By Tara O’Sullivan
If it wasn’t already obvious from my earlier posts, I am a passionate, and outspoken feminist. And proud of it. So I was more than taken aback when I recently had an animated discussion on the subject of feminism with a colleague who expressed that being openly feminist in the workplace can be detrimental to your career.
We went back and forth on the matter and then moved on to other topics. Later that night, I reflected on what she said and it made me pause for thought.
I did a quick Google search to see if she was on to something. The first story that pops up is about Jayeon Kim, a voice actress for PC game company Nexon, who posted a selfie on Twitter wearing a shirt that read, “Girls Do Not Need A Prince.” This is a slogan that may, or may not, be linked to the feminist Korean website, Megalian (depending on which site you read.) Within days she had been replaced, or her role recast, in a number of games.
And all over a slogan that is pretty innocuous and not particularly militant or confrontational?
As someone in a senior position, am I less vulnerable when I profess my views? If I was just starting out and was just as vocal, would it hinder my chances of getting a promotion?
And if this is the reason why, rightly, many women are afraid to declare their views, then how can we best imbue a workplace with a sense of feminism, while not sabotaging a career?
This then got me thinking about where we would be, if we didn’t have females who were feminist trail blazers to look at.
Hidden Figures – which I can’t recommend enough – and based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book of the same name, tells the story three African-American female mathematicians: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA during the Space Race.
All three women were brilliant, noble, and inspiring. What struck me about Dorothy Vaughan was not only how prescient she was, but how she naturally and instinctively, brought other women along with her. Vaughan, the first African-American woman ever to supervise a staff at NASA, understood that computers were going to take over, so she taught herself and her staff, a group composed entirely of African-American women mathematicians, the programming language of FORTRAN. This action guaranteed their continued employment and illustrates perfectly how women should view other women as teammates rather than competitors.
This idea of bringing along other women was not just the right thing to do, it further demonstrates the kind of woman – and person – Dorothy was, and makes me wish there were many more just like her.
And even if you are not able to do this, there are other steps we can all take. Steps that can help achieve the goal of equal opportunity in the workplace without sacrificing anything.
We can all ensure that when we speak, we are not guilty of unconscious bias, or worse, conscious bias!
We can all check into mentoring or sponsoring opportunities available.
We can all applaud, rather than downplay or begrudge, when a female colleague achieves a promotion.
Together we can #LeanInTogether.
Tara O’Sullivan is the Chief Creative Officer at Skillsoft.