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How to Identify Toxic Masculinity in the Workplace

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Toxic masculinity in the workplace - angry man screaming at caller.

Is there such a thing as toxic masculinity?

In this video Andrew Marty of SACS Consulting outlines characteristics that can help identify Toxic Masculinity in the workplace.

Using psychometric assessments can help screen for certain personality and value traits which can significantly lessen the risk of hiring employees with Toxic Masculinity.

Read on to learn more.

Video Transcript

Hi, Andrew from Sacs.

I just wanted to say a few words to you about toxic masculinity.

We often get asked about this question, “Is there such a thing as toxic masculinity?”

In general, it refers to a bunch of characteristics, which are stereotypical male characteristics, things like a commitment to dominance, aggression, including sexual aggression, misogyny and homophobia, a hate for weakness, and a strong emphasis on self-reliance.

When a person is toxically masculine, it may well be that they’re not great to be around because they can be very intolerant, but it also can mean that they’re actually actively violent.

It certainly is a characteristic that’s an observable characteristic and we do see some people whose life seems to be characterised by these negative characteristics of aggression and intolerance.


But what are the causes of this? Well, one of the causes is genes.

Now, I know that this can be controversial to talk about, but if you want evidence for genetic markers for violence, all you have to do is look at the rates of violence amongst men and women.

Men undertake far more violence than women do and why? Because there is a whole bunch of genetic reasons for doing that.

But something that’s got a lot of press in recent times is a thing called monoamine oxidase A otherwise known as the warrior gene. And so when it was first discovered, people believed that they had found a kind of a holy grail as to why people act violently and then the tide of research kind of went against it and it took on a somewhat more nuanced kind of a character as to not being an absolute marker of violence.

But it is fair to say that people who have monoamine oxidase A are much more heavily represented in things like incarcerations for violent crime.

About 30% of the male population has monoamine oxidase A as a variant in their genetic makeup.

So not everybody who has this characteristic becomes violent.

It seems that there are a couple of key markers of why people who have this warrior gene will become more violent and one of them is early childhood trauma.

Warrior Gene

Early childhood trauma activates the warrior gene and makes a person much more likely to act in a violent fashion.

Secondly, recent research says that the warrior gene can be activated by provocation.

You’ll notice that I’ve put the word provocation in quotes there because what we are saying here is perceived provocation where the person believes themselves to be provoked.

Now that perception of provocation can be moderated by a whole bunch of things, like for instance, personality. I mean, some people are more touchy than others.

Other things could be things like alcohol or drugs, which will make people feel that they’re being provoked more.

And also we see the very unfortunate characteristics of sexual violence where men believe themselves to be provoked by acts undertaken by their partner and leading to tragic consequences.

So, provocation, like beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when people believe themselves to be provoked, if they have the warrior gene, they’re more likely to act violently.

Cognitive Ability

And then there’s cognitive ability.

So this study here between Dilchert and Ones was a big study across the world of the relationship between cognitive ability, IQ, aptitudes, how smart you are, and negative behaviours at work and they found a strong relationship.

The lower the cognitive ability, the more likely it was that people would undertake bullying, theft, harassment, that kind of thing.

The second study relates to the work of Brie Diamond in the prison system in the United States of America.

She accessed the psychological assessment records of people who had been admitted to jail in the United States of America. Interesting, isn’t it, psych testing people on the way into jail?

It certainly doesn’t happen all over the world and not even all over the United States of America.

So because of the random allocation of prisoners to different cell blocks, when a certain cell block ended up with average lower rates of cognitive ability versus higher rates of cognitive ability, you had much higher levels of violence in the cell blocks that had low rates of cognitive ability.

So, that was a kind of a really practical demonstration of the fact that low cognitive ability tends to cause higher rates of violence.

So a picture starts to emerge.

Imagine a person has low cognitive ability, the warrior gene, and feels themselves to be provoked in some way, especially if they had family violence growing up or trauma, particularly violent trauma of some sort.


And then there’s a thing called personality and personality has been known for many years to be a marker of negative behaviours like violence. Kibeom Lee and Mike Ashton in 2006, 2007 discovered a thing called the honesty-humility scale.

This is what’s known as the six factor or HEXACO model of personality.

The honesty-humility scale is a relatively recent discovery in the world of personality and is attributable to Kibeom Lee and Mike Ashton.

People who had low scores in this tended for instance, to go to jail more often. They tended to bully people more often. They tended to undertake negative behaviours at work like theft, so, all markers of toxic masculinity.

Now there have been a number of other studies of toxic masculinity and one of the markers appears to be a thing called agreeableness.


Agreeableness is the degree to which you’re kind of approachable and easy if you get along with, but in the HEXACO model of personality, low agreeableness means high anger and certainly trait anger, the tendency to be an angry person is an indicator of negative behaviours like intolerance, aggression, violence, those kinds of things.

Beyond personality, there is a person’s values.

Nature vs Nurture

I think it’s worthwhile at this stage to differentiate between nature and nurture.

Nature, things like the warrior gene, things like cognitive ability, which twin studies show is probably 70 to 80% genetically determined or so.

Personality. Most psychologists believe that personality is largely genetically determined.

Those things tend to persist throughout the course of your life, whereas a person’s values are largely learned in the course of life and can change over the course of a person’s life.

Schwartz model of values

This is the Schwartz model of values.

Shalom Schwartz is one of the most important researchers in the world on the topic of values.

And you’ll see that certain of these values are associated with self-enhancement, which is kind of getting along in life, conservation, which is about hanging on to what I’ve already got, openness to change, which is all about my tendency to welcome new things and welcome new ideas, and self-transcendent is all about trying to make the world a better place.

So, values like benevolence, which is all about helping people and being able to be relied on by people and universalism, which is all about having a social justice orientation and a commitment to fairness and a commitment to environmental sustainability.

Schwartz’s research has shown that when people have these characteristics, they tend to be more orientated to trying to make the world a better place, they’re less likely to undertake negative behaviours.

In addition, he also found that people who are conformity-orientated, and conformity-orientated doesn’t necessarily mean a sheepish obedience of what I’m told, it’s really a respect for the rules and it’s a respect for social rules, it’s a respect for the fact that rules have a place in life and I won’t be a completely radical maverick, I believe that it’s a good thing to accept rules.

Some of those things can be moderators of the tendency to undertake these negative behaviours, but research also indicates that things like personality are way bigger drivers of these characteristics.

So it’s good to have good values, but if you start out with unfavourable genetic characteristics, it’s going to take a lot of values to try to override the natural wiring that you have from your genetic makeup.

Schwartz also discovered that when people are high on the value of power, power is a characteristic of wanting to dominate people or resources, people who are like that are more likely to undertake negative behaviours.

Now, where does this leave things like education programs? Well, they work, there is no question about that.

But what we’re saying is that from a recruitment point of view, if you don’t want toxic masculinity in your workplace, it’s a really good idea to check for characteristics like cognitive ability, personality, and values because if you get a person who has the right characteristics, they’re way less likely to fall into the errors of toxic masculinity.

Thanks for listening. If you’re interested in more of our videos, click on the links close to this video.

And if you’d like some help evaluating your next hire, contact us about our Psychometric Assessment Tools.

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Psychometric testing predicts work outcomes, including:

  • Likelihood of success & failure at work
  • Counterproductive work behaviours
  • Occupational health and safety issues
  • Attitudes towards diversity

All of our psychometric assessments are based on research and backed by science.

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Andrew Marty

Managing Director at SACS Consulting

Andrew is a qualified psychologist who has over 25 years of human resource management consulting experience, including extensive senior executive search and selection experience.

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