Like a boss

4 ways women can support each other – and fight the patriarchy – at work

by Erin Cassidy Nelson

Fighting the patriarchy is about more than earning equal pay. Here, author Jess Bennett shares four tips for how women (and men) can combat subtle sexism at work, and establish their own Feminist Fight Club.

04 Min Read Time


Ever been ‘manterrupted’ at work? (Male colleague interrupts you during a meeting.) How about ‘bropropriated’? (Same guy takes credit for your ideas.)

For too many women, these words are the lexicon of a typical workday. And for too many men, they inhibit a truly productive work environment, where men and women engage as allies – giving proper credit when it’s due, avoiding female scribes and calling out sexist behaviour.

Headshot by Sharon Attia

Jessica Bennett, first-ever gender editor for The New York Times, began experiencing, and later coining, these terms as a junior reporter at Newsweek, where she says she watched in horror as men rode their gender advantage to corporate success. To challenge these subtle forms of sexism, she and a group of other young women writers formed a girl gang, a feminist fight club.

“Most of us [writers] were in our early 20s, working in creative roles, struggling to rise up,” says Bennett. “We’d meet every couple of months – and we still do – to share advice, support and tricks from our respective experiences working in white male-dominated jobs.”

She lays it all out in her first book, “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual (for a Sexist Workplace),” a social science-backed toolkit to help women and men recognise and combat sexism at work. Illustrated to evoke ‘Mortal Kombat’ (the video game) meets Ms Magazine, it covers everything from salary negotiations to literally leaning in (to avoid being interrupted).

Published in 2016, Bennett’s book may one day be seen as a time capsule for millennials’ struggle for gender equality and as a premonition for 2017, the year of #MeToo and The Silence Breakers. Together with a video that brings to life some of her most prescient concepts, Bennett is fast cementing her role as a go-to voice for young women (and men) fed up with sexism in the modern workplace.

We asked the author how women can get ahead at work and, in her own words, “smash the patriarchy, not each other.” Here are four takeaways.

Use your privilege to lift other women up.

If you don’t feel disadvantaged, awesome! But there are plenty of women who do — so my advice would be to use that privilege to help lift other women up.

We know that women of colour, for instance, have a much starker wage gap and that transgender women face discrimination at far higher rates than cisgender women. If you’re in a position of power, you can insist on hiring, mentoring and promoting women at equal rates to men. You can check your company salary figures to make sure there’s not a gender gap (a lot of companies in Silicon Valley have done this, like Salesforce), and if there is, correct for it. Don’t just sit around talking about diversity — recruit for it, set targets for it.

Trust your gut.

I spent so long trying to fit in, worrying what other people thought of me, being hesitant to speak my mind or say what I really believed because I wasn’t sure it was right, or smart, or good enough, or was worried about being criticised, or not being perfect enough, and on and on.

You know what? Almost all of the things I was afraid to say, I still believe them. So what I would say is: Listen to your inner voice, try not to succumb to self-doubt and stand up for what you believe in.

Believe that change doesn’t always come from the top.

Sure, it’s important to recognise that change can come from the top — setting diversity targets or evaluating your company’s salary structure to make sure there is not a wage gap, for example.

But there are also things that even those on the lowest rungs of the ladder can do — and men can do all of these things, too: giving credit where it’s due, making sure your meetings have a proportionate number of women in them (research has found that women’s ideas are more likely to be heard when there are more of them in a room), and refusing to assign the administrative tasks to only women (or offering to help out if you see that happening).

At the end of the day, we can say definitively that organisations with gender parity are both happier places to work, but also more successful and more profitable. If we could reach gender parity, the U.S. GDP would rise by 26 percent.

Know your power — and that of a community.

A lot of the issues we face are pretty common: the wage gap, struggling to negotiate for higher pay (and being penalised when we do), being interrupted when we speak and not having our voices heard, not getting credit for our ideas, worrying that we are ‘imposters’ in our own office environments — these things are relatively universal if you simply change the setting.

One thing I’ve learned is that we all have power — power to affect change, to create change, to stand up both for ourselves and for others. But we are more powerful if we can work together — and there is nothing quite like a group of women supporting you who you know will have your back. The only thing more powerful than a self-confident woman is an army of them.