Let’s get awkward instead.
Sexism and other forms of discrimination continue to plague our society, and many people are wondering what they can do to help.
This comes up a lot in my Bloke Coaching sessions with men.
One option that some people suggest is that men need to call out sexism when they see it. This seems logical and plenty of men promise to do this, but we know it’s harder than the rhetoric.
It requires courage. A lot of courage. And sets a high benchmark.
It’s ok to not have the courage. Plenty of us don’t.
Despite all the pledges and commitments we might make, when the pressure is on, most of us don’t step up to “Call it out!”
And that is ok.
But, what else can we do?
A recent coachee (a CEO) talked to me about the sexism being demonstrated by his company’s owners – three men – in some of their meetings together. He really wanted to start including his 2IC (a woman) but felt that it currently wasn’t a great environment for women.
How does he call this out? Does it help these men to change their behaviour? He wants to, but there is a lot on the line.
And so, like many men, every day, we choose to do nothing.
Which maintains the status quo.
There’s another option.
When we refuse to engage with sexist behaviour or comments, when a sexist joke falls flat, we shame the person telling the joke, or behaving that way, and send a covert signal that their behaviour is not welcome.
No one wants to be told a joke that isn’t funny. No one wants to behave in a way that gets strange looks or doesn’t evoke the reaction we are looking for.
When people make sexist jokes or comments, they are looking for attention and validation.
If they do not receive this attention or validation, they may begin to question whether their behaviour is appropriate or acceptable.
By refusing to engage with sexist behaviour, men can help shame the person and create a situation where the other person recognises (on their own) that their behaviour needs to change.
The more we do this, across a range of settings, men can help create an environment where such sexist behaviour is simply not tolerated in any situation.
There is no greater catalyst for a person to change their behaviour than feeling unwelcome, and our desire to be accepted.
It is important to note that this approach is not about avoiding difficult conversations that need to be had or shying away from addressing discrimination.
Rather, it is about choosing the most effective approach in each situation. A lot of behaviour we witness that needs to be addressed falls into a grey area. There are significant power imbalances present in many of these interactions.
In some cases, calling out sexism may be the best option, while in others, creating an awkward environment may be sufficient and a more comfortable solution for us to deploy.
We don’t have to take up a sword to win this battle.