Toxic masculinity holds us ALL back (in cyber) & what you can do about it 

 June 29, 2022

By  Jane Frankland

In last week’s newsletter (edition 3), I wrote about being you in the workplace and some of the difficulties that women in cyber face. I told you we have a saying at The Source, my new initiative for women in cyber and businesses who value them, but today I want to let you know about another saying we have. It’s,

“No blame. No shame. Just better business.”

I believe it’s especially relevant, as in this week’s newsletter I want to speak to you about toxic masculinity, how it holds us ALL back in cyber, .and what you can do about it.

Unfortunately, in a male dominated industry like cyber, much (but not all) toxicity can be attributed to toxic masculinity. As it’s something we hear a lot about in cyber, I want to go through what it is.

The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a set of attitudes and ways of behaving that are stereotypically associated with or expected of men and are regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.

Cultures of toxic masculinity arise when they are enabled. As one of my male friends so rightly pointed out,

“When you see people getting away with things you emulate them.”

Cultures of toxic masculinity are always ultra-competitive and have a “dog-eat-dog” work style where men are protected and kept in power. They are not progressive, encourage stereotypical attitudes and beliefs, and penalise anyone (but especially women) for deviations.

You can see toxic masculinity when men do any of these things:

  • Bully, intimidate and use microaggressions to maintain a competitive advantage.
  • Restrain emotions except for pride and anger.
  • Interrupt or talk over women and take an inflexible attitude.
  • Exclude and penalise women when they assert themselves.
  • Encourage other men (often more junior) to make comments about a woman in the office and whether he finds her attractive.
  • Give full credit, advancements including pay rises to other men, despite women being equally worthy.
  • Remind women that they should be more humble, less ambitious, selfish, greedy, better team players, and so on.
  • Promote men when they perform at their job (especially fee earners) despite regular complaints of inappropriate behaviour (harassment, bullying, discrimination etc).
  • Believe the myth that men are not interested in parenting or caring.
  • Navigate the workplace like a battle zone to be conquered.

Sadly, these behaviours (not all have been listed) abound in cyber, and many environments continue to be hostile for women. The mindsets there are survival of the fittest and there’s still a commonly held view in the industry that if women don’t join, then it’s because they’re not attracted to cyber or don’t like tech work. And, if women don’t move into leadership and reach the top, then it’s because women don’t want to, don’t have the stomach for it, are weaker, not capable enough, and that’s just how it is!

It pains me to write this as I know cyber isn’t intentionally sexist and many men don’t mean to offend women. However, some are and do, and things must change. If gender inequalities are not recognised, and action is not taken for us to evolve as a community, then our attackers win, and we as a cyber collective, as human beings, and as a planet, lose out big time.

I know gender is an emotive topic and often involves heated debate. Furthermore, that cyber has an interesting culture as many jobs involve protecting, attacking, dismanteling and finding fault. It’s highly competitive, requires a critical eye, and can be secretive and exclusive. And as a result, it can have an aggressive style of debating alongside a macho, saviour/ hero, and sexist culture. Just look at the Twitter storm that’s been playing out regarding BSides Cleveland.

It’s not just me highlighting this. Forrester recently called to remove toxic masculinity in the workforce after reviewing the gender bias in cyber. And this year they’ve predicted that 1 in 10 experienced cyber professionals (no gender attached) will exit the industry because of toxic masculinity and poor financial and advancement incentives plus general stress and burnout impacting security teams.

Clearly NOT all men in cyber are toxic. NOT all men police women, and of course NOT all are men are blind to the challenges women face, like bias, harassment, inappropriate behaviour, and so on. We have many EXCELLENT male role models. But some men are, and they are holding us back. Those who remain silent in the presence of misogyny, sexism and inappropriate behaviour are propagating a culture that hurts us ALL.

So, if you’re a man and are wondering why you should stand against toxic masculinity because these issues don’t affect you, consider this. When Accenture surveyed over 22,000 people from 34 countries in 2018 for their ‘Getting to Equal’ report, they found that men advance more greatly when cultures are more inclusive and equal. I’ll say that another way. Men do better!

Men in cyber are the dominant set and have a huge part to play when it comes to ridding our workplaces of toxic masculinity. Men don’t need to wait for permission to act either. When one man acts it creates a domino effect, which leads us to progressive and inclusive workplace cultures in cyber.

Here are a few ways men in cyber can radically transform our workplace cultures.

  • Educate yourself on the inequalities women face plus male and white privilege, but not from a position of saving or rescuing. Reading my book, INSecurity, which is available on Amazon, is a good place to start but there are many others that exist outside of cyber and go into far more detail.
  • Prepare what to say when a woman’s idea is stolen during a meeting, or when her work is not credited or is passed off as being someone else’s.
  • Speak up, pass the mic, and adopt a “pass up and pass on” strategy i.e., .turn down panel discussions at conferences or high-profile speaking opportunities if women are not present.
  • Keep away from misogynists and abusers. By mixing with them, it sends a message to others that you approve of their behaviour.
  • When you make a mistake, own up, apologise, and learn from it. Many of us deny ourselves or ohers the power in failure and believe in perfection instead. But we are human, and there are many lessons to be learnt.

So, what’s next?

Tell me what else we can do to deal with toxic masculinity in our workplaces.

Or, what you suggest can be said when a women’s idea is stolen during a meeting, or when her work is not credited, or is passed off as being someone else’s, or any of the other things I mention? Tell me, what works for you? Please share in the comments below. We can all learn from each other that way, and without blame or shame, so we can just do better business.

If you’re a woman in cyber or a business who values women, and you want to improve results (and are ready to invest), we need to talk! Book a discovery call and learn how we can help you succeed!

Did you enjoy this blog? Search for more blogs that you want to read!

Jane frankland


Jane Frankland is a cybersecurity market influencer, award-winning entrepreneur, consultant and speaker. She is the Founder of KnewStart and the IN Security Movement. Having held executive positions within her own companies and several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business solutions. Jane works with leaders of all levels and supports women in male dominated industries like cybersecurity and tech. Her book, IN Security: Why a failure to attract and retain women in cybersecurity is making us all less safe' is a best-seller.


Follow me

related posts:

Leave a Reply:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Get in touch