An article from Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2018/10/how-men-get-penalized-for-straying-from-masculine-norms) discusses how male workers face adverse outcomes when they deviate from traditional masculine norms in the workplace.
The authors emphasize that men who display behaviors or take on roles typically associated with femininity may face criticism and consequences, such as being viewed as less competent or receiving lower performance evaluations.
The above is shocking because male workers are often penalized for displaying positive — often productive — behavior that contributes to effective leadership. These are some of the staggering findings from this report:
1. Being Agreeable: Men who display communal and agreeable traits earn significantly less and are considered less competent for managerial roles, potentially deterring them from engaging in these behaviors at work.
2. Displaying Empathy: While empathy is crucial for effective leadership, female leaders displaying empathy avoid career derailment. Male leaders are likely exposed to career derailment for showing empathy.
3. Showing Sadness: Men showing sadness at work are perceived as less deserving of emotion, more emotional, and less competent than women. Authentic work environments allow all employees to experience emotions without penalty.
4. Being Humble: Modest men are seen as less likable, weaker, and less competent than modest women. Modesty among men is seen as weak. Firms tend to penalize displays of modesty and fail to combat the detrimental effects of workplace narcissism.
If you think about it, this means that the “masculine” traits rewarded in workplaces are almost psychopathic: they include narcissism, an anti-social element, and a lack of empathy. In that case, it offers a broader reason why gender disparities in pay at the workplace can develop.
In general, men start learning those so-called “masculine” traits very early. In his TED Talk(https://www.ted.com/talks/tony_porter_a_call_to_men/transcript) titled “A Call to Men,” Tony Porter shares personal stories from his childhood. One story involves his father crying in the car after his son’s funeral, but only in front of Porter, not in front of the women. His father apologized for crying and praised Porter for not crying.
This story highlights how toxic masculinity stops men from expressing their emotions.
Another story Porter shared was a 16-year-old named Johnny who hung out with him and his friends. One day, Johnny invites Porter to his room, where a girl from the neighborhood, Sheila, is lying naked on the bed. Johnny offers Tony the chance to have sex with Sheila. Petrified, Tony doesn’t know what to do but eventually pretends to have sex and lies to his friends about it when he leaves the room. Tony knew Shelia had been raped but felt he could do nothing. The story illustrates the pressure on men to conform to societal expectations of sexual prowess and objectification of women and what it means to be a man.
The documentary “Boys State,” streaming on AppleTV+, provides insight into the same observation. The film follows over one thousand teenage boys from varied backgrounds as they come together in Texas for an annual event to build a representative government from scratch. Split into two political groups, both camps seem to agree that their own party must not only win but dominate. The immediate goal of the political process for these teenage boys is to force the other party into submission. We must crush those who oppose us.
In other words, many masculinity-related behaviors — toxic or otherwise — have been ingrained from a very young age in men. Some of these traits, however toxic they are, have positive associations with salary and career advancement and are also a reflection of workplace norms.
Gender bias and its effects on women in the workplace are frequently emphasized in the mainstream media, but the experiences of men are often disregarded. This is somewhat understandable because, from a gender perspective, the problem predominantly affects women. Women are generally paid less and fields that are predominantly female tend to have lower wages despite requiring the same amount of experience. Female representation on boards can still be improved.
It’s worth noting that several mainstream media articles fail to acknowledge the above factor — a cause of the gender wage gap is the fact that numerous workplaces prioritize toxic characteristics typically associated with masculinity, regardless of whether they are exhibited by male or female employees.
Although men may benefit from this bias, it raises important questions. As we strive for equality, should we expect women to exhibit the toxic same characteristics? Furthermore, are we already choosing female leaders based on these qualities, even if they may not be the best fit for the position? Was Elizabeth Holmes actually unique?
To tackle this issue, the easy answer is that workplaces need to champion positive characteristics — many of them associated with values traditionally associated with masculinity, like responsibility, assertiveness, and competitiveness. Allowing male workers to display “feminine” traits such as compassion, humility, and kindness — without any downside — is also essential.
(https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/3799/1/Work%20Employment%20and%20Society.pdf) delves into the experiences of men who have entered careers like nursing, teaching, and social work, often viewed as feminine professions, for various reasons.
The investigation involved conducting 40 detailed interviews with men from four professions: librarianship, cabin crew, nursing, and primary school teaching. As a result, the researchers identified a typology of male workers within these fields, which included seekers, finders, and settlers. The investigation uncovered several significant themes related to token status effects, such as the career effect, the assumed authority effect, the special consideration effect, and the zone of comfort effect.
The findings suggest that men in these professions often benefit from their minority status by being perceived as more capable leaders, receiving differential treatment, and being more career-driven.
At the same time, the men felt a need to use tactics to prove their masculinity, which they believed was being challenged by the “feminine” aspects of their job.
These tactics focused on specific aspects of their work, such as cabin crew members emphasizing safety and security measures.
Men entering fields such as caregiving, education, and social work have faced outdated beliefs that these professions are not as essential or masculine. They are, in some sense, working to redefine what it means to be a man and acknowledge the value of traditionally feminine qualities. Despite facing biases that paradoxically help them advance professionally and earn more money, just by being in these professions, they help to challenge these stereotypes.
Nevertheless, their experience suggests the challenges that nice guys and gals face — workplaces for both traditionally masculine and feminine occupations generally reward and promote what are essentially “toxic” values.
The notion that “nice guys finish last” prevails in the workplace due to the reinforcement of traditional gender stereotypes and the reward system for toxic behavior.
This is not an exaggeration. The article “Leaders: Stop Rewarding Toxic Rock Stars,” published in the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2022/04/leaders-stop-rewarding-toxic-rock-stars), discusses how high-performing employees who exhibit toxic behaviors are often rewarded, leading to a hostile work culture.
This approach can have long-term consequences on employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity and undermines the importance of a healthy work environment.
It is also better for men.
Justin Baldoni’s TED Talk, “Why I’m Done Trying to Be ‘Man Enough,’” documents his journey to redefine masculinity and free men from societal expectations (https://www.ted.com/talks/justin_baldoni_why_i_m_done_trying_to_be_man_enough).
He highlights the pressure men face to conform to traditional gender roles and how these expectations can harm not only men but also the women in their lives. Drawing from his own experiences, Baldoni shares personal stories of his struggles with adhering to traditional masculine norms. He acknowledges his privilege as a man and strives to use it to bring about change. Baldoni stresses the importance of questioning how men are raised and conditioned to behave, particularly in suppressing emotions, objectifying women, and perpetuating the idea that men should dominate spaces.
He calls on men to hold themselves accountable, challenge toxic masculinity, and redefine what it means to be a man. Baldoni believes that true strength lies in vulnerability and being able to express emotions without fear of judgment. By embracing a new way of thinking, men can break free from traditional gender roles and create a more equitable society.
I agree. It is essential to recognize and value positive traits in both men and women, whether those are associated with traditional masculine or feminine values or the gender of the worker expressing those values.
To live better and more fulfilling lives at work, we must identify and address toxic values — which can be displayed by both men and women — hindering progress, hard work, and innovation. Modern workplaces and societies require us to succeed in challenging environments, which makes it crucial to foster the positive values that would allow us to achieve.
Also, at an individual level, by dismantling harmful stereotypes and reevaluating the way we reward employees, we can create healthier work cultures that foster personal and professional growth, irrespective of one’s gender.
We can work together to redefine success in the workplace, ensuring that it is not just toxic rock stars — including female rock stars who display and utilize the same harmful “masculine” traits to get ahead — who prosper but also those who contribute to a supportive environment.
Only then can we begin to truly debunk the myth that “nice guys finish last” and pave the way for genuine gender equality in the professional world.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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