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Why Feminism Doesn’t Fit Into The Workplace (But It Should)

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Feminism as an idea has become so politically charged that it’s no longer safe in the office.

I hate that.

Like all issues of diversity, feminism gets swept under the rug of political correctness. We’re consistently counselled not to self-identify for fear of offending the aging white men that populate corporate offices today. Because drawing attention to the fact that women still aren’t paid the same or that medical benefits often don’t cover all of our needs makes some people uncomfortable.

Related: Women Get Less Credit For Teamwork Than Men, Because Sexism

To be clear: my definition of feminism means that I believe in equal rights for all people, no matter what gender they identify with, or what sex they were born with. So if you’re for equal rights, you’re for feminism. As simple as that. It’s a common misconception that you need to be more radical than that.

For many, when I say, “I am a feminist,” that’s not the definition they hear. Instead they hear banshee screams and bra burning festivals—And they worry that feminism might hurt their tenuous grip on the status quo. Their picture doesn’t mesh with what a “woman” should be, as if such an idea should exist in the 21st century.

In the office, one of the hardest things to learn is that your identity doesn’t matter. It matters to you, but it rarely matters to your employer. Though they’re hopefully supportive of women in general, they would rather you didn’t shout your activist stance from the rooftops.

All the more ironic, then, because when many declare they’re “not a feminist,” it’s because they assume that they can’t be if they’re a stay-at-home mom (which isn’t true, by the way). Office culture favors men, not women, and for women to succeed, they need to play a man’s game. It’s not an accident that my first manager handed me Gail Evans’ Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman.

The women we hold up as examples—Marissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington, Hillary Clinton—succeeded precisely because of their ability to adapt to male-dominated business culture. To do that, they had to downplay their identities and beliefs to be successful. We don’t talk about this enough. Women (or any other minority) don’t have the privilege of “being themselves” when it comes to success.

Related: 9 Mantras Successful Women Live By

It’s only after you are comfortably successful that you can safely claim, “I am a feminist,” and begin to fight for other women. At least, in the loud, speech-giving way.

There are ways to be a feminist at work, namely, treating everyone equally (though one would hope that’s a given). Taking a seat at the table and being confident that you belong in that seat. Joining a women’s forum or starting an informal mentoring group can provide a safe space to talk through issues and celebrate accomplishments. Most of all, helping other women when they need it, whether that’s a tampon in the restroom or speaking up to defend someone in a meeting. As Madeline Albright famously said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Our world has changed. Millennials no longer want to work in a culture where they can’t be themselves. Yet corporations have hardly adapted to that demand, even as millennials make up higher and higher proportions of the workforce. What does that mean for the wave of newly graduated activists? An uncomfortable buttoning-up and cleansing of social media presence. Becoming comfortable with doing and saying nothing when things go wrong. That’s no way any of us want to live.

Whether you identify as a feminist or not doesn’t matter in today’s workplace because today’s employers don’t want you to identify as anything but employees of their company. They don’t want publicity, or crazy viral stories, or anything to uproot the status quo. And though they’re slowly making changes to make it safer or easier for women, it’s clear: Feminism still doesn’t fit in the workplace.

What do we trade on our way to success? Is that worth it?

The second uncomfortable answer: That depends. It comes down to a decision on what matters most to you and your values—and your realism. Finding an employer that supports women and fights its internal biases is difficult enough. Looking for a company that supports being an active feminist? The list narrows significantly. It’s up to you whether that’s important enough to change your job search, or if it’s enough to know that you believe what you believe, and no one can change that.

Let us know what you think in the comments: Do you agree? Is it worth it?

Kayla grew up in the small town of Hopkinton, MA, where the Boston Marathon begins. She graduated Colby College in 2014 as a Government and Global Studies major ready to take the tech world by storm. As a marketer for Litmus, an email marketing platform, she builds stories and experiences to help her customers become the best email marketers they can be. She is a passionate writer, reader, hiker, swimmer, runner, and eater who loves to connect ideas and people. Like what she has to say? Check out her blog: www.kaylalewkowicz.com/blog If you want to know more about Kayla, follow her on Twitter: @kllewkow
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