A bunch of college graduations just took place, which means many women are soon to enter the workforce — and some probably haven't yet been taught about the rights women all deserve at work. Throughout our lives, we're taught to accommodate others' wishes at all costs, and the "take what you can get" mentality that sometimes comes with being new to the workforce exacerbates this tendency. But while the desire to make your superiors happy is understandable, especially when they have control over the future of your career, this desire shouldn't get in the way of making sure you're treated with dignity.
When I graduated college, I was taught to feel so lucky just to have a job lined up that it didn't occur to me to ask for anything more. I didn't negotiate my first few job offers, even after my supervisor said, "Let me know if there's anything we can do to get you on board," and I didn't ask for additional vacation time even when I was given two weeks a year as a minimum. I simply didn't know I could do these things.
Partially due to feminism, I gradually realized it was OK to ask for what I wanted, and through experience, I learned that most employers really don't mind when you do. Now, while I still believe in doing what I can to make my employers' lives easier, I value myself enough to know that if they don't grant me a few basic rights, they're not somebody I want to work for.
I'm not suggesting you up and quit your job if you're not being granted all these abilities — you'll of course want to consider whether you need the money or the career advancement a particular job offers and weigh how you feel about each one. What I would suggest doing if you're feeling mistreated at work is to quietly look around for other opportunities so that you'll soon be able to jump ship.
Here are a few rights all women deserve in the workplace, regardless of how their employers make them feel.
1. To Think About A Job Offer Before Accepting It
When you get a job offer you want, especially if it's one of your first, you may initially feel compelled to say "yes" then and there in order to communicate your enthusiasm or avoid losing the offer. But the offer isn't going anywhere if you don't answer the second you get it. The specific time frame will vary based on the company, but in my experience, people understand you're considering other options and will allow a few weeks for a final answer. If they sit you down with a contract and expect you to sign it immediately after reading it, that's a warning sign. Asking for at least a few days to look it over and think about it is smart, not unenthusiastic.
2. To Get A Contract
With the rise of startup culture and freelancing, it's increasingly common for employers to hire people without contracts. This doesn't necessarily mean they're trying to take advantage of you — they may just not have had the time to put one together. But having a contract ensures that you won't be cheated out of anything offered to you (I can tell you based on personal experience that this unfortunately happens). Again, if you ask for this, you're not being too demanding — you're showing that you're smart and thoughtful about your decisions.
3. To Negotiate A Contract
Whether you're about to start a new job or you want something to change at your current one, you always have the right to ask for what you want, whether that's more vacation time, more flexible hours, or higher pay. You don't even need to give a reason — you can just ask. Your company, of course, has the right to say "no"; they just don't have the right to make you feel bad about asking. Particularly if you're a woman, being shamed for negotiating is not uncommon. It's happened to me twice. At first, my response was to feel guilty. Now, I realize that guilting your employees for politely asking a question is totally inappropriate. Again, they're entitled to say "that's not in our budget" or "we can't do that," but bringing it up in retrospect as a criticism of you or threatening to give your job to someone else (which both happened to me) are signs that this might not be somebody you want to be working for.
4. To Take Time Off
It's not fair for anybody to expect you to work all the time, yet this is far from uncommon. Some employers don't have vacation time or sick time built into their contracts (or, as I mentioned above, don't provide contracts at all), and some pressure you to work during your time off. But if you work nonstop, you will go insane. If time off is in your contract, you have the right to ask for it without working during that time, and if it's not in your contract, you have the right to ask for it when you need it or have it added.
5. To Speak Up If Something's Wrong
If you're being mistreated at work, you should not have to handle it alone. Whether your company has a formal HR department or just a senior who can take your concerns into consideration, you deserve somebody on your side. For example, you have the right to report sexual harassment in your workplace or any offensive comments someone makes toward you based on your identity. Even if there's no specific action you want your workplace to take, it can be validating just to get emotional support.
6. To Have Your Expectations Communicated
Managers are really busy, and sometimes, they'll give instructions to employees without thinking hard about what they need to communicate. If this happens, you have the right to ask for clarification. And if your boss isn't clear about what they want, they shouldn't get angry at you for not delivering it. You can't read their mind.
7. To Feel Appreciated
There are areas where we can all improve at our jobs, and there's nothing wrong with an employer acknowledging that. What's not OK is making you feel like you don't deserve to be there or your hard work isn't worth anything. When you live in fear of disappointing your boss, you can't do your job to the best of your ability. If your company's keeping you around, they need you in some capacity, so it's dishonest to make you feel like they're doing you a favor by having you work there. Everyone on your team deserves to have their hard work acknowledged and appreciated.
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