How to Be a Feminist Leader at Work

This post is excerpted from an article originally published on Everyday Feminism.

I’ve been lucky in my life to have had some really good bosses. Then again, I’ve also had the extremely good fortune to work for a lot of feminists. Unfortunately, lots of folks don’t work with bosses who want to treat them well. For too many people, going to work is mentally taxing, emotionally exhausting, and otherwise soul crushing. But there’s a better way to lead. And it’s called feminist leadership. Here are five ways to lead as a feminist — no matter what work you do.

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1. Practice What You Preach
According to CREA (Creating Resources in Action), feminist leaders “will strive to make the practice of power visible, democratic, legitimate, and accountable, at all levels, and in both private and public realms.”

Leaders should shape policies that place value on employee satisfaction over corporate success. They should try their best to ensure that members of an organization feel respected and valued. They should build diverse and inclusive spaces at work, keep operations transparent, and acknowledge the needs and desires of everyone their decisions impact.

Feminist leadership can take on a lot of shapes, encompass a lot of work styles, and shake up lots of different kinds of workplaces. But it always needs to be about leaders upholding a feminist ethos — and living it every day in their own work.

2. Redefine “Success” and “Hard Work”
For too long, the measure of a good employee has been how much they are willing to toil, sacrifice, and put in for the “greater good” of a company; how much money they bring in; how many hard metrics they hit each month; and how alike they can make themselves to the company’s established leaders. And for too long, the most valued employees have been those who fit homogenous molds, who do things they ways they’ve always been done, and who uphold the status quo.

A feminist leader knows that a workplace is sustainable only when its members have control over their own lives and the sense of balance they need to keep it in motion. They give their employees control over their schedules to allow them to fit in their personal needs as well as their professional requirements each day. Additionally, they strive to shape a work culture in which human needs are seen as equally important to the organization’s goals.

By shaping their workplaces according to the needs and wants of their team, a feminist leader is subverting the norm of our professional culture that tells us what we need to be in order to succeed. Instead, feminist leadership is about fostering workplaces where everyone feels valued, fulfilled, and visible.

3. Share Power — and Credit for Work
Often, the drive of a workforce comes about from competition. Rather than support one another or otherwise lift one another up, colleagues often focus more on tearing one another down to make themselves look better.

Feminist leadership is about valuing everyone’s contributions — and putting the process over self-importance. Feminist leadership rejects the idea of “lone wolf” leaders that our patriarchal culture values so highly. Instead, leaders should value collective leadership, democratic power structures, and consensus building.

Feminist leadership is participatory, inclusive, and horizontal. Rather than competing for power, folks working with a feminist leader should feel like they have their own bit of authority and agency — and that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.

4. Build Community and Relationships
What if our managers and supervisors were equally concerned about our relationships with one another as they are with our output for our organizations? What if fostering an awesome workplace was just as important as reaching quarterly goals? Leadership should be about building community and forming relationships that make an organization’s work stronger — whether it’s by forging coalitions, building bonds with potential allies, or even getting to know their adversaries and competitors a little better.

That means building workplaces where diversity and inclusion are cornerstones, and providing everyone, regardless of their age, gender, ability, race, ethnicity, sexuality, or sex, with a work environment that feels safe.

5. Mentor and Empower Your Team at Every Level
Patriarchal notions of power pit us against one another. Feminist leadership challenges us to see the best in one another and help each other grow and succeed. Instead of focusing on how high we can climb the corporate ladder, feminist leadership challenges everyone to focus on cultivating the “next generation” of leaders, helping teach each other the skills we’re well-versed in ourselves, and sharing power and opportunity. Helpful leaders challenge us to share the wealth of knowledge and skills we have with one another for the greater good of what we’re working toward. Mentorship and empowerment shouldn’t be opportunities that are within reach only for some of us.

Carmen Rios is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She splits her time disparately between feminist rabble-rousing, writing, public speaking, and flower picking. A professional feminist by day and overemotional writer by night, Carmen is currently Communications Coordinator at the Feminist Majority Foundation and the Feminism and Community Editor at Autostraddle. You can follow her on Twitter @carmenriosss and Tumblr to learn more about her feelings.

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