When women speak up about sexism or sexual harassment in the workplace, they’re sometimes met with the “good guy” defense, which minimizes, excuses or deflects the sexist or harassing behavior of a man by appealing to the utility of this commonly used phrase, write Resa E. Lewis, W. Brad Johnson, David G. Smith and Robin Naples in Harvard Business Review.

Here are five ways we can begin to take back the term “good guys”:

Improve your situational awareness.
Learn how to identify sexist behavior — more specifically, harassment. Noticing and correctly labeling the behavior is a key first step. Men, in particular, can deliberately build gender intelligence by reading and learning the data through rigorously conducted reports, such as McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2021 and the Sexual Harassment of Women National Academies of Sciences Engineering and Medicine 2018 report. Start by checking in with the target of this behavior when you witness it. This validates her experience. For example, “I noticed that your manager dismissed you and the other womens expertise in the meeting. It feels sexist to me. Am I reading this right?”

Check your own impulse to gaslight.
The next time a woman colleague reports a sexist or harassing encounter, be sure that nothing you say might lead her to believe she’s misreading the perpetrator’s behavior or blowing it out of proportion. Try something like: “I believe you. From what you’ve described, that behavior doesn’t sound appropriate. Can you tell me more, and can I team up with you to address it?” These responses offer support while allowing you to gather more information about the occurrence.

Hold other men accountable.
Active confrontation of other men for sexism, bias, harassment and all manner of inappropriate behavior may be the toughest part of male allyship. We call this the “carefrontation,” contextualizing confrontation as an act of caring on the part of a friend or colleague. Try: “That comment was inappropriate and demeaning. I found it offensive and it was clearly offensive to our women colleagues. I know you can do better.” Alternatively, you could say, “You and I go way back and were friends. I heard what you said/what you did. We don’t do that here. You need to make amends and be more respectful.”

Use positive reinforcement.
Reinforcing people – especially men – for desired workplace behaviors (e.g., disrupting sexism and harassment and holding others accountable) is a powerful motivator. Try: “I really appreciated it when you spoke up about our co-worker’s inappropriate and offensive joke. Everyone saw what you did, and it had a positive effect on the team.” Of course, reinforcement can have the added value of influencing others when done in public. For instance, “Thank you for saying that. I was also uncomfortable with that comment and I agree thats just not what we do here.”

Integrate these conversations into your organizations culture.
Where the “good guy” defense is prevalent, engage team members in discussions about the impact this phrase has on people. Encourage others to share their experiences with the “good guy” defense and why we should drop it. Include vignettes or examples of the “good guy” defense at training programs. Leaders throughout an organization need exposure and best practice refreshers regularly so they can better handle these situations. Inclusion in high-visibility programs demonstrates a commitment to improving workplace culture.