Many workplaces suffer from a lack of women in leadership roles — only 14.2 percent of top executives at S&P 500 companies are women — but fortunately, many women at the tops of their companies are paving the way for other women after them, and you don't need to be a woman to be a feminist boss. I've worked for women and men I would consider feminist bosses, and it made a huge difference in how welcome and encouraged I felt at work.
On the other hand, working in a sexist environment can take a toll on happiness and productivity. Sexual harassment leads to anxiety, depression, and decreased confidence at work, often spurring women to quit their jobs. Every year, victims of sexual harassment in the U.S. lose a total of $4.4 million in wages due to unpaid leave. Studies have shown that workplace sexism is upsetting to both victims and bystanders and reminds women of their gender, which is a problem when stereotype threat — the fear of living up to one's stereotype — can impede women's performance on tasks they're not considered good at.
Exhibiting the qualities below is an important step toward fighting sexism in the workplace. Here are some signs to appreciate in your current boss and to look out for in potential future bosses when you're interviewing for jobs. After all, working for someone who wants to see you break the glass ceiling can give you the confidence to rise as high as you can.
1. They Lift You Up
MOGUL CEO Tiffany Pham says she gives the women on her team "a lot of responsibility, guiding them to keep growing — not only professionally but also personally. I encourage each of them to connect with other members of the industry, to keep learning, and to push themselves so they can feel empowered as they lead the organization forward," she tells Bustle in an email. In addition to providing employees with opportunities to further their unique goals, encouraging professional growth can even mean training employees to take over one's own responsibilities. The most feminist bosses aren't concerned with maintaining their positions above you. They would rather see you rise to their level and possibly beyond, while they also develop professionally by gaining experience as mentors and leaders.
2. They Request Your Opinion
I had a boss who would answer all my questions about what to do next with the response, "I don't know, what do you think?" For a while, I felt like I was in therapy. But finally, I caught on that she wanted my recommendation because she trusted my judgment enough to make major decisions myself. Rather than feeding me the next right move, she empowered me to determine the best course of action — a leadership skill that many women feel unqualified to practice.
3. They're Focused On Equality of All Kinds (Not Just Gender Equality)
Feminist bosses understand it's not just women who receive unfair treatment in the workplace. Just as they can sympathize with the struggles of workplace sexism, they also are committed to creating an environment where LGBT people, racial minorities, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups can do their best work.
4. Their Efforts Go Beyond Equal Treatment.
"Equality" is a word feminists often throw around to reassure anti-feminists that we're not proposing women get special treatment. But while an even playing field is the end goal of feminism, treating people of all genders the same is not enough to get us there. Women and other marginalized groups need extra encouragement and opportunities to achieve equality. For example, a feminist boss might make sure to interview a woman for every leadership position to counteract the paucity of women at the top of their company. For Enplug Co-founder and CEO Nanxi Liu, another solution is to "actively volunteer and sponsor events that encourage girls to get involved in STEM," she tells Bustle in an email.
5. They Praise Your Assertiveness
After I asked for a raise at a previous job, my boss told me she honestly didn't have the budget but was glad I asked because women are often afraid to do so. Though I obviously would have preferred more money right there and then, she did empower me to ask for more in the future. Women are often afraid of coming off bitchy for asking for what they want, so it's important to counteract that stereotype by praising assertive women.
6. They DON'T Comment On Your Looks
Discussing coworkers' appearances detracts from their work, especially when it's done in a critical or sexualized manner. Sure, "I like your shirt" is fine if you're on friendly terms, and if someone looks extremely unprofessional in a meeting with an investor, that's worth pointing out, but there are too many stories of women being sexually harassed, fat-shamed, or unnecessarily critiqued at work. Your performance reviews should be based on your performance.
7. They Take Complaints About Sexism And Harassment Seriously
The most empowering thing a manager ever did with me was to sit down and listen to my concerns after a coworker made a comment objectifying women then tried to shut me down when I called him out. In a culture where those who notice sexism are often called paranoid or accused of having chips on their shoulders, it was a huge relief to hear that I was justified for taking offense. It's not OK to objectify women at work or anywhere.
8. They Bring Up Workplace Diversity In Conversation
Discussions of creating a more feminist workplace don't have to be formal. At one previous job, employees including managers would bring up the latest study on race in the tech industry or implicit bias against women during lunch conversations. When you see these issues are on coworkers' minds, you know you can bring them up when they become issues at your own company.
9. They Hire Based On Qualities That Matter
Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of JeKuDo Privacy Company, tells Bustle that too many tech companies hire based on "faulty pattern recognition" — specifically, recognition of "the young white male nerd" as someone who will fit in with a company. "It's lazy to look at these superficialities," she says. "Underrepresented groups in tech are often incredibly talented... By looking for the most talented people, I've been able to build a diverse team."
10. They Use Inclusive Language
Feminist bosses don't use words like "he" to refer to a hypothetical CEO or engineer, "she" to refer to an administrative assistant they're looking to hire, "female" to refer to women in general (because it's not trans-inclusive), "foreign" to refer to someone from another country, or the opposite-gender pronoun to refer to an employee's significant other whose gender they don't know. They also gently point out when their employees use non-inclusive language.
11. They Practice Salary Transparency
Everyone will say they offer salaries commensurate with experience and skill and nothing else. However, people often offer women less money without realizing it. In one study on gender bias in the hiring process, people said they'd offer a fictional job candidate named Jennifer $4,000 less per year than one with the same application named John — and that "Jennifer" was less qualified. Feminist bosses know that their feminism does not exempt them from this bias and create objective guidelines for how much each employee will be paid in each role at each level before they sit down to negotiate with an employee.
12. They Train Their Employees To Be Feminist Bosses
As the Jennifer versus John study shows, it's not enough to just avoid intentional sexism. Feminist bosses know they're prone to being sexist without trying, like everyone else, so being a feminist boss requires conscious effort. By cultivating this awareness in their employees, feminist bosses can make sure that leaders like them multiply from generation to generation.