From #MeToo to #MenToo? Why men play a role in battling harassment.

Men are voicing support for women who speak out against sexual harassment or assault. The next step, experts say, is follow-through by taking a stand against it when it surfaces in the workplace.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
Experts say men have a key role to play in preventing sexual assault and harassment in the workplace – by setting the correct tone at the top and in intervening to prevent or heal a toxic culture.

The fall from power of movie producer Harvey Weinstein suggests an American public that is growing less tolerant of sexual assault and harassment – less willing to accept it as a part of Hollywood culture or any other American workplace.

But another part of the story is that it took years before the allegations began to pour forth, a sign of of how challenging and risky it still feels for victims to bring their cases forward.

Maybe that’s changing, as women have been speaking out in recent days on social media under the hashtag #MeToo. But if this becomes a tipping-point, it may involve something more: for men to join the enough-is-enough chorus.

Some men have already been chiming up.

"I think it's up to the men," film director Rob Reiner said recently, pausing from promotion of a new movie to comment on the issue. "And I don't mean the men who are sexually abusing women. I'm talking about men who don't do that, who may be now more aware there are others doing it and call them out."

Judging by recent allegations, the work culture in Hollywood may be among the worst, when it comes to people in power preying on the vulnerable. But recent headlines about Fidelity Investments in Boston (two portfolio managers ousted recently), about a whopping $32 million settlement paid by former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly, and about women in Sacramento protesting the culture of California state politics, hint at how the problem extends across the spectrum of US workplaces.

Experts on sexual violence, which is most commonly targeted at women, call this an encouraging moment, where an issue that’s too often kept quiet has the public spotlight.

They also say it’s crucial that men participate in the discussion – not just tweeting their support for #MeToo women but speaking up as needed in support of respectful culture.

“It’s going to stop when men lose status for behaving this way. That's largely going to be the task of other men calling them out,” says Chris Kilmartin, a psychologist based in Fredericksburg, Va., who trains organizations on how to improve their culture. And, he adds, “we have to teach them how to do it.”

More than just support

Dr. Kilmartin says he’s found that most men support treating women with respect, but too few take that step of speaking out against peers who cross the line. Far from being looked down upon, men will be looked up to by fellow males, he says. They just may not realize it.

Men’s voices aren’t absent from the social media tide under tags like #MeToo, #WithYou, and #IHearYou. Some say they themselves have been victims, others are supporting women for coming forward, others are acknowledging they’ve been less-than-respectful toward women in the past.

“A pretty significant number of men were writing very supportive things to women,” Kilmartin says. “It's a step in the right direction.”

He and other experts say what’s needed next is follow-through in daily life and work.   

The challenge, in part, is that power brokers often appear biased toward protecting their own when one of them may have stepped over a line.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that Fox News extended Mr. O’Reilly’s contract for $100 million shortly after he reached a $32 million settlement of sexual harassment claims by a former network employee. (O’Reilly has called the article a “smear.”)

At the same time, Mr. Weinstein isn’t the first titan of industry to fall. The late Roger Ailes was ousted in 2016 as chairman of Fox after multiple accusations of sexual harassment surfaced.

Many victims have reason to think their jobs or career prospects could suffer by making an allegation or blowing a whistle.

At Fidelity, fairly unusual in being a woman-led investment firm, two portfolio managers were ousted reportedly over accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate comments, respectively. The events prompted a staff meeting last week at which Fidelity chief executive Abigail Johnson avowed a policy of “no tolerance at our company for any type of harassment.”

She added a plea for engagement on the issue: “I expect when issues occur, associates will raise them, so we can fix them and make sure they don’t happen again.”

Building on progress

Lynne Revo-Cohen, co-founder of the consulting firm NewPoint Strategies in McLean, Va., says she’s seen progress in some three decades of work assisting companies on high-risk issues including harassment.

“When you witness something like the Harvey Weinstein situation happening, you think, have we gotten anywhere? Will it ever end? [But] I can tell you that … there is a remarkable positive change in the workplace culture” in the past few decades.

It’s just that there’s still a long way to go.

Progress is driven both by top executives and by the rank-and-file workers, she says. The tone starts with leaders, who “need to sweat the small stuff and they need to walk the talk,” says Ms. Revo-Cohen, whose firm has worked on the issue – sometimes with Kilmartin’s help – with employers including the US military.

Others who might seem to be bystanders have a role to play. Instead of watching and listening passively, they too can change the tone by saying something when an off-color joke or indecent comment is made, Revo-Cohen says. Or they can give the support that helps victims come forward.

Gretchen Carlson, a former Fox anchor who brought allegations against Mr. Ailes, is out with a new book that aims to empower women – and men – to promote a culture of workplace decency and respect.

In a CNN interview last week, she pointed specifically to the role men can play. “I actually believe this is the tipping point and it's a lot due to men like you, Jake Tapper,” she said, commenting on a note the CNN host had sent her when she brought her case against Ailes. “You have no idea how much it meant to me that as a man you reached out to me in my darkest days and you said that I was a role model for your children, both your son and your daughter.”

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