Jessica Bennett, author of Feminist Fight Club, and New York Times contributing writer, was recently in St. Louis for the Women’s Foundation’s annual Making a Difference event. We were so lucky to catch up with here and see what she has to say about sexism in the workplace and surrounding entrepreneurship.
Photo by Sharon Attia
How do you suggest that female entrepreneurs foster their own “female friendly” workplaces?
Hire women, mentor women, promote women. The reality is that working with men is a crucial part of being an entrepreneur — and, unfortunately, it is still largely men who hold the majority of the investor roles — but there are plenty of ways that women can support each other, create networks, and fight for their fair share of funding.
Obviously sexism towards women from men is a problem, but what about the “women on women” crime? How do we treat other women and how should we treat other women?
Rule No. 3 of the FFC is we fight patriarchy not each other. That means treating other women as allies not as enemies. The way I think about this is that part of the reason women often feel competitive with one another is because we’ve been taught — over the course of hundreds of years — that there are only a few seats, a few slots, a few token positions for us. And if there are only a few positions for us — if the “women” jobs at the top are still just a tiny slice of the pie — then how could you not feel competitive with other women? The most basic way to solve this problem is to get more women in power. It makes organizations stronger financially, it makes them more collaborative, and having more women in power actually helps women at all levels. So one thing I try to remember is that we are more powerful together. Or as I often say, the only thing more powerful than a self-confident woman is an army of them.
What hurdles do you think a female entrepreneur faces as opposed to a male entrepreneur? What do you think about a woman’s transition from being in the workforce to being an entrepreneur? Do you think she faces the same challenges, different challenges, new challenges?
Lack of funding, for one. Women entrepreneurs receive just 2.7 percent of all venture funding — and less if they are women of color. But there are also all sorts of other challenges: daily microaggressions; not being taken seriously in pitch meetings; imposter syndrome. Did you read that article recently about the women who pretended to have a male cofounder when they went in to pitch their business? It’s sad that still has to occur. But the important thing to remember is that we can HELP EACH OTHER. For every man who decides not to give a woman funding, there’s a woman who’s decided to start a business and is relying on new ways of investing, and then helping a woman who comes after her.
Do you find it easy to speak out about sexism in the workplace? Has this made you a target and how? How have you dealt with it?
I certainly find it easy now — but I didn’t always. I always say that one of the things I think I can add to this conversation is the ability to speak out. I have a platform, I am my own boss, and I have the privilege to be able to speak about a lot of these issues and not fear repercussion. Because of that, I consider it a duty to do so. Because the reality is that many — most women, in fact — face all sorts of barriers that make it difficult to speak up: fear of being penalized, fear of being fired, lack of power, lack of resources, lack of financial security to fall back on, or the double and sometimes triple bind of being a woman but also being a minority member of some other group. So what I would say to those who ARE able to speak up is do it. It’s your responsibility.
What are your top 3 tips for dealing with sexism at work?
1. Recognize that we’re all a little bit sexist. Yes, even women. Try to notice if women are being interrupted in meetings, and see if there’s a way you can jump in to help. Notice if you’re automatically feeling competitive with other women just because they’re women. Try to catch yourself if you begin to think that a female colleague is bossy or braggy — and ask if you’d think she were that way if she were a man.
2. Find yourself a Boast Bitch. She’s like your female hype man. When you don’t feel comfortable bragging about your accomplishments, or alerting your bosses or colleagues to the awesome thing you did, it’s her job to do this for you. Research shows this works — you don’t get dinged for coming off as conceited or braggy, and she looks awesome and selfless for helping out a sister.
3. Form your own Feminist Fight Club! Which basically is to say: find a posse. It doesn’t have to be all women, or all people you work with. But you will have an understanding with these people that you have each other’s backs.
Check out Jessica’s book, Feminist Fight Club at feministfightclub.com.