Boys will be boys–a phrase we’ve all heard too many times.
For years this phrase has been used to explain away aggro behavior that a small number of children exhibit. As if, biologically or naturally, boys are more violent or aggressive because they are male. I’m using “boys” and “children” because that is typically who this phrase is associated with. However, recently–and historically–this has been used to explain away the behaviors of grown men as well. We’ve also heard different iterations of “boys will be boys” form over the years, such as “locker room talk.”
In 2019, the idea of “boys will be boys” is no longer acceptable.
It never was before, but now we’re actually doing something about it–apart from electing unprincipled politicians and businessmen.
While that tangent was fun–one of many I assure you–that’s not all this blog is about. This is about the new Gillette commercial and what your company culture can learn from it.
The ad opens with men of all ages looking in the mirror; newscaster voiceovers discussing bullying, the #MeToo movement, and toxic masculinity in the background. Then a narrator interjects with a question, formed from the Gillette slogan itself. “Is this the best a man can get,” he asks matter-of-factly. This set up effectively delivers us to the purpose of the ad: prompting men to hold each other accountable. Not every man is a “locker room talk” type, so it’s up to all of us to put an end to the behaviors of those that are.
According to Gillette’s North American brand director Pankaj Bhalla, in an interview with CNN, the brand expected debate to stem from the messaging. He also explains that the point of the ad is to spark discussion in hopes of making real change happen. Bhalla says the ad is not about toxic masculinity, but about men taking action and setting a better example.
So, what exactly is toxic masculinity?
Toxic masculinity, or traditional masculinity ideology, is what happens when we as a society teach boys that they aren’t allowed to express emotions; that any emotion is feminine and makes them weak; that the only emotions they should show are anger and aggression.
Examples of toxic masculinity are strewn throughout the workplace and have been forever. For decades, work has been a masculinity contest; it’s been about being the winner because losers are feminine and weak, because power is what makes a man a man.
These ideals need to change, they turn every aspect of work into a competition–one that some marginalized groups are designed to lose. For example, an aggressive male leader is applauded and seen as strong, but an aggressive female leader is looked at negatively, and that’s just something that modern HR and leadership shouldn’t get behind.
This concept also makes its way out of the office as well, sometimes even impacting personal health. According to CNN, many men are claiming it’s not masculine to leave work early to go to the doctor, or to leave to pick up their children from school. What do any of those things have to do with masculinity? Nothing–but society has told men that we have to “man up,” deal with things on our own, and not seek help.
Although these views seem deep-rooted into society, there are still many ways to detoxify your work culture so that your team can effectively move the needle forward.
These are 5 ways to transform a toxic culture into an inclusive workplace where your team can flourish:
- For starters, accept your employees for who they are. Allow your team the freedom to be self-expressive at work; whether that be through fashion, desk décor, or any other desired form of expression. Having an inclusive office free of judgment allows your employees to show who they are, and not have to put on a façade at work just so they don’t get singled out for being different.
- Stop making everything a competition. Yes, challenging your employees is a great way to boost engagement, but overdoing it can lead to some serious burnout and make those that don’t always come in first feel inferior. You are taking voices that together could positively change your business and creating a screaming match instead of collaborative harmony.
- Ditch the bro culture; diversify your leadership and allow people with different backgrounds, life stories, and experiences to use those to their advantage. Doing this will show others on the team that everyone at your company has an opportunity to be heard, seen, and overall represented. Repressive cultures do nothing but push people away and stifle business development.
- Let people have emotions and don’t hold it against them. Allowing and supporting a teammate’s breakdown here and there is not going to hurt your business, just as that emotional lapse shouldn’t hurt your employee’s reputation at work. We are all going through something, and if you’re not currently then I know you definitely have before. No one is immune to it. Outside forces take effect and they can sometimes permeate into the workplace. For the most part, that’s okay and to be expected–as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.
- Reevaluate your rewards system. Instead of rewarding only those who do the best work, also reward those that work the hardest; those that stay the latest, arrive the earliest; those that enhance your company culture on different levels.
2019 is going to be different for everyone; and companies and their cultures have already proven to not be immune to cultural shifts.
There are many different lessons to learn from the Gillette ad. Most importantly: as a society, we need to do better accepting all people. As a workforce, we need to celebrate those differences and work to eradicate toxic masculinity from the workplace…for good.