be a man.” These phrases create a culture that prides masculine bravado and aggressive behavior.
Organize awareness workshops to help employees build self-awareness around their own behavior and how it affects others.
Emphasize that diversity and equality are important values at your company.
Call out bad behavior. Women can also do this, but I’m reluctant to just tell women “see something, say something” because, as Susan Fowler experienced at Uber, women are more likely to face retaliation.
Use vulnerability as a strategy for inclusive leadership. This is a nice tip from Ray Arata, CEO of the Better Man Movement. He encourages male CEOs to tell their teams when they are struggling or feeling unsure, serving as a role model for healthy masculinity.
Putin: When Toxic Masculinity Goes Too Far
I’m no expert in Russian history, but I know that at first, Putin was seen as the “strong ruler” Russia needed considering how challenging it had become to survive in the post-Soviet era.
Most of us are aware of Putin’s imagery of hypermasculinity – the iconic image of him riding a horse bare-chested is the most famous example.
From his massive tables to his fear of gay people to his barbaric approval of a bill that decriminalizes domestic violence, Putin is the epitome of toxic masculinity.
At its best, toxic masculinity is a minor annoyance. At its worst, toxic masculinity leads to violence – and sometimes, war.
My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine – and let’s not forget to acknowledge the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has not only been a prime example of healthy masculinity but a noble leader for his country.
I make a conscious decision not to swear in The After Party – just to keep it #profesh – but I think I’ll make an exception this week…
Does anyone else object to the use of “constellation” here? It makes toxic masculinity sound so pretty.
There’s even a website called Uber Scandals.
In 2017, Uber fired more than 20 employees after a sexual harassment investigation.
Wow, this got me thinking that part of my resentment towards college (and competitive prior to that) soccer is because the culture was so hyper-masculine. And I only played with women. My college coach was even a woman herself! Just goes to show that we can all internalize this shit, regardless of gender identity…hmm.
Also, I love the personal intro! Both format and content-wise.