9 Signs of Toxic Masculinity in the Workplace to look out for

Toxic masculinity isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a pervasive issue that can silently damage the culture and well-being of a workplace.

You’ve probably heard the term thrown around in conversations, memes, or social media debates, but what exactly is toxic masculinity? In essence, it refers to a set of societal norms and behaviours that promote an exaggerated form of masculinity, often at the expense of other genders. These behaviours aren’t just harmful; they’re insidious, creating an environment that can be uncomfortable, discriminatory, or even hostile.

The significance of addressing toxic masculinity in the workplace cannot be overstated. It affects team dynamics, individual performance, and overall work culture. Ignoring it can lead to increased workplace stress, a decrease in employee satisfaction, and even potential legal ramifications.

In this article, we’re going to delve into 9 everyday examples of toxic masculinity that you might not even realize are affecting your work culture. From the infamous mansplaining to more subtle signs like emotional suppression, these examples will provide you with the insight needed to identify and combat this damaging phenomenon.

toxic masculinity
toxic masculinity

Watch our whole episode on Toxic Masculinity with Jeff Harry

What Is Toxic Masculinity?

To fully grasp the scope of its impact, let’s first define what toxic masculinity means.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, toxic masculinity is defined as “a set of attitudes and ways of behaving stereotypically associated with or expected of men, regarded as having a negative impact on men and on society as a whole.” Psychological studies further elucidate this by describing toxic masculinity as a cultural concept of manliness that glorifies stoicism, strength, and dominance, while discouraging traits like vulnerability, empathy, and emotional sensitivity.

Now, it’s crucial to distinguish toxic masculinity vs masculinity in general. Not all forms of masculinity are toxic. Masculinity, by itself, refers to qualities and attributes traditionally associated with being male. These can include positive traits such as courage, independence, and assertiveness. However, when these traits are exaggerated or distorted, leading to harmful behaviors like aggression, emotional suppression, or the devaluation of women, they venture into the realm of toxic masculinity.

Understanding this difference is not just academic; it has real-world implications, especially in professional settings. Toxic masculinity in the workplace can manifest in various ways, such as mansplaining, toxic male ego, and an unwillingness to take criticism, particularly from women or minority groups.

The Psychology Behind Toxic Masculinity

Understanding the psychology of toxic masculinity can offer crucial insights into its prevalence and persistence, especially in a workplace setting.

Social Conditioning and Gender Roles

From a young age, many men are socialized to conform to traditional gender roles that emphasize traits like dominance, stoicism, and aggression. This form of social conditioning often acts as a breeding ground for toxic masculinity as it discourages emotional expression and encourages power dynamics that devalue others, particularly women.

Cognitive Dissonance and the Toxic Male Ego

The toxic male ego can be partly explained by the psychological theory of cognitive dissonance. When men who have internalized toxic masculine norms encounter situations that challenge these beliefs, such as being outperformed by a female colleague, cognitive dissonance can result. This uncomfortable mental state can lead to defensive behaviors that manifest as toxic masculinity.

Emotional Suppression and Mental Health

Toxic masculinity and emotions are intricately linked. The societal stigma against men expressing emotions like vulnerability or sadness can lead to emotional suppression, which is harmful not just for men but for the workplace as a whole. Research shows that emotional suppression is associated with increased stress, poorer mental health, and decreased emotional well-being.

Power Dynamics and Systemic Issues

At its core, toxic masculinity is often about maintaining traditional power structures. This psychological need to ‘stay on top’ can perpetuate systemic issues like the gender pay gap and various forms of discrimination in the workplace.

The Need for Re-Education and Unlearning

Understanding the psychology behind toxic masculinity underscores the need for educational initiatives aimed at unlearning toxic behaviors. This can include everything from diversity and inclusion training to more targeted psychological interventions that help individuals recognize and confront their toxic behaviors.

The Subtle Yet Damaging Impact

While the effects of toxic masculinity may not always be glaringly obvious, they can significantly harm workplace dynamics and individual well-being.

The Psychological and Emotional Toll

Toxic masculinity and emotions are intrinsically linked, especially when it comes to workplace behaviour. Emotional suppression, a key component of toxic masculinity, can lead to increased stress, burnout, and even mental health issues like depression or anxiety. On a team level, the inability to express or handle emotions effectively can also lead to poor communication, decreased morale, and ultimately, lower productivity.

Perpetuating the Gender Pay Gap and Discrimination

Addressing toxic masculinity in the workplace isn’t just about improving interpersonal relations; it’s also about combating systemic issues like the gender pay gap. Stereotypes that men should be dominant or that women are less capable often lead to unequal opportunities and pay discrepancies. Similarly, toxic masculinity can intersect with other forms of discrimination such as racism and homophobia, creating a multiplicative effect that harms marginalized groups even more.

Its Impact on Workplace Culture

Toxic masculinity can also manifest as an unwillingness to listen or as an inflated toxic male ego, making it difficult to foster a culture of collaboration and mutual respect. This often results in a toxic work environment where employees feel undervalued and disengaged, ultimately affecting both individual and organizational success.

Women and Toxic Masculine Traits in Leadership Roles

First Sentence: While often attributed to men, toxic masculinity in the workplace can also be exhibited by women, especially when striving to succeed in male-dominated environments.

The Pressure to “Fit In”

In industries or roles where men are the majority, women often feel pressure to adopt traditionally masculine traits to “fit in” or to be taken seriously. This can include exhibiting dominance, suppressing emotions, or adopting a competitive rather than collaborative approach. Ironically, this adaptation can sometimes perpetuate the same toxic behaviors that these women may themselves be victims of.

The Complexity of Navigating Leadership

Women in leadership roles often face a double-bind dilemma: they are either criticized for being too emotional or soft, or they’re labeled as too aggressive and unlikeable when they exhibit traits traditionally seen as masculine. This difficult navigation can sometimes lead to the adoption of toxic masculine traits as a way to gain respect and authority.

Internalized Toxic Masculinity

In some cases, women internalize these toxic masculine traits, believing that they must conform to survive and thrive in their careers. This internalization can be detrimental not only to their well-being but also to the culture of the workplace. It essentially validates the toxic behaviors as acceptable leadership traits.

The Role of Unconscious Bias

Sometimes the adoption of toxic masculine traits by women in leadership roles is not a conscious choice, but rather a reaction to unconscious biases that equate leadership with masculinity. This further underscores the need for unlearning toxic behaviors and re-educating the workforce about the diverse forms of effective leadership.

The Impact on Workplace Culture

When women in leadership roles adopt toxic masculine traits, it not only impacts their well-being but can also set a damaging precedent for what is considered acceptable behavior in the workplace. It essentially reinforces the cycle of toxic masculinity, making it more challenging to create an inclusive work culture.

9 Everyday Examples in the Workplace

1. Mansplaining

Mansplaining is not just an internet meme; it’s a real issue that undermines professional discussions.

Mansplaining occurs when a man unnecessarily and condescendingly explains something to a woman in a manner that assumes she has no knowledge of the topic. This not only belittles the expertise of women but also perpetuates a culture where female voices are not valued. It’s a glaring sign of toxic masculinity in the workplace that can harm team dynamics and contribute to a toxic work environment.

2. Manterrupting

The act of interrupting women in meetings is more than rude; it’s a subtle form of toxic masculinity.

Also known as “manterrupting,” this behavior involves men cutting off women while they’re speaking, often to insert their own opinions or take credit for ideas. This subtle yet damaging form of toxic masculinity can lead to women being overshadowed in meetings, their ideas going unheard, and ultimately, contributing to gender inequality and a toxic work environment.

3. Competitive Aggression

A culture of aggressive competition among men can stifle collaborative efforts and innovation.

In many workplaces, competition is encouraged as a means of spurring innovation and productivity. However, when this competition becomes aggressive and exclusive, often fueled by a toxic male ego, it crosses into the realm of toxic masculinity. This type of culture can not only harm individual well-being but also creates barriers to teamwork, inhibiting the free flow of ideas and the potential for collective achievement.

4. Emotional Suppression

The unwritten rule that ‘men shouldn’t show emotions’ can have detrimental effects on mental health.

The societal expectation that men should suppress their emotions contributes to a culture of emotional suppression. This facet of toxic masculinity can lead to increased stress levels, poor mental well-being, and even contribute to workplace burnout. When emotions are suppressed, it not only affects individual health but can also lead to a lack of genuine communication within teams, creating a toxic work environment.

5. Overemphasis on Hierarchy

A focus on hierarchical power structures often fuels toxic male ego and inhibits team cohesion.

In a workplace where hierarchical structures are overly emphasized, there’s a breeding ground for the toxic male ego. Men may feel the need to assert their dominance, often at the expense of collaborative efforts and team cohesion. This is a manifestation of toxic masculinity in the workplace that can stifle innovation and make employees feel less valued.

6. Discrediting Female Contributions

Undermining or ignoring the achievements of female colleagues perpetuates gender inequality.

In a culture influenced by toxic masculinity, the contributions of women are often discredited or undervalued. This not only impacts the career progression of women but also contributes to the gender pay gap. Such behavior is a blatant form of toxic masculinity in the workplace and can significantly harm both the individuals affected and the overall work culture.

7. Objectification

Treating women as objects rather than competent professionals is a glaring example of toxic masculinity.

When women are objectified in the workplace, it not only demeans them but also perpetuates a culture where their skills and contributions are undervalued. This is a critical aspect of toxic masculinity in the workplace that can lead to issues ranging from sexual harassment to career stagnation for women. Objectification isn’t just harmful to women; it damages the integrity of the entire work environment.

8. Toxic Jokes and Language

Casual sexist jokes may seem harmless but are a cornerstone of a toxic work culture.

The language we use shapes the culture we live in. In the workplace, jokes or comments that demean women or perpetuate stereotypes contribute to toxic masculinity. While it may be brushed off as ‘locker room talk’ or ‘just a joke,’ the impact is far from trivial. It creates an environment where discriminatory attitudes are normalized, impacting both individual well-being and team cohesion.

9. Unwillingness to Take Criticism

A toxic male ego often manifests as an inability to accept constructive feedback, especially from women.

Being open to feedback is essential for personal and professional growth. However, the toxic male ego, fueled by toxic masculinity, often leads to a defensive stance when criticized, particularly if the feedback comes from women or minority groups. This unwillingness to take criticism not only hampers individual development but can also create a hostile and unproductive work environment.

How to Combat Toxic Masculinity at Work

Recognising these examples is just the first step; the real challenge lies in combating toxic masculinity effectively.

Actionable Tips and Strategies

To truly address this issue, it requires more than just awareness; it necessitates action. Here are some strategies to consider:

Educational Programs

One of the key steps to unlearning toxic behaviors is through educational programs that focus on diversity and inclusion. These programs should be designed to challenge traditional gender roles and encourage critical thinking. They can include workshops, webinars, and even interactive simulations that allow employees to confront their biases in a safe setting.

Open Dialogue

Creating a space where employees can openly discuss issues related to toxic masculinity in the workplace can help bring these problems into the light, making them easier to address. This can be facilitated through regular town-hall meetings, anonymous suggestion boxes, or moderated online forums specifically dedicated to discussing diversity and inclusion.


Hold those who exhibit toxic behaviors accountable. Whether it’s a casual sexist joke or more glaring forms of harassment, consequences must be clearly defined and enforced. This could mean instituting a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory behavior, or implementing a clear reporting mechanism that protects the anonymity of those who come forward.

Leadership Training

Often, toxic masculinity is perpetuated by those in power. Leadership training that challenges traditional notions of masculinity can be a powerful tool in combating this issue. Modules can focus on empathetic leadership, inclusive communication, and the importance of recognizing and valuing diverse skill sets within a team.

Mentorship and Allyship

Encouraging more experienced employees to mentor newcomers can help in unlearning toxic behaviors. Additionally, fostering allyship among employees of all genders can create a more inclusive environment. Allyship training can teach employees how to be effective allies, standing up against toxic behavior and supporting their colleagues in meaningful ways.

Regular Check-Ins

One-off initiatives are not enough. Regular check-ins and surveys can help gauge the effectiveness of measures taken and indicate where more work is needed. These can be conducted quarterly and should solicit anonymous feedback on the workplace culture, specifically asking questions about observed or experienced toxic behaviors.

Consult External Experts

Sometimes internal efforts are not enough. Consulting with external experts on how to stop toxic masculinity can bring in a fresh perspective and specialized expertise. These experts can perform an unbiased evaluation of your company culture, provide recommendations for improvement, and even help implement new policies and training programs.

toxic masculinity
toxic masculinity

What’s next for toxic masculinity?

By implementing these strategies, organizations can make significant strides in combating toxic masculinity and creating a work environment that is more equitable and inclusive for all.

Addressing toxic masculinity is not just the responsibility of HR departments, but of every individual in the workplace.

Over the course of this article, we’ve explored various facets of toxic masculinity in the workplace, from its subtle signs like emotional suppression and mansplaining to its more overt manifestations like objectification and discrediting female contributions. We’ve also delved into its damaging impact on workplace dynamics, individual well-being, and even systemic issues like the gender pay gap.

But recognition is just the first step. As we’ve discussed, combating this issue effectively involves a multi-faceted approach that includes educational programs, open dialogue, and accountability. It’s a collective effort that requires the participation of everyone—employers, employees, and even external experts—to truly unlearn toxic behaviors and create a more inclusive environment.

In the end, creating a respectful and equitable workplace isn’t just good ethics; it’s good business. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more engaged, more productive, and more likely to stay with the company long-term. So let’s take on the challenge and responsibility of combating toxic masculinity, not just for the betterment of individual employees but for the success and integrity of the organization as a whole.

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