Maybe you had hoped to find a job that allowed you to practice your feminism and social justice activism professionally, and it didn’t work out. Maybe your chosen field simply has nothing to do with your activism at all. Either is perfectly okay! You don’t have to work in the movement to be a feminist.
But just because your job isn’t feminist in scope doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to incorporate your social justice practices into the workplace.
The best professional advice I’ve ever received was at a workshop on finding a job in the movement. One of the speakers on the panel immediately did away with the panel’s topic, telling the group that you do not need to work in the movement to have a feminist job.
She told us that it is up to each of us to take the spaces we already occupy and transform them into something feminist.
The speaker was right.
You probably spend the majority of your waking hours at work, so why shouldn’t you transform it into the kind the kind of place you actually want to be in?
We all deserve access to safe, supportive, and – yes – even feminist work spaces. But how can we start to make that happen?
1. Value Yourself and Your Work
No conversation about transforming your workplace would be complete without first discussing transforming yourself.
A great place to start is by recognizing your own self-worth by placing value in yourself and your work.
Many of us are conditioned by societal norms to have a serious case of impostor syndrome, or that feeling that you’re a fraud or do not belong.
Constantly battling that nagging feeling that you and your work aren’t good enough can lead to some serious problems in the workplace. It may cause stress, anxiety, make you hesitant to seize on leadership or advancement opportunities, or lead you to minimize your accomplishments.
Fighting that can be tough – especially when society tells many of us that we don’t belong in certain industries, positions, or even in the workplace at all.
To begin to counter that, tell yourself each and every day that you matter and that the work you do matters. Put reminders somewhere visible, and don’t let up until it sinks in. Own your accomplishments and all that you bring to the table. Be proud of the work that you produce.
Don’t forget to bring that new sense of worth to your resume. Even if you don’t plan on looking for a new job anytime soon, owning your past experiences and putting an empowering spin on them can reinforce that sense of self you’ve been working towards.
Be sure to use strong action words to describe what you’ve done and emphasize your accomplishments in order to take it to the next level. After all, you worked hard to get where you are, so let your resume reflect it.
2. Support Your Co-Workers
Feminism is in large part about transforming our communities, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your professional community for the support that you need. Likewise, offer that support right back.
Forming relationships at work can help get you through a long day, give your career a boost, and help create the safe spaces we need.
My favorite workplace tradition at my current job is a little practice we like to call “lady drinks.” For us, this means a monthly gathering of the women at the office to get to know each other, unload frustrations, and generally just offer each other support.
These sorts of get-togethers don’t need to involve a happy hour, but they do need to act as a way to connect with others.
Creating a space for support, to hold each other accountable, and to strengthen relationships is what community is all about, and doing it with your co-workers is just as important as doing it elsewhere.
Another important way to offer and receive support is to take advantage of or create your own mentoring programs.
This is a great opportunity to learn about and apply how others have already combated oppression and applied feminism in the workplace. You can benefit immensely from the experiences of others who have quite literally already been there and done that.
To find a mentor, reach out to others who have careers or jobs (in your own workplace or outside of it) that you admire. Tell them a bit about yourself and offer to buy them a coffee. These informal meetings can lead to long-standing relationships and advice that can make a real difference in your career.
If you can’t find a mentor, join an already existing program. You can typically find them on LinkedIn or through local professional groups, and many of these groups are even feminist in focus!
As an added bonus, professional mentorship is also a great networking tool. Having a mentor is a great opportunity to build a support network of like-minded professional feminists!
3. Addressing Inequality through Wage Transparency
Talking about how much you make is so taboo that many cycle through jobs without ever discussing it with their coworkers.
However, having these conversations can be a powerful tool to fighting pay inequality.
After all, if you don’t talk about it, how can you know if you or your co-workers are being underpaid or discriminated against and then fight it?
Now, this is a scary process since many companies and organizations have either formal or informal policies against discussing wages. In fact, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, about half of workers report that these sort of policies exist in their place of employment.
These policies, official or not, are an occurrence called pay secrecy and contribute to a culture of silence where employees can’t speak out both because of fear of repercussion and because they often don’t even know they are experiencing discrimination.
However, The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), a law enacted all the way back in the 1930s, ensures that most can legally discuss their wages and conditions with others they work with without fear of retaliation from their employers.
Some exceptions to the NLRA do exist and include federal employees. Luckily, earlier in the year, President Obama took executive action to protect federal contractors from pay secrecy measures telling Americans that, “Pay secrecy fosters discrimination and we should not tolerate it – not in federal contracting or anywhere else.”
That means that if your employer has a rule saying you can’t talk about how much you make, it might be illegal.
If you can talk about it, do it.
Discussing how much you make and your benefits opens up a conversation with your co-workers and lets you know where you stand with your company or organization. Learning about if you or others are being discriminated against is an important first step to taking action and doing something to stop it.
4. Call Out Oppression and Discrimination When You Encounter It
As a feminist, you have probably fine-tuned yourself to think critically about oppression, so when you see it in the workplace and it is safe to do so, call it out.
And there are many places you might encounter it – from pay gaps, to sexual harassment, to discriminatory hiring practices.
Now, some of these instances may be more complicated than others. For example, you might not feel safe publicly calling out a supervisor for sexually harassing you, but you may still want to take action.
If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work or other forms of discrimination, check out your company’s related policies, document it, and consider making a complaint through your HR department or (when applicable) your union. If you see it happening to someone else, offer your support.
Another great way to act against general discrimination in the workplace is to join your union. If you don’t have one, consider contacting an organization like SEIU or the AFL-CIO and starting to organize yourself.
It may sound like a drastic measure, but having a union pays off. Union workers are able collectively bargain for important rights like fairer workplace policies, paid maternity leave, sick days, health care, and higher wages.
Unions are also associated with narrower wage gaps. According to a study by the National Women’s Law Center, unionized employees experience half the gender pay gap that non-unionized employees face.
Remember, even if you’ve taken steps to transform your workplace into a feminist place, you may not get there right away. Feminism is a process of learning and unlearning, and that takes time and effort.
But hang in there. The final result are worth it.
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Ally Boghun is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She is a feminist activist and media researcher living and working in Washington, DC. Ally completed both her B.A. in Communications and Art History as well as her M.S. in Professional Communications at Clark University, where she researched abortion debate rhetoric. She is also the founder and editor of Because I am a Woman, a blog devoted to intersectional feminism and reproductive justice. In her spare time, you can find her at an art museum, consuming massive amounts of coffee while writing, or trying to convince her cat to go for walk. You can follow Ally on Twitter @AllyBoguhn. Read her articles here.
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