It's one thing to say you're a feminist and another to behave like one. And unfortunately, sexist behavior is the norm in many settings, especially the workplace — even from bosses. So how do you spot the signs your boss claims to be feminist but isn't? It's not obvious when somebody isn't overtly sexist, but there are a few ways to tell.
Nowadays, many companies are using "diversity" and "inclusion" as marketing buzzwords, and I don't fault them for trying to market themselves. However, a problem arises when diversity initiatives arise as a PR stunt rather than for diversity's own sake. A company that touts its feminism should at least be committed to feminism for other reasons from the beginning.
If your boss says they're a feminist, that's at least one step in the right direction. Identifying as a feminist is still stigmatized, and having a powerful person associate themselves with the title can combat that stigma. But if they're not behaving like a feminist, there's still more work to do for the sake of the company's employees and the people it reaches. Here are some subtle signs that your boss who claims to be a feminist might not actually be as feminist as they could be.
1. They Police How Woman Behave
Sometimes, often in the name of feminism, people will tell women to speak up, apologize less, and do other things that make them appear more "masculine" and therefore more assertive. But here's the thing: Speaking softly, using uptalk, apologizing, and other "feminine" behaviors aren't inherently passive. People just tend to read them that way because our cultural narrative aligns them as such. So, when we criticize these habits, we're promoting a very subtle form of misogyny that deems stereotypically feminine traits antifeminist.
2. They Don't Have Concrete Policies In Place To Promote Workplace Equality
Due to implicit gender biases, even people who feel strongly about feminism and diversity can make sexist or racist decisions, like paying or promoting employees inequitably. To combat this ingrained tendency, it's necessary for employers to implement concrete policies, like interviewing a specified number of women for every position and standardizing payment. It's nice to have good intentions, but they don't accomplish anything meaningful by themselves; they need to be backed by actual policies and actions in order for them to make a difference.
3. They Let Subtle Sexism Slide
Part of walking the walk of feminism is standing up to people who exhibit sexism, even in its most subtle forms. If a coworker makes a creepy comment, plans an after-work activity with all men, or makes a gendered remark, a feminist boss will have your back. The pressure for women to tolerate workplace sexism and gaslight themselves into believing it's not a problem is strong, but bosses can actively work to change that culture of silence.
4. They Leave You On Your Own
Since women still get paid less, frequently experience sexual harassment at work, get overlooked for promotions, and doubt their abilities at work, they often need mentors and other resources to help them advance. Bosses can do this by setting up one-on-one meetings, recommending reading material, offering training, and organizing diversity events. When they don't, the experience of being a woman or other marginalized person in the workplace can be an isolating one.
5. They Care Only About Gender
There are a lot of groups other than women who are disadvantaged in the workplace: People of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, older individuals, and many, many more. All of these issues are just as important to address as gender, and when a self-proclaimed feminist fails to address them, they end up helping privileged women only — and hurting their whole company in the long run.
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