Career Advancement

Bestselling Author Shares “Fight Moves” to Combat Gender Inequality

More than decade ago, Jessica Bennett and some girlfriends grew frustrated by watching their male counterparts get ahead more quickly. They decided to turn their ire into action by forming a group they named Feminist Fight Club.

During Forté’s 2019 Women’s MBA Leadership Conference in Chicago in June, Bennett – the first-ever gender editor of the New York Times – shared how the group’s crusade against gender inequality led her to write a bestselling book, The Feminist Fight Club.

The Feminist Fight Club: What it is

Bennett’s group – which has now been in existence for more than a decade – initially brought together every month a dozen women from different fields. Their shared goal:  to discuss in a confidential setting  their frustrations over common experiences, such as men making more money for the same job or men being allowed to take credit for womens’ ideas.

The club had two key rules: they could not discuss their meetings with anyone outside the group because, as Bennett says, “We felt that if word got out that we were in a feminist group, we would be penalized.” The other rule – they could fight patriarchy, but not each other – established trust and rapport. “We didn’t always have to agree, but we had to support each other and lift each other up,” Bennett explains.

As they rose in their careers and observed the prevalence of their challenges, they began to speak more comfortably in public about the issues that troubled them rather than keep them within the confines of the group.

As a journalist who covers women in the workplace and gender issues, it disturbed Bennett that there was plenty written about the problems women faced, but not much about solutions. That prompted her to write her first book to share research and “fight moves” to combat the sexism she and other women faced.

Identifying universal gender archetypes

We’ve all heard about “mansplaining” – when men explain ideas with a pedantic tone to women, assuming they do not understand. In her book, Bennett identifies other behaviors such as “manterruption” – when men interrupt women, something that is more than twice as likely to happen to women than men – and “bropropriation” – when we inaccurately attribute good ideas to men and they take credit for it. By giving names to these behaviors, Bennett’s goal is to identify them and call them out.

On the part of women, they are more likely to be asked to do administrative duties – such as getting the birthday cake, taking notes, organizing the committees, and fetching coffee. And the more they are asked to do these things and say yes, the more it continues to happen. “If we say no, sometimes we are penalized. But when men are asked and they do it, they are considered the best guys in the world,” she says.

Bennett did not include behaviors like these in her book unless data supported that they were universal. Grounding her ideas in research was important because it not only allows women to recognize that their experiences are not unique, but it also shows other people that biases are “a collective thing, not just an individual thing,” she adds. It also helps women avoid “taking on things that are not mission critical and take valuable time away from putting effort and energy into things that get you seen,” Bennett says.

Getting friends to toot your horn

Recognition for achievements is tricky. Bennett recommends having friends and colleagues boast on your behalf. Because women often get slammed when attempting to highlight their accomplishments, having colleagues recognize your successes garners deserved recognition without wielding a strike against you.

“My Feminist Fight Club is a cheerleading squad…they are cheering me on from the sidelines, sending emails and text messages. When I was going in for my first negotiation, every single woman in the group encouraged me. Sometimes the cheerleading has pulled me out of a rut and made me feel more confident,” she explains.

Trusting your gut and getting the word out

At the conclusion of the conference session, Bennett offered her advice for young women about to enter business school: “Trust your gut. Believe you can actually achieve things. Carve your own path. The role of gender editor of the New York Times did not exist before I got the job and the two jobs I had before that did not exist either. There are different ways to do things, and you just have to believe in yourself.”

She also shared the new Feminist Fight Club rules, differing slightly from the ones that guided her first group more than 10 years ago. They include seeing other women as allies, but they encourage talking about the Feminist Flight Club with others instead of keeping the conversation secret. To make progress, as Bennett explained, “Everyone has to be involved – there are no wallflowers in this fight.”

Let’s all keep up the good fight!

Learn more about the Forté MBA Women’s Leadership Conference and our Men as Allies programs.

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