In May, retired U.S. women’s soccer player Abby Wambach explained to the graduates of Barnard College the power of these two words: Give Me.
“Give me the ball. Give me the promotion. Give me the job,” she said in her commencement speech, encouraging graduates to brashly demand what they want out of life.
This is the future of feminism, said Caty Truei. As the vice president of restructuring and finance at Barclays, she was a guest speaker on a panel about the future of the #MeToo social movement at Forté’s MBA Women’s Leadership Conference in June. She and three other high-powered businesswomen said the freedom for women to demand what they want in the workplace is becoming a hard-fought reality.
“The time is long overdue to encourage women to dream the possible dream.”
An era when women can be women
During the panel, they discussed past feminist revolutions and the present #MeToo phenomenon, which have paved the way for young women currently embarking on careers. Fatima Abdulla, a senior managing consultant at IBM Global Business Services, described the current work environment as a new frontier, which offers “new definitions and new manifestations of what it means to be a woman at work.”
As opposed to the working women of the past, who felt pressured to act, speak and dress like their male colleagues, Abdulla said that women today can define their roles in the office outside of gender expectations. Women should no longer have to assume traditionally masculine qualities to measure their workplace worth.
“We are in an era where women can be women,” she said. This newfound freedom to be your authentic self in the workplace is a part of her vision for the feminist future.
“Sometimes as women, you think that in order to be successful and make it forward…you need to adjust your personality to be like a man,” Truei said. But women should be able to get ahead by being themselves. She encouraged audience members to ask themselves how they can use their personalities to ask for what they want.
From tolerance to advocacy
Jennifer Gamboa-Copeland, who works in Women’s Diversity & Inclusion at AT&T, hopes this affirmation of self-confidence encourages women to report inappropriate behavior in the workplace. The future is about zero tolerance, she said. Gamboa-Copeland hopes that offices can be a place where people feel secure to freely express their concerns and have uncomfortable conversations.
“Our company is really good about teaching us to move from a tolerance space to an understanding and advocate space,” she said.
The difference between the two was illustrated when Truei shared a personal experience that occurred in her office. When she told a male colleague about her participation in the “Future of Feminism” panel, he proceeded to tell her topics to cover and which ones to avoid, rejecting her ideas in an epic and ironic bout of mansplaining.
Women tend to be afraid of being overly eager about feminist causes, she said. It’s tough to be the lone advocate for gender equality in a space dominated by men. But when those spaces are inclusive and diverse, women are more likely to speak up, she said. A work place can shift from a tolerant environment to an understanding one.
Truei’s office has women’s lunches where female co-workers debate tough topics. They’ve covered the #MeToo movement and how to find good, male mentors. Meetings like these lunches help women carve out a unique, safe space for themselves in the workplace, Truei said.
The future is for the taking
When women feel isolated, they are less likely to speak out, less likely to say, “give me,” as Wambach suggested. But the future is for the taking, Gamboa-Copeland told the mostly female audience at Forté’s conference.
“The time is long overdue to encourage women to dream the possible dream,” she said, quoting Sheryl Sandberg. The previous feminist movements, the hard-fought reckonings of the past, have created a new freedom for working women today. “It is about creating your own path, your way,” she said.