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5 Workplace Actions That Make Me A “Bad Feminist,” But A Good Employee

There’s a lot of talk out there about how to “make it” as a woman in the workforce. In a world where only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, we still have a lot to learn about how to succeed in the corporate environment. Even though I’m still in the beginning stages of my career, I’ve already experienced firsthand how difficult it can be for women to advance, particularly in male-dominated industries.

As someone who identifies as a feminist, I’ve turned to mentors and leaders to help me navigate my behavior in the workplace. And there’s no shortage of guidance in this arena. We’re surrounded by advice, from Sheryl Sandberg to Oprah Winfrey to our own mothers. Everyone seems to have an idea about how women need to behave if they want to get ahead.

However, over time, I’ve learned that much of this feminist rhetoric doesn’t seem to work for me and my particular situation. In fact, more often than not, I find myself deliberately contradicting the guidance I receive. And so far, it’s actually proven to be beneficial to my career.

Here are five things I do that might make a “bad feminist,” but have been very helpful in furthering my career.

1. Lead the Social Committee: Since I entered the working world, I’ve continuously been recruited to serve on various morale-boosting committees. At first, I was offended. Just because I’m a young woman doesn’t mean that I’m particularly interested in hosting ice cream socials or scheduling lunch-and-learns. I’m not even a particularly peppy person! I didn’t want my colleagues to assume that’s all I was good for. And I’ve heard many feminists advise against joining these committees for just that reason — it reinforces traditional feminine stereotypes, and paints you as a party planner instead of a “serious” business person.

However, I’m pleasantly surprised to report that this hasn’t been my experience. On the contrary, serving on these committees actually tuned out to be a great networking opportunity. I’ve even had one-on-one meetings with the CEO and presented at company-wide meetings. Joining the Social Committee increased my visibility and pegged me as a person who’s involved and engaged with the company. Plus, it’s been a great opportunity to show off my creativity and attention to detail. Because of my involvement with these seemingly-trivial and feminine committees, I’ve gotten to work on several interesting projects that have benefited my career.

2. Make coffee (and other traditionally female responsibilities): It’s sad but true: none of my male colleagues know how to run the coffee machine. And yes, it’s frustrating, and makes my inner feminist cringe. Men are certainly capable of making their own coffee, and I’m definitely within my right to refuse to help them.

But, I’ve found that making coffee and taking on other traditionally female responsibilities has actually helped me in the long run. Again, it’s led me to network with different people in my office that I might never have met — including higher-ups and people in management positions (seriously, you would not believe how many people truly don’t know how to make coffee). It’s shown that I’m a team player, helpful to others, and willing to pay my dues. More than anything, it gets my name out there, even if it’s not for the most ideal reason. It separates me from being just another person in a cubicle. And if making coffee is the thing that gets the VP to talk to me in the hallways, I’ll take it.

3. Talk about my family and other personal things: I can’t help it; I love talking about my personal life to my colleagues and especially enjoy sharing stories about outings with my husband and planning for my soon-to-be-child.

I know that talking about The Bachelorette at the water cooler isn’t the most professional thing to do, and it’s certainly not the feminist ideal, but it helps me foster deeper connections with my colleagues. It shows off my true personality. It helps me become approachable and recognizable to my team. And it feels right. I’m not a quiet, reserved person in my private life, so it’s nice to be able to communicate authentically with my coworkers in the office.

4. Apologize: Apologizing is a sensitive topic, especially for women in the workplace. And I agree that women are socialized to apologize too much, certainly more than men. But I’ve found that apologizing for my mistakes or oversights, even if they weren’t intentional or exactly my fault, has helped gain me respect from my colleagues. I don’t point the finger or deny responsibility. I apologize and offer solutions to try to fix the situation. I’ve had managers tell me how much they appreciate my willingness to apologize and own up to a mistake. And now that I’m a manager myself, I agree that having an individual apologize upfront is greatly preferred over having someone deny involvement or try to hide the issue. I’ve had a complete mindset flip on this. Now, I believe that apologizing is actually a form of strength, not a weakness.

5. Ask for help: I’ve been told time and time again that the key to succeeding as a woman in the workforce is to present a confident image. Do not let your insecurities show. Don’t look for constant reinforcement. And while this “fake it till you make it” mentality can be helpful at times, you truly can’t fake something you know nothing about.

It’s much better to ask for help and explain the situation outright than to act like you know what you are doing and totally flop. It doesn’t matter if it makes you look weak. It’s a characteristic of a strong person to accept her shortcomings and ask for support when she needs it. I openly admit it when I do not know something, and seek out resources to provide me with the information. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I’ve prevented, simply by asking for help. It’s made all the difference.

*****

By doing these traditionally feminine things at work, I’ve helped to distinguish myself from my coworkers and have furthered and grown my career. Despite not falling in line with traditional feminist ideology, they’ve set me apart and helped me gain a positive reputation.

However, it’s important to note that there are some pieces of feminist advice that I do insist on following no matter what. For example, I always “sit at the table.” I actively participate in every meeting I’m invited to. I suggest ideas and solutions. I ask for more work, even if it’s not always glamorous or something that’s necessarily in my job description. I advocate for myself and keep a log of all my achievements. And most importantly, I set firm boundaries, and do not let people take advantage of my politeness.

In today’s evolving work environment, you have to find what works for you and what feels right in your particular situation. There are some pieces of advice you may disagree with, and some that you stand by wholeheartedly. Just because you don’t follow every piece of advice you hear doesn’t make you a bad feminist. The most important thing is that you show up authentically, and do your part to help women succeed in the workforce. We’re all in this together!

Jillian wants to live in a world where the coffee is bottomless and the sweatpants are mandatory. As a professional writer, she enjoys crafting copy that cuts through the bullshit of the everyday media. When she’s not being a word wizard, Jillian can be found hiking the trails with her husband and her slightly neurotic German Shepherd named Penny. To learn more about her work and her love of sweatpants, visit her website or find her on Twitter.

Image via Unsplash

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  • Andrea

    I don’t think any of these things make you a “bad feminist”, and while many of these things may be somewhat against “traditional” feminist advices for career women, they mostly just fall under the basic categories of being helpful, honest, and being yourself. Many of the sayings you went against seem more like cautions against either doing those things because you feel obligated to as a women or against overdoing, rather than very strict mandates to never make coffee, head the social comittee, apologize, ect. By the very same nature, you shouldn’t feel as if you have to buck the stereotype to be a good feminist, you should just do what works for and feels natural to you.

    • Anon

      Agreed. Pretty sure feminists don’t have anything against asking for the information necessary to do your job or admitting when you’ve screwed up.

  • nancxpants

    Thank you for writing this! It can be so easy to feel like a bad feminist by not actively working against gender stereotypes, but it’s up to each of us to find a balance that is authentic to ourselves and our personalities.

  • Jac

    i don’t think doing any of these things makes you a “bad feminist.”

    i also think it’s a systemic problem that things like coordinating social activities and making the coffee fall to women the majority of the time in the majority of offices. it may be nice to get some networking opportunities as a result, but in many cases the hours of secondary work that’s disproportionately done by women, over the course of a year, builds up to one of two things: the woman who’s doing a bunch of work that’s not actually her job has been less productive than the men who aren’t doing those tasks, and is less likely to be promoted/given raises at the same rates, OR they wind up working unpaid overtime to keep up with coworkers who aren’t performing those tasks. similarly, it’s a problem that the women who DON’T do those things are often viewed as stuck-up, difficult to work with, etc.

    in short — i very rarely think the choices we as individual women make can make us more or less of feminists, but I do think it’s important that we look beyond whether or not we’re willing to make those choices to be critical of the larger work culture that means we have to make them at all.

  • This is about adapting to the pressures in the workplace, not being a bad feminist.

  • Sue Smith

    Oh no, honey. Making the coffee? The men in your office can do it (if they wanted coffee badly enough they would figure it out or go buy it) but if a woman comes and does that busy work, why would they try? Explain to me how you have ‘climbed the corporate ladder’ by doing such things? Are you a senior executive? Doesn’t seem like it. Which demonstrates exactly why you shouldn’t do things like make coffee. Maybe you are liked more, maybe people look at you as ‘good’ but that’s because you do the things women were traditionally expected to do, the grunt work that goes underappreciated. Patriarchy tries to separate women and divide them into “good girls” who don’t rock the boat and the ‘feminazis” who want things like actually being viewed for the work they do and not for gendered side jobs like coffee making. You aren’t being a ‘good’ employee by fulfilling gender stereotypes, you are merely greasing the wheels for the status quo that keeps ALL women back. How, as a ‘feminist’ do you not see this? When you DO things like making coffee, the women that refuse *because they actually want to dedicate time to doing work work, not domestic work at the office* THEY wind up looking like ‘uncooperative bitches’. Your actions actually set back other women in the office who are focused on actually climbing the corporate ladder.

  • Lava Yuki

    I disagree with making coffee just because you are female. I see no problem making coffee for your colleagues as a form or cordiality and building relationships once in a while regardless of gender provided they do it sometimes as well, but being the girl who always has to make coffee for the dudes on the basis of gender shows lack of dignity and self respect. You are an employee, not a maid. Things like asking for help and apologising are ok and I agree with those. Bringing personal life into the workplace is certainly not something I would do, as for me work is work and my personal life is personal for a reason.. it’s personal. I’m not a hardcore feminist, but I believe that women should have the same opportunities as men.

  • SN

    I think all of this is great evidence that being feminine (or at least, traditional concepts of what femininity is) can be a strength in an office workplace, and shouldn’t be frowned upon or eschewed for more masculine traits such as never apologizing or not caring about your family. I think it’s wonderful, so thanks for writing this!

    The only thing I sort of cringed at is making the coffee. That is the only thing on this list that stands out unfair, and as you being taken advantage of as a woman. But I guess I don’t know – maybe it really does help and the cringeyness is worth it.

  • vert-i-go

    This articles title made me frustrated, and I think limited a n interesting article. The point here is surely that we should contemplate whether our behaviours at work; as to they are intentional choices or being manipulated by the culture or expectations of others. That isn’t gender specific.

    And in many cases there are pro’s and cons; in the examples above, many of these would be seen as positive team player by enlightened managers, may also be reinforcing less-enlightened colleagues stereotypical views.

    Please can we retitle the post: “why navigating the complexities of gender stereotypes at work is near impossible- and sometimes you just do your best: A Feminist Manifesto”. Let’s blame the skewed institutional beliefs and not the writer as a “bad feminist”.

  • Duskpunk

    I have no comprehension of how making the coffee in your office in any way undercuts you or any other woman in the office. If coffee needs making, make coffee. If someone notices that you make the best coffee, offer to show them how you do it. It’s being conscientious. If the men in the office (or other women) won’t take the time to refill the pot when it’s empty, then that’s on them.

    I wouldn’t become “the one that makes the coffee,” but there’s nothing wrong with just doing it when it’s empty.

    Then again, I work on a floor where most times I walk into the break room, there’s a guy setting up the brewer because one of the air pots is empty. And I don’t drink the office coffee anyway – my officemate spoiled me with her Keurig.