Sarah Everard’s horrific case raises many questions about our society – not least what the behavior of her killer speaks to culture in the workplace and the role of organizations in preventing male violence against women.
An investigation is underway into allegations that the killer, as an acting police officer, engaged in a range of sexist and abusive behavior that could and should have been considered by his employer at an earlier stage and in which his colleagues could sometimes be involved.
This is just one of many examples of the UK police’s tackling sexism, abuse of women and institutional inaction that suggest that, despite some progress in recent decades, misogyny remains deeply rooted in the force. Meanwhile, in one of his first interviews as Minister of Justice, Dominic Raab did not seem to even understand what the term “misogyny” meant.
The police also seem reluctant to reflect on how deep these issues are. This became apparent when, after Everard’s death, it was suggested that women get off the buses if they feel threatened by the officers. This is further supported by figures recently released by Channel 4, which show that nearly 2,000 sexual harassment charges have been brought against police officers over the past four years, and nearly two-thirds of the complaints have been “dropped.” These revelations have led the National Council of Chiefs of Police to agree that some have been recruited into the police force “because of the power, control and opportunities they give them.”
This is due to the very composition of the police as an institution. Not only is he still male dominated, he also maintains a masculinity construct that is tough, competitive, and dispassionate. It is the hand of the state, where the use of force and aggression is considered legitimate, and hierarchy and group loyalty are paramount. In a masculinized environment such as this, women, both internally and externally, are often marginalized.
It is very important that the conversations involved in this case do not subside. They should lead to tangible action in society, both by individuals and by organizations. And it is not enough for men to reject violence against women as something they would never personally do and therefore not their problem. They must go beyond that mindset and make a commitment to never justify or remain silent about violence against women.
The problem may not always manifest itself in the same way as in the police, but it is up to each organization to reflect on how it responds to discrimination, harassment and abuse. Eradicating rigid and restrictive male norms and fostering a more equitable and inclusive workplace culture is critical. Hiring more women, especially in leadership positions, is important, but jobs must also be women-friendly in the first place. Education, training and campaigns among staff can help not only raise awareness, but also change unhealthy and sexist attitudes and behaviors.
It is also very important to look at the very structure of the organization. Are men and women paid and rewarded differently? Who is in the leadership and how did they get there? Are roles and responsibilities gender stereotyped? These things send messages about who is valued in the organization and in society more broadly, and the value of men’s lives more than women’s lives is central to violence against women. This is evident both from the fact that society still does not take this violence seriously, and from the fact that some men have the right to behave towards women in any way they want.
In this way, organizations can set an example for others by demonstrating that they prioritize gender equality, both in deeds and in words. Take parental leave rules, for example. In practice, cultures are often still based on the “ideal” (male) worker, with career growth closely tied to full-time employment. Encouraging more men to take parental leave and parental leave can help break these norms – just as it can help a parent stay home if children are sick, take part-time jobs to care for relatives, and just appears as the first point of contact for emergencies. children’s school.
Work is needed from all of us
Men have a particularly serious responsibility to start yelling more about harmful behavior. This is not least because they continue to dominate many sectors and therefore often control the levers of change.
Men can make a real difference by being allies of their female counterparts, including by disagreeing with the sexist and misogynistic behavior of their peers.
Being proactive about your mental health and work / life needs and the needs of your colleagues is another step towards changing work practices that hold us all back, especially during COVID-19. This can undoubtedly take courage, especially in highly masculine jobs, but we cannot keep silent any longer. Men who challenge restrictive norms may find that many colleagues are simply waiting for someone to speak up. In the end, we all have much to gain from more inclusive, supportive and gender-free workplaces.
Of course, sometimes organizations can resist change. Achieving gender equality and changing a masculinized culture in the workplace means breaking power relationships, in which some have invested heavily. Some of the institutions in which we work have played an important role in the preservation of patriarchy over the centuries. But it is precisely these changes that are needed throughout society to prevent male violence against women. Recent months have shown us that we simply can no longer put up with the victims of this violence.