How to be a female admin who is also feminist AF
1) Accept gratitude. Someone thanks you for doing something, how do you respond? Try this one on for size: “You’re welcome.” Say it with me now… You. Are. Welcome.
Incorrect responses include, but are not limited to:
“I had to go by there anyway!”
Don’t lie. It was certainly a problem. You’d never have to go by there anyway. And really, a pleasure? Sure it was.
Tbh even “you’re welcome” is imperfect because it implies that the person doing the thanking was welcome in some way to have the thing that they’re thanking you for. However, in practice “you’re welcome” more closely conveys that you are accepting the thank you politely while simultaneously acknowledging that it deserved one. BECAUSE IT DID.
If someone is thanking you for something more out of the ordinary or special, resist your urge to deflect it. If the praise is meaningful, then respond in kind. Something as simple as “I appreciate the positive feedback,” or “I’m glad you liked it” lets them know that you are accepting and internalizing it (and again, that it is valid).
2) Stop putting yourself last. Don’t you dare cancel your own 1:1 with your boss (again). Schedule your performance review first! You’ve been meaning to take a class to develop your skills more? Take it! Time waits for no (wo)man, so you gotta get in where you fit in. The good news? You happen to be the keeper of time. The irony!
It is so easy to put ourselves last, especially when we’re rad at our jobs and have a deep understanding of our manager’s and team’s current priorities. You think to yourself that the thing that’s been on your mind can wait (what’s another week?) or that you feel bad taking up the time without anything pressing to discuss. Fast forward 3 weeks- you and your manager have had hardly any f2f interactions and you’re feeling out of step with them and a little resentful. Remember, this could have all been avoided!
3) Help the women on your team connect with one another. All the ladies on your team are so busy doing more work for less pay that they don’t have time to organize any events for themselves, but could definitely benefit from time together. You are a logistics whiz and can whip something up better and faster than anyone else can, so use your powers for good! Start a conversation with the women on your team to see if they have input that can guide you in your planning- in the absence of input just try something (anything!) to get the ball rolling. Be sure to join in yourself once the day comes!
4) Make sure offsites are inclusive. As the admin you’re usually the one making suggestions for offsite activities and the subsequent planning once an activity has been decided on. Sure, there may be some women on your team who are really into paintballing, but chances are that more of them would prefer something else. Even if not, why take the chance? There are tons of activities that everyone can comfortably take part in regardless of gender, physical ability, age, whether or not they drink alcohol, etc. Offsites are meant for team members to connect with one another without all of the normal barriers of office dynamics present. When you remove these barriers magical things can happen, so don’t be complicit in creating new ones by choosing an activity that may make people uncomfortable.
5) Know where your share of the “office housework” starts and stops. Sure, as an admin you’ll certainly be doing more office housework than most because it’s an actual explicit part of your role. As far as I can gather the problem with the office housework for other (non-admin) women is not the chipping in to help the team but the expectation that they’d do more than their fair share because they happen to be female. The same thing can happen to admins if we aren’t careful- the assumption might be made that since you already are doing certain things that it’s nbd to add a couple more to your plate. This is where being really familiar with the company’s expectations of you and your role are super important. If you aren’t sure where the line should be drawn ask your manager, HR, other more senior admins, etc. Once you find that line, hold that line firmly and politely so you don’t feel taken advantage of. Also, as an admin sometimes you may ask team members for help with something you’re working on- organizing an event, cleaning up after a function, or figuring out a new process. When asking for help you may naturally feel more comfortable asking a woman- if so, maybe ask yourself why that is? Spread the love and the burden by including men and women equally in these types of requests when possible/as appropriate.
6) Don’t hold back with male leadership. Let’s face it, if you’re an admin chances are good that you’re working primarily for dudes. And those dudes will have mostly dudes working underneath them. If something feels weird to you about how you and/or other women on the team are being treated, let them know! In my experience most of the time male leaders aren’t actively doing things to make life difficult for female members of their team, it’s actually worse than that in a way- they are just legitimately unaware. I know, seems crazy when things are so obvious to us but it’s true. You have a special mirror when it comes to these things, so hold it up in their blind spot. Give them a chance to be an ally and navigate some waters that may be uncomfortable for them. They were given positions of responsibility, so hold them responsible!
One time in an All-Hands someone brought up the lack of female leadership on our team, and I was admittedly uncomfortable with an answer from leadership that I felt didn’t fully address the question. So I turned to humor as I often do in awkward moments and said something to the effect of: “Don’t worry, I sit in on their meetings and throw my lady thoughts around all over the place!” I later heard that a few women found my comment to be in poor taste (fair enough), but the fact remains: sometimes I really am the only woman in a room with men who are in charge and I consider it my responsibility to represent the women on the team if needed, however incomplete that representation may be.
7) Set boundaries. Being a good admin and blindly doing everything that’s asked of you are not one in the same! One of the most impactful things I do is ask smart questions so that people are forced to flesh out their ideas more fully and/or I provide additional context/perspective that they would have lacked otherwise. Also, you are a professional and you need to prioritize and manage your bandwidth just like everyone else does! That being said, saying no to things just because you can is obviously not a good practice either. Step one is to always make sure you understand the request- if you need more details, ask for them. Once you understand what is being asked of you be really thoughtful about your response and be ready to defend it if need be. If questioned about how you’re choosing to engage/help with the problem at hand you will have already thought through your approach and can mindfully and logically respond further. People will appreciate the thought you’ve put into it and will be trained to understand over time that you are a considerate decision maker. Even when they don’t like the answer (and they often won’t), at least they’ll better understand why you chose to respond that way.
8) Know your shit. The absolute best way to be a feminist AF admin is to kick ass at your job. Take pride in your work, respect the profession, and strive to be a great representative of our community. You may be the only admin someone has ever worked with- whether you like it or not their experience with you will color all future interactions with admins. If they see that you’re confident, hardworking, passionate about what you’re doing, and a master of your realm then they will be more likely to have positive interactions with you and positive associations with other admins down the road.
9) Take the damn feedback, it’s a f*cking gift. I once had a manager tell me that every admin he’d ever worked with was not great at receiving feedback. This pissed me off because a) I realized that this observation likely included me and b) I felt like it was subtly sexist somehow to make such a sweeping assessment.
After thinking about it a bit more I started to really take a hard look at how I’d received and responded to feedback over the course of my career and the evidence was fairly damning. Shit, they were right, or at least as far as I was concerned! My natural inclination is to push back against feedback that is ultimately useful to me. Had I been better able to hear those things and respond in a productive manner sooner I would have saved myself a lot of professional heartache. Professional growth is important- I’m not speaking monetarily or hierarchically (although those are sure nice!)- I mean doing everything you can to learn, grow, and be better at your job every day. Be sure you’re not deaf to the message just because the person delivering it hurt your feelings or because it’s easier to be angry about the feedback than to work on your areas of improvement. You’re only hurting yourself in doing so, TRUST.
10) Have some fun! Enjoying yourself or being optimistic doesn’t mean that you’re cheating on your quest for equality- I certainly can’t fight the good fight all day every day! Sometimes you need to let things go in the name of self-preservation, give people the benefit of the doubt who may not deserve it, and re-group before you launch your next offensive- that’s ok. And remember, after a long day of fighting patriarchy there’s always wine to cushion the blows. Sweet, sweet wine.