5 ways to apply feminist leadership in a challenging time
As lockdowns, curfews, social-distancing, and more become our new reality, one more buzzword needs to be added to the list! You guessed it – ‘working from home’. Where possible, organizations worldwide have been scaling down their physical offices and asking employees to work from their homes. While this sounds ideal in theory (why yes, I would like to work from my bed while not wearing pants, thank you for asking!), it comes with its share of challenges.
Enter – the principles of feminist leadership. As Leila Billing asks, “What if leaders of all stripes, from diverse sectors, started to follow the kinds of feminist leadership approaches that have been championed by activists from all over the world for decades?”. But what is feminist leadership you ask?
Feminist leadership, in short, applies the ideas of equity, intersectionality, making the invisible – visible, and more to our leadership. For example, a feminist leader would understand that we are only as safe and empowered as those of us who are most vulnerable. This can have an incredibly, transformative effect in these difficult circumstances. From that perspective, here are five insights on navigating working from home during this pandemic:
Working from home evokes the idea of waking up, making dalgona coffee, putting on some comfy-yet-stylish sweatpants, and sitting down at a desk that has a mood-board backdrop and some artistic shelves. What it is, in reality, is running around for 20 minutes trying to find a table and chair near a plug point, screaming at everyone else in the house to “PLEASE SHUT UP, I AM ON A CALL”, no closing the computer and ‘leaving work’, and wincing when the internet bill finally comes. We are working while at home – and it is a challenge! Reach out to your team-mates (especially the moms!) and talk about your struggles. See how you can support each other. Ignore the fancy home-desk inspiration images on Pinterest and look at reality a little more honestly.
Do you know why I chose to work from home? It allowed me to be flexible and set my own hours. Figure out what works best for you. With more of us working remotely, this gives us an incredible opportunity to some visions of the future forward and make flexible work hours more than just getting to come in late a couple of days a week. Look at creating shared tasks lists with your team so everyone knows who is where and on what, taking the pressure off on sticking to traditional ‘working hours’. Explore using fun tool-kits and collaborative tools to help people work at their own pace. I personally love the We Rise Toolkit by JASS – an incredible feminist organization.
It is very difficult to be ‘business as usual’ in this environment, and it is okay to acknowledge that many of us are feeling increased pressure and anxiety. Take this opportunity to start important conversations about self-care and mental health with your colleagues. It can be as simple as starting calls by asking how everyone is doing. You can embrace the challenge-life by asking people to share something each week that they did to take care of their mental health. Sometimes, it’s just about reaching out to people and having a chat, giving space to discuss how we are all feeling. Feminist leadership, as Leila Billing writes, means modelling vulnerability, and “surfacing people’s ideas, fears and aspirations makes us all feel we can bring our full selves to work”.
A huge part of feminist leadership is embracing and integrating the practice of being intersectional. What is intersectionality? Essentially, it looks at how the different identities we hold (race, class, socio-economic status) combine to form our unique experiences. For example, the experience of working from home for someone who is single and living at home differs greatly to that of a parent with two or more children.
Depending on many things, people’s experiences with COIVD-19 has been varied and so have their challenges. Reports show that women are facing increased trolling online in this pandemic, people are expressing concerns about how to manage workplace harassment that could manifest in new ways; women are facing increasing pressures and burdens as their unpaid care work increases, and domestic violence incidents are increasing on a large scale, prompting the UN Secretary General to ask for GBV response to be included in national responses to COVID-19. Practising feminist leadership means thinking about the unique struggles different people may be facing and identifying how to best support them.
While expressing concern and reaching out is important to do for those of us who are managers and leaders, the ‘aney sin’ approach doesn’t help very much without tangible action. There is much we can do — starting by adjusting expectations for what people can deliver, taking into account their circumstances and dynamics.
A friend told me that prior to COVID-19, her lunch was provided by the office canteen and, now, she spends an extra hour a day, at minimum, sourcing groceries and/or cooking meals. There are good practices to draw from — for example the Wall Street Journal reported, “Facebook Inc. will give all of its full-time employees an additional $1,000 in their next paycheck and will give everyone the same ‘exceeds expectations’ performance review for the first half of the year”.
As feminist leaders, we must ask, how can we include tangible support like this for our teams? How do we create practices that reflect people’s struggles and imagine a more just and equitable alternative reality? And, for those of us not in positions of power, this could be a great time to suggest these ideas to your bosses! Better yet – send them this article and let it do the talking.
These are trying times for everyone, but maybe they can also provide us with an amazing opportunity to have candid conversations about how we can re-frame and re-think our workplaces and make sure they reflect the complex and layered realities of people’s lives. As feminist leaders, we can self-reflect on how we can transform traditional approaches, open doors if we hold power, and centre our leadership around principles of equity, justice and empowerment. As Malayah Harper and Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen write, “These conversations can be challenging and require uncomfortable introspection about our own behaviour and biases, but through them, we can build a future that is far fairer for everyone”. What could be more feminist than that?
This article is a part of the #StayHomeWithCosmo edition. For more exciting stories, points of view, tips, tricks and hacks watch this space and check out our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds.
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