What to do when you encounter a misogynist – opinion piece

I’ve attended a lot of workshops over the years I’ve worked in the industry. Two of which are memorable because of the attitudes expressed by some of the male attendees about our female colleagues.

The first of these workshops was attended by both male and female security workers with a male instructor. The second had all male delegates with a female instructor.

On the first workshop one of the other men made several derogatory comments about women working in the industry. None of the ladies present challenged him, they looked embarrassed.

He introduced himself as a site manager and referred to women who had worked on his team (past tense, no surprise) as ‘dolly birds’, there to make the tea for everyone else! The instructor had to shut him down a couple of times to get the conversation back on track.

During the morning break I challenged this gentleman about his comments during the morning session. The conversation got quite heated, and the instructor intervened and asked us both to go our separate ways. After the break, and for the rest of the workshop no further derogatory comments were made. The gentleman in question was very quiet and no longer engaged unless a question was directed to him by the instructor.

The instructor spoke to me before everyone left and said that he had concerns about some of the comments that had been made and would be speaking to his (the gentlemen’s) employer.

During the second workshop, two of the delegates got into quite an animated conversation about why women shouldn’t be allowed to work in security. I wasn’t the only other delegate to jump in and challenge them. They both said that women didn’t hang around – when asked if that might have something to do with their attitudes towards women at work, they became very defensive. The instructor did a masterful job of closing the conversation down and bringing everyone back to the subject matter at hand. She also later spoke to me about the exchange and also said that concerns would be raised with the delegates employers.

A few things of note – neither workshop had anything to do with women in the security industry, yet 3 men with anti-female views managed to find opportunities to air them. None of the 3 responded well to being challenged by other men. In fact, the response was one of surprise that a man would feel the need to challenge them, and they were affronted! It was encouraging that in both cases the instructors challenged the unacceptable comments and followed it up with the delegates employers.

This kind of misogynistic attitude is corrosive and can lead to employers being sued in worst case scenarios. They need to know! Of course, knowing should lead to action, and we all know that’s not always the case.

As a man I can’t see things from a woman’s point of view, so in order to try and get past my limits I’ve never been shy about talking to my female colleagues about their experiences to see what I could learn. I have been fortunate to work with some fantastic female colleagues. Listening to their experiences in the industry with male colleagues has been very educational, if not sometimes disquieting.

While the majority of men have no problem working with women it is absolutely clear to me that more of us need to be prepared to step up and challenge unacceptable behaviour and comments. It’s not just the workplace where we can make a difference – we’ve probably all experienced the woman walking past a building site scenario where she is wolf whistled and propositioned. Just before lockdown I was walking past a building where scaffolding was being put up. Two workers shouted at a woman walking past on the other side of the road: ‘Get your tits out darling, go on, give us a flash!’. When she objected and asked them not to speak to her like that, they told her to ‘F@@k off you slag and get a sense of humour’.  She was obviously upset, understandably. Another lady passing by stopped to support her. While this was happening, I’d phoned the number on the side of the scaffolding advertising the company doing the works and spoke to a senior manager. I explained what I’d witnessed and handed my phone over to the target of the comments who had a long conversation with him. Feedback later was that both of the workers on the scaffolding were dismissed the same day and heartfelt apologies were forthcoming from their employers to the lady who had simply been going about her day with no expectation that she would be subjected to such vulgarity.

A short time before that I’d called a security company to discuss the behaviour of one of their mobile drivers. Driving a liveried car, advertising their employers, while sticking their head out the window to complement random women on having nice arses isn’t a good look, and totally unacceptable. The control room operator I spoke to arranged for their duty manager to call me back (took less than 5 minutes) and they took the incident very seriously. I didn’t get any further feedback in this case, but I can imagine at the very least someone being called back into the office to have ‘the talk’.

Calling an employer is a simple thing and it avoids getting into a row that could occur by challenging the person responsible for this kind of behaviour directly. Its also highly effective. No employer wants this kind of negative publicity.

The security industry as a whole recognises that we should be doing more to encourage women to join our ranks. There are numerous efforts in place to encourage greater inclusivity and encourage more women to join us. Its generally understood that this can only be a good thing. The benefits of diversity are widely recognised.

As an industry we need to ensure that these efforts are not undermined by a small minority of misogynists. There are still too many men who fail to understand that the 6 inches that really count are those between the ears and the organ that resides there!

Michael O’Sullivan – London Jan 2022