Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace– by Jessica Bennett
November 9, 2018
This was a very entertaining read, and also incredibly appropriate given the current climate with #metoo and continually breaking news of another company, manager, or boss using their position of influence in sexist ways. If you want to get all fired up, the intro to this book is the perfect spark. The rest of the book is set up with strategies on how to respond to the most common forms of sexisms that we encounter in the workplace (sometimes on the daily), and helpful tips for women to use to help them in their career.
Personally, I have to say that after a lifetime of inappropriateness, the sad truth is you get immune to it. And that’s not right. An interesting experiment to do is taking a mental step back and thinking about things that have happened to you, or things people have said to you, that you brushed aside at the time and trying to gauge what your internal reaction is if you image the same thing happening to your daughter, or your niece, or your friend. It’s a lot easier to put someone in their place when we image the injustice happened to someone else. It’s a lot easier to go through the awkward negotiation for equal pay, when we image that we’re fighting for women everywhere, not just ourselves. At the end of the day, as the Feminist Fight Club attests, we are all stronger when we stand together.
Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. —Nora Ephron
So put on those wonder woman pants, and get out there!
The Root of Sexism Runs Deep:
The root of subtle sexism is not all Donald Trump, or anyone else, of course. These attitudes are deeply, deeply ingrained in our culture, where for hundreds of years, it’s men who’ve been the ones in charge, the ones to take charge, the ones to feel entitled to have their voices heard. There’s a trickle-down effect of that history. It seeps into our psyches. And it starts young. As early as middle school, boys are eight times as likely as girls to call out answers in classroom discussions, while girls are taught to raise their hands and wait their turn. Even in movies and on television, it’s the male actors who engage in more disruptive speech, and take up twice as much speaking and screen time as their female peers (they’re also more likely to play characters who have jobs in fields like science, law or politics). Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, then, that the average person finds it easier to pair words like “president” and “executive” with male names and pictures, while words like “assistant” and “aide” cause us to think instinctively female—this is what we’ve been teaching all along.
All of us—yes, really, all of us—are a little bit sexist (racist, too). It’s what scholars call “unconscious bias,” and each of us has it; the result of cognitive shortcuts made by our brains. The good news is that if we acknowledge our inner sexist we can check it. So the next time an ambitious woman rubs you the wrong way, ask yourself: Would I dislike her if she were a man?
More Women is Better for Business
The stats show clearly that there is a social benefit to changing the paradigm. Businesses are more successful when they hire women: more collaborative, more profitable, more inclusive. Women are in fact more effective leaders,
True gender equality, research has shown, would increase the US GDP by 26 percent.
Look around the room. How many women are present? The goal is to reach at the very least a third. That’s the point of “critical mass,” as psychology studies have put it, at which a woman’s perspective is more likely to be heard and her opinions less likely to be perceived as representing her entire gender (or her gender and her race) rather than herself. Remember: white men constitute just 31 percent of the American population. There is no situation in which they should be constituting the majority of the room. So whether it’s informing your bosses, passing along another woman’s résumé, or anonymously tacking a list of reasons why an equally balanced office is actually better—do what you can to send a message to your employers that they must do better.
Support Other Women. We Are Stronger Together.
It means forwarding the résumé. Hire women. Promote women. Mentor women. Do not book a man for a panel, or a keynote, a meeting, a phone call, or any other kind of professional anything until you’ve booked an equal number of women. If you’re hiring for an open position and the candidates are only men, insist on seeing an equal number of qualified women. The only way that we truly break down the tendency of women to compete against one another is to get more of them in power.
Create a Clearinghouse: A former engineer at Google created a spreadsheet where she and coworkers could share their salaries internally. Managers weren’t happy about it, but people asked for and received raises based on the sheet’s data. Other industries have tried versions of the same.
Men Wanted For The Feminist Fight Club. Help a Sister Out!
AMPLIFY OUR IDEAS You can do this by nodding, repeating what we’ve said and saying how much you like our idea, and giving us shout-outs when you think we’ve done something well
INVITE US TO MEETINGS And, like, as many of us as you can round up. We are more likely to speak up if there are more women around,
USE YOUR POWER FOR GOOD That means if you have the ability to hire—or even pass along a résumé—do not do so until you have an equal number of female candidates. Even better if you only pass on female résumés. Other ways you can help: If you turn down a job, think about which women you could recommend for it. Find at least one woman you can mentor. Find out who makes what on your team—and if the women are making less, fix it (or at least report it to somebody who can).
TAKE TIME OFF If your company offers a paternity leave policy, set a precedent and take it. If every parent took time off to care for their kids, balancing work and family wouldn’t be a “women’s” problem.
When a man repeats what you just said and tries to take credit: Yank the credit right back—by thanking them for liking your idea. It’s a sneaky yet highly effective self-crediting maneuver that still leaves you looking good. Try any version of: “Thanks for picking up on my idea.” “Yes! That’s exactly the point I was making.” “Exactly. So glad you agree—now let’s talk about next steps.”
When you’re the only female in the meeting with peers and you’re asked to take meeting notes: Say no, and then explain why. Explain that you don’t take meeting notes because you believe it puts women in a subordinate position—of having to record, not speak. And after a professional life of being the only woman in the room and being asked to take meeting notes, you’ve filled your quota.
Don't Be Your Own Enemy:
Squash Negative Self-Talk Ask yourself what evidence exists that you are any less qualified than anybody else to do this work. Now ask what evidence exists that you are just as qualified—or even, I daresay, more qualified—to do the job. Make a list of at least ten things.
Remember this: even the best athletes screw up, the best lawyers lose cases, the best actors star in busts. Don’t let failure destroy your confidence.
Visualize Success: Olympic athletes do it; so do military officers. Visualize precisely how you’ll navigate the situation—successfully—before it happens.
Unsubscribe from Doubt: In his book, Originals, the scholar Adam Grant describes two kinds of doubt: self-doubt—which causes you to freeze up—and idea doubt, which can actually motivate people to work on refining, testing, or experimenting with a good idea. Try to turn self-doubt into idea doubt by telling yourself, it’s not that I’m crap, it’s that the first few drafts of any idea are always crap – this is part of the process.
Take Care of You, and Set Clear Boundaries:
Cell-Free Zone :“Work will happen twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year if you let it,” the Hollywood showrunner Shonda Rhimes has said. So set boundaries: when you’ll leave the office, the time you stop checking email. If you have the ability to do so, state these limits publicly so they set a precedent for others. Here’s what Rhimes’s email signature states: Please Note: I will not engage in work emails after 7 pm or on weekends. IF I AM YOUR BOSS, MAY I SUGGEST: PUT DOWN YOUR PHONE.
Stop feeling guilty for going for a walk on your lunch break. Make time for you—and the things that will help you keep your stress levels in check.
If you feel you’re headed for burnout, be ruthless about what you say yes to. Try the following: say no to everything that does not provide something crucial in return
Deep Breath: People tend to speak faster when they’re nervous. Deep breaths tell your sympathetic nervous system—the network of nerves that controls our fight-or-flight response—to chill out, and your cortisol (the stress hormone) to take a break.
Communication is Key:
“Gender Judo”—or combining communal behaviors like friendliness, humor, empathy, or kindness (the sugar) with aggression or ambition. Studies show it works. If you think about it, most of the world’s best leaders have mastered this art: they may be tough, but they’re known for their grace and humor, too.
Multimedia Nagger: Switch up the way you check in. You already sent two emails, OK—pick up the phone and call this person. If they don’t answer, walk by their desk. It’s harder to ignore you if you get up in their face.
The Ever-Faithful is real: that person who believes that by putting her head down and doing a great job, by being loyal to the company, by simply having faith in the system, she will succeed. She’s the employee who doesn’t pursue another job offer because she wants to show her commitment but then never gets that promotion she was hoping for. The merit system can work. But let’s be clear: there is no divine providence in the workplace. You get only what you ask for.
Ask for Help: You don’t have to “do it all”—asking for help makes you look more competent, not less. Give yourself permission to do it.
Silence Is Your BFF: Nobody likes an awkward silence, but it can also be your most powerful tool. Remember this about a long pause: it gives you time to breathe. It lets the impact of your words hang in the air. It can force the other person to speak first. So try to embrace the silence when the time is right—and let the other party be the one to start rambling.
Women are allowed to have careers—but it’s replaced by a sense that we still don’t deserve to be there. It plays out in ways big and small. For example, while we know there’s no “I” in team—but we often forget that there is an “I” in “I deserve a raise,” “I led that project,” or “I want a promotion.”
Take a tip from the men in your workplace. Pre-Meet Research has found that while women are highly efficient in office meetings—making effective use of time—men are more likely to spend time connecting with one another beforehand to test their ideas (and garner support). Get in on the meetings before the meetings, even if it’s simply by showing up early and talking about your idea to whoever might listen. It can help you build allies, and you’ll feel more prepared and supported when it’s your turn to talk.
So a man who’s angry is just “angry,” while a woman who’s angry is “hormonal,” right? It isn’t fair, but there is a way to hack the double standard, according to the professor Joan C. Williams, the author of What Works for Women at Work, who advises women to emphasize why they’re upset. She provides a script: “If I look angry, it’s because I am angry, and I’m angry because you have jeopardized [insert shared business goal here].” The idea is to show that you’re not having a “chick fit”—somebody screwed up, and it’s affecting the work. Connect the emotion back to a shared business goal. So if he says, “I don’t know why you’re so upset,” you say, “I’m not upset. I’m concerned about our progress.”
When women’ have families, hiring managers often (wrongly) assume that they aren’t going to be committed to work. Research has shown that those who included a single sentence about being willing to make sacrifices for work were more likely to be hired. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying it out loud. Take the bias head on.
Track You Accomplishments & Be Clear on Expectations
Negotiate clear metrics ahead of any job or assignment so that you know exactly what you’re expected to accomplish. Keep detailed evidence—notes, stats, emails—that can be used to tell the real story of just what happened, and keep in mind: some of that evidence may need to predate you (call it the Chris Christie approach: “You shoulda seen the place when I got here”). The more objective, quantifiable data you collect, the more you can create an airtight self-defense in the event of “failure.” And if failure does happen, focus on solutions: “Yeah, this thing happened, this is why, and here’s how we’re fixing it.”
Track your accomplishments so that you’re relying on facts—not faith—when you ask for what you want.
Negotiating Higher Pay – Do It
Play the First Card!: Don’t be afraid to be the first to disclose a number—and always ask for more than you think you’ll get. One study found that for every dollar higher a person lays out on the table first translates to about 50 cents more in the final agreement.8 I like this motto, from ad executive Cindy Gallop: “You should ask for the highest number you can utter without actually bursting out laughing.”
Know When to Stop Talking Put your offer on the table and then shut up. Let them make the next move.
One script that negotiation expert Hannah Riley Bowles suggests: “I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful that you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I can bring to the job.” Basically, you’ve reframed your greedy, unfeminine need for money as a professional asset.
But talking up front about gender bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have one friend—a filmmaker—who walked into a salary negotiation and led with the following: “The research shows you’re going to like me less after I negotiate. So I just wanted to get that out of the way before I do.” Her delivery was friendly, almost nonchalant, and yet she was able to alert the other party to their own bias.
Play to Your Boss’s Ego: Ask for advice. You know how this goes: everybody loves to hear themselves talk . . . at least a little. It can help you to flip the script. You’re making your boss invest emotionally in a good outcome for you.
Do Not Retreat! Women are more likely to compromise quickly—but don’t do it. Don’t automatically take the first offer on the table, and know that one round of discussion is sometimes not enough. I get it, you’re dying to get this over with. But it’s not actually a negotiation if you accept the only thing that’s presented. Start by thanking everyone for the meeting, then asking to think about things overnight
Practice In front of the mirror, with a buddy, into your iPhone, whatever. You need to visualize victory and smooth-talk the shit out of this negotiation.
If you feel you are doing the work of someone at a higher pay grade than you, make that your basis of negotiation. “I’m a second-year associate doing the work of a third-year. I’d like to make my compensation commensurate with my output.”
Remember: Keep emotions out of it. Stay data driven and fact based.
After an initial round of negotiation: “Unfortunately, we can only go as high as_____.” • Stay silent for long enough to take a breath. Then say, “I appreciate your flexibility in trying to make this work. I really want this job, so I’m hoping we can see what we can do to make both sides comfortable.” (No, you’re not offering a back rub, you’re talking about nonmonetary items like stock, flexibility, benefits.) “How flexible are you with [insert benefit]?” • “I understand, and I am eager to accept. I’d like to set up a timeline to revisit the terms again in ____ months. Is that something you’re open to?” (Sets a concrete framework for a potential bump.)
After multiple rounds of negotiation: “I’m sorry, but we can only offer_____.” • Ask them what they can do to make up the difference. (Again: stock, flexibility, benefits, something else.) • “I understand. What if we set up a timeline to reassess in _____ months?”
Have a Counter plan for No: View your ask in shades of gray, not black and white. If they say no, is there a counteroffer to be made? Could you have half the deadline extension, or cover half the cost of the expense? Try asking—or backing down—in increments.