Workplaces across the country are on high alert for sexual harassment as the #MeToo movement takes down one office predator after another. Sexual harassment awareness in the workplace is a hotter topic than ever, spawning nuanced conversations about what is and isn’t appropriate at work. No one wants to be accused of making their coworkers feel uncomfortable. For men, this can be tricky terrain. While some men know to be careful when making comments about a woman’s hair or outfit, some other areas are not so clear-cut. One easy way to avoid being the creepy guy at work: don’t rate your coworkers’ appearances.
Believe it or not, it’s an incredibly common conversation in American workplaces. A recent Cosmopolitan survey found that 43 percent of men have seen coworkers rate women's hotness at work. And 53 percent of men say they’ve overheard coworkers make inappropriate sexual comments to or about the women they work with. Rest assured, “rating hotness” is definitely a male thing. Surveys have found that men are much less likely to think that ranking people’s attractiveness on a 1-10 scale is sexist.
If the occasional, offhand “I’d tap that” or “check out the [insert body part] on her” to a buddy at work doesn’t seem like big deal, consider the frequency with which women hear these conversations taking place. The same survey says 32 percent of women have seen male colleagues rate women's appearances at work. For men who aren’t aware, know that even overhearing these conversations on the way to lunch can make some women extremely uncomfortable, can create a “boy’s club” atmosphere at work, and can detract from the professionalism of a workspace. These women aren’t being oversensitive; they simply expect a work environment that doesn’t sound like a high school cafeteria.
One woman described overhearing inappropriate talk at a restaurant where she worked. As she wrote for Forbes, “Jeff’s gag was not directed at me. ... As an employee of Jeff's, however, the indirect implications of his joke rippled out and created, for me, a hostile work environment. The joke itself was sexually inappropriate, but the real damage it caused was the condoning of a certain type of objectifying humor.”
To steer clear of becoming the next Jeff, men need to stop discussing women’s appearances at work. They definitely should not rate their hotness on any sort of scale. Even better, they should avoid these conversations entirely. Even at happy hour at the bar across the street, these conversations are just as likely to make women uncomfortable if overheard as they would inside their actual office.
The good news is, the same Cosmo survey reports that 33 percent of men are now reconsidering having these kinds of conversations at work. So, hopefully, a new era sans-office creeps is somewhere on our horizon.