Is micro-feminism a cure for sexism in the workplace?

May 23, 2024

6 mins

Is micro-feminism a cure for sexism in the workplace?
Kaila Caldwell

US Editor at Welcome to the Jungle

As Millennials and Gen Z continue to reform workplace culture, the concept of “micro-feminism” has emerged as a subtle yet powerful tool for challenging the patriarchy at work. According to one recent study, women continue to face significant challenges in the workplace, with 40% of women experiencing microaggressions, harassment, or both at work in the past year. Additionally, the report shows that women bear a disproportionate share of domestic responsibilities, which affects their career progression and mental health. These statistics highlight the persistent inequalities that micro-feminism seeks to address by promoting everyday actions that challenge traditional roles and expectations around gender in the workplace.

From using she/her pronouns to assuming female leadership in hypothetical scenarios, these small acts can create a significant impact. Changing social norms isn’t just about grand gestures, but everyday actions that challenge outdated ideas. If you think casually discussing menstruation in the office is daring, imagine live-tweeting your entire menstrual cycle! So, what are female workers doing to empower women on a daily basis in the workplace?

Breaking down deep-seated norms

Anjana Narayan, a social and behavioral change strategist, reflects on the deeply ingrained cultural norms of her upbringing in South Asia. “In India, there’s a certain sense of not speaking directly to senior people. Directly telling someone that what they said was not right or that their comment hurt you might not be received well and could have consequences.” For Narayan, micro-feminism is about empowerment through small, impactful actions. “It’s a way to assert my feminist side without making a loud protest. It’s a subtle way of saying that I, as a woman, can do what is traditionally seen as men’s work.”

This mindset led her to challenge her own assumptions, such as automatically thinking of men in positions of power. “That really struck me because I also automatically assumed that a man would be in a position of power. This is something I need to unlearn,” she says. One of her practical approaches to practicing micro-feminism is carrying sanitary pads openly at work. “In the past, I would discreetly ask for one or hide it under my clothes, but now I just carry it openly to the bathroom. This small act challenges the stigma around menstruation and normalizes it in the workplace.”

Challenging stigma in a conservative culture

A similar sentiment is shared by Fatma Ali, a Sudanese advocate for menstrual and sexual reproductive health and rights who is based in the UK. She is the founder and CEO of the Pad Needed Initiative in Sudan, which aims to tackle period poverty by challenging the politicization of menstruation. Her journey also began in a conservative setting. “During my previous on-site job, as I neared my maternity leave, I raised concerns about the lack of paid leave in the company policy. I engaged male colleagues in informal conversations about this issue and shared my financial responsibilities with those from similar cultural backgrounds, where males are often seen as sole providers,” she explains.

Micro-feminism involves actions that urge individuals to reassess their perspectives on gender inequalities and biases. By openly addressing topics like menstruation and advocating for fair policies, these women are helping to create broader change. They are encouraging others to rethink their views on gender equality and challenge the status quo whenever they get the chance.

Periods, pads, and tampons, oh my!

If you think carrying your pads in public is taboo, how about sharing your entire menstrual cycle over social media? Carrie McKinnon is an entrepreneur in FemTech and EduTech and the founder and CEO of 28ish, a mobile app designed to enhance awareness and foster alignment with every phase of your menstrual cycle. A period advocate through and through, McKinnon says it hasn’t always been like that for her. “I’m in between Gen X and Millennials, and even back then, there was no discussion about menstrual cycles, bleeding, hormonal impacts, or periods at all, especially not at work. We weren’t taught to own this or to be vocal about it.”

Reflecting on her experiences, she adds, “[Some male colleagues] have made really discouraging remarks about women… the same stuff you’d expect to hear like, ‘Oh, she must be on the rag today,’ or ‘She must be PMS-ing.’ You hear that kind of commentary your whole life, unfortunately, especially depending on the industry and the people you’re working around.”

One way McKinnon practices micro-feminism is by posting where she is in her hormonal and menstrual cycle on LinkedIn and with work teams in various industries. “My cycle affects how I work. There are tasks I’m better suited for at different parts of my cycle,” she says. “I’ve also set an autoresponder on my email at certain times of the month, like when I’m about to start my period, and I need to work less. I usually turn it on around day 27 of my cycle and leave it on for about three days.”

Check out her automated response:

Thank you for reaching out. I am currently on menstrual leave, observing intentionally reduced work hours as part of our commitment at 28ish to empower individuals through alignment with their hormonal phases. I believe in honoring these natural rhythms personally and professionally.

Your message is important to me, and I will address it promptly when I return to regular working hours. Thank you for your understanding and support as we advocate for holistic well-being in the workplace.

Warm Regards,

Carrie McKinnon

Would that make you feel uncomfortable? Probably, but that’s the point, explains McKinnon. “I think [micro-feminsim] is about being willing to put yourself out there and it takes a level of vulnerability to share the struggles that we’re experiencing. So, [you need] a willingness to be honest with the people around you, to be vulnerable, to know that it could make some people uncomfortable. We have to overcome this concept, that I feel was deeply ingrained in me, that [women] have to show up the same way every day and have to show up like men do.”

Other ways to practice micro-feminism in the workplace

With period advocacy being a hot topic in the micro-feminist movement, what are some other ways we can chip away at the patriarchy? Nykea Marie Behiel is a creative storyteller, Director of Brand & Experience at Vendasta, and an avid micro-feminism enthusiast both in and outside of work. For her, micro-feminism is the “art of dismantling the insidious walls that hold women back—the constant interruptions, the backhanded compliments, [and] the feeling that your voice gets lost in the room.” Adding, “The reasons for this aren’t usually explicit misogyny. We often deal with unconscious bias, which is difficult to disentangle because it’s deeply ingrained in our culture, our systems, and our people.” If you’re not sure where to start on your micro-feminist journey, Behiel has a few suggestions to get the ball rolling:

Default to she/her pronouns

This practice helps normalize the idea of women in leadership positions and challenges the usual assumption that leaders are male. For instance, when speaking hypothetically about an executive, like a CEO or CMO, you could use she/her pronouns.

Acknowledge executive assistants

Recognizing the contributions of executive assistants (EAs), especially women, highlights their importance in the organizational hierarchy. When responding to an email from an executive who communicates through their assistant, and the EA is a woman, you could address her first and consult her to acknowledge she is purposefully on the email chain, not simply there by happenstance.

Block off time for childcare

By visibly prioritizing family commitments, this practice challenges traditional workplace norms and supports work-life balance, by outwardly embracing womanhood and personal priorities like children.

Accommode new coworkers

Ensuring meeting times are inclusive promotes a supportive and equitable work environment. For example, when a new woman joins the team, you could ensure recurring meeting times work for her schedule, and if she is hesitant to speak up, suggest adjusting the meeting time.

Recognize successful women

Actively promoting women for recognition helps address gender disparities in career advancement. When there are promotion opportunities or awards nominations, make a point of advocating for a deserving woman.

Make space for women’s voices

Highlighting women’s contributions ensures their work is recognized and valued in discussions. If a conversation is taking place at work led by a woman, you could say, “I’d love to hear from Samantha about this. She’s done an amazing job leading the project and likely has something to add.”

Share administrative tasks fairly

This practice helps combat the stereotype that note-taking and other administrative tasks should fall to women. For instance, if taking meeting notes, you could tag the women in the room before the men, and when someone needs to take notes, you might ask a man rather than a woman.

Give women a prime slot

Ensuring women have prime speaking slots helps amplify their voices and expertise. When organizing speakers for an event, conference, or meeting, you could purposefully schedule the women in the best time slots.

Big change starts small

Micro-feminism isn’t just a buzzword. It’s a dynamic, everyday revolution challenging the patriarchy in the most unexpected ways. Imagine transforming mundane tasks into powerful statements—like Behiel’s cheeky tactic at the grocery store: “I flip magazines that I think are harmful to self-image. Those ‘Lose 10 lbs in three days!’ headlines can safely face the back of the rack, thank you very much.” It’s a small gesture with a big motivation: challenging social standards one flip at a time.

Want to add a little more rebellion to your daily life? Whether it’s casually discussing menstruation at work or making sure to nominate deserving women for awards, micro-feminism is all about these nuanced, playful yet impactful actions that can take down workplace sexism. So, are you ready to get in on the action? Embrace these everyday acts of defiance and keep tearing down the patriarchy, one subtle rebellion at a time.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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