Study: White men targeted by harassment more likely to observe, report workplace bias

Dive Brief:

  • White men targeted by harassment are more likely to recognize and report race and gender bias at work than White men who have not experienced harassment, according to a recent University of Michigan study published in the American Journal of Sociology.
  • The study, which examined survey data of more than 11,000 employees in 24 federal agencies, found that White male harassment targets were “more skeptical that their organizations operate meritocratically, and this greater skepticism is tied to more frequent recognition and reporting.”
  • About a third of White men in the survey said they experienced workplace harassment, according to the university. Erin Cech, an associate professor of sociology and author of the study, said that asking White men to reflect on experiences of negative treatment “can foster fruitful skepticism” which, in turn, “may facilitate a greater willingness to acknowledge unfair treatment experienced by colleagues and take action.”

Dive Insight:

“Of course, the takeaway is not that we should increase harassment toward white men,” Cech said in the university’s article discussing the study findings. “Rather, white men who have had the unfortunate experience of being bullied or threatened at work might be unexpected allies in diversity and inclusion efforts.”

HR industry observers have long noted the importance of male allies, specifically, in curbing harmful workplace behavior. During a 2018 presentation, employment law attorney Jonathan Segal said that men have an opportunity to be “affirmative partners to stand up and speak out” about sexism, workplace discrimination and harassment.

Workplace cultures with strong allyship and inclusion were 50% less likely to see employees leave and 75% less likely to take sick days, a 2021 report by Bentley University’s Larson Center for Women and Business found. The same report stated that such organizations saw improved productivity and were more likely to be recommended as a great place to work.

Reporting bias is not the end of the conversation, however. Most employees in a 2021 AllVoices survey who did report harassment said they reported it to managers, compared to roughly 36% who reported harassment to HR. This may be concerning given that managers are not always equipped to deal with harassment and related issues.