In Kool Kanya’s theme of the month – Feminist In Progress – we decode the nitty-gritties of practising feminism laden with imperfections.
What does it mean to be a good feminist at work?
Does it mean trying to bring it up in conversations regularly to remind everyone of your values? Does it mean bringing your activism into the workplace and your work? Does it mean adding your ‘We should all be feminists’ T-shirt into your cycle of work outfits?
I remember my first internship – a male-dominated workplace that thought little to nothing of the lack of diversity in the office. This was disorienting for me — a humanities and liberal arts graduate whose academic journey till then, filled with gender studies and feminist literature, had inevitably been dominated by women.
While there was nothing overtly un-feminist about the workplace, there was something innately unwelcoming about it. The women rarely got an invite to after-work “hangs”. A man made a WhatsApp forward-worthy joke about wives and the only thing it incited was loud laughs and one joking comment on how the feminists would come for him. A woman’s idea during a Navratri campaign to visualise the goddess as a modern working woman was dismissed immediately as foolish. A presentation slide that showed that women engaged less with the company’s completely gender-neutral product was met with nods that said ‘It’s understandable and inevitable’.
The leadership and company policies there did little to make the workplace a more inclusive and equal space for everyone.
It was at that internship that I realised that everyone ﹘ be it a man or woman ﹘ needs to do their part in bringing their feminism into the workplace, and being a better feminist at work.
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What it means to be a feminist at work
Feminism isn’t a label that needs to be regularly explained or worn on outfits to make sense, let alone make a difference at work. It isn’t always about complaining about your lot at work, or arguing with men about what they’re doing wrong.
It’s a journey you commit to and a work style you adopt in your attempt to ensure equality and inclusivity at work. Through all the politics and polarisation, feminism is at its core the belief that everyone deserves access to equal rights, respect, and resources.
If you’re someone who’s been wondering how to translate their feminism into their work style, keep reading.
How to be a better feminist at work
Recognise your privileges
Being aware of your own advantages and privileges is key when trying to work towards equality.
Do you have fewer barriers to success at work? Do you have more access to important conversations than some others? Do you tend to get preferential treatment?
Look around and notice the work culture and behaviour around you. Don’t focus on being embarrassed by your privileges. Be aware of it, and use it as a stepping stone to uplifting and helping others.
Engage outside your team or your circle
You may have become comfortable within your team at work. You’re all in sync and on the same wavelength most of the time. However, it’s the people outside of your circle who will teach you the most about feminism or the lack of it at work.
Make the effort to engage with people from other teams at work. Expand your circle to include those who may be feeling isolated. Sometimes micro-aggressions against some colleagues may get perpetuated simply because no one is aware it’s happening.
Do your best to ensure that you know your colleagues on a personal basis and that the workplace takes their needs and interests into account.
Put the labels into action
Labelling yourself a feminist is not enough to make a difference at work.
Instead of categorising yourself and your colleagues into labels of feminist or not feminist, look at how you can help each person or situation.
If a woman in your team is constantly being interrupted by a man, instead of calling the man a sexist pig (which we all know he is), ask him to stop being unprofessional and let his colleague finish talking.
Formal workplaces continue to be deeply apolitical, so using labels like feminist and sexist will only reduce your chances of being heard.
So, for example, if you feel there’s a lack of diversity in the team, instead of suggesting that the team needs more women or LGBTQ persons, tell your boss that the team needs a fresher perspective.
Move away from the label, and focus on the action.
Speak up when necessary
Reflecting, observing, and listening are all important steps to knowing your workplace enough to make a change. However, if you see someone being treated unfairly, or being subjected to gaslighting and microaggressions, do not let it slide.
If a colleague dismisses a woman’s idea but accepts the same idea from a man, bring it up. If a colleague disguises a sexist remark as a joke, call them out.
Speak up against injustices that you or your colleagues are facing at work.
Use your network
Tap into your network when your company is hiring, looking to collaborate, or outsourcing projects.
Refer the women or LGBTQ persons you know for job openings at your company. Recommend them when your company is looking to collaborate with others.
Help your workplace take one step closer to equality by having diverse representation in it.
Remember, being a feminist isn’t a chore or task you must cross off your to-do list at work every week. It’s simply you bringing your best, kindest, and most confident self to work every day, in an attempt to make everyone else at work feel safe, respected and confident as well.
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