Millennial Males Less Likely to Accept #MeToo

An Angus Reid Institute survey on sexual harassment in the workplace was covered recently in an article by Sharon Kirkey in The National Post.

As the #MeToo era brings ever more men down, millennial males appear to be outliers in what they consider appropriate behaviour in the workplace.

In a challenge to some of the narrative around the phenomenon that has seen a new awareness of sexual assault and on-the-job harassment, a new poll has found younger men are, in many cases, twice as likely as the rest of the population to believe it’s acceptable to give a colleague an uninvited shoulder rub, make sexual gestures at work, comment on a co-worker’s body or display, swap or read materials some might consider “sexually suggestive.” Thirteen per cent said it’s acceptable to read a pornographic magazine at their desk during lunch breaks.

Millennial males (those aged 18 to 34) were also almost evenly divided on the notion that “all these new rules about conduct are killing the human element at work,” a view that puts them at odds with females of their generation (almost two-thirds of women that age disagree).

“Some of the deepest divisions in Canadian society on this issue of workplace sexual harassment are between men and women of the millennial generation,” the Angus Reid Institute said in releasing its survey on sexual harassment in the workplace.

The oldest group of men (55 and older) surveyed — men of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s generation, and whose peers have been caught up in a stunning wave of sexual-harassment scandals — were more in line with women’s views about what is — and isn’t — acceptable in the workplace.

Within these findings it would be interesting to see if there are differences (or not) between sectors — e.g. tech vs finance — or between functional areas. There are also probably significant differences between organizations and parts of an organization given the tone and example set by the leadership group.

Nevertheless, these findings are more than a warning to leaders that they cannot assume that millennial men are more enlightened when developing policies, programs and processes related to workplace sexual harassment behaviour.

A third of millennial males said it was acceptable to express sexual interest in a co-worker compared to 19 per cent of younger women, and 12 per cent of older men; one in four said it was reasonable to make a comment about a colleague’s body. One in four approved of using “sexualized language” in a conversation at work, while only two per cent of older men agreed.

The #MeToo conversation “has held up one segment of society as the blanket boogeyman in this,” specifically, “baby boomer males,” said Shachi Kurl, executive director of Angus Reid Institute.

“I think our data in terms of what people are thinking and what their own mindsets are does run counter to that.”

The findings, sociologists said, hint at the culture of pornography millennial men have grown up with as well as a desire to be seen as “properly masculine.”

“I think the desire to be seen as strong, to be seen as a rainmaker may actually be confused with behaving in a sexually inappropriate way,” said Judith Taylor, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto.

“The question for young men is, how do they prove they are a reliable team player without offending women peers, and male peers for that matter, and without violating workplace policy,” Taylor said.

“And the answer is they can’t do it the same way they join a sports team.”

Overall, the survey of 2,004 Canadians exposes more generational than gender divides in attitudes around sexual harassment in the workplace.

“Be it male columnists decrying an apparent lack of due process when it comes to allegations of sexual harassment, or female commentators dismissing the feeble excuses of admitted abusers, the current public narrative may lead Canadians to think that gender alone is a massive, dividing driver of opinion,” Angus Reid said in a release. “That is not necessarily the case.”