A Feminist Workplace? How to Fix Your Culture and Your Bottom Line by Doing Things Differently

Company culture -- it's something we want to create, cultivate and form. Sometimes this is done consciously and deliberately, other times it develops out of the nature of the industry, company history, market forces and local leadership, without thought or planning.

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The Seed & Spark Team

In the absence of the deliberate creation or influence over your corporate culture, your organization could fall victim to any one of a number of demoralizing actions that drive out your best people and destroy your credibility on the street (not Wall Street - Main Street, where your customers and employees are).

I connected with Emily Best, CEO and Founder of Seed & Spark, a crowdfunding platform for film and one of the amazing women spearheading the reinvention of the film world. She believes that filmmakers should be allowed to pursue their art AND make money while doing it (revolutionary, I know!).

I want to begin our discussion with some of the cultural practices Emily has put in place in her company (versus starting with all that's wrong with the corporate world). Here we go. Oh and in the vain of full disclosure and transparency, a few four letter words do follow:

A FEMINIST WORKPLACE
To some, this may sound like Utopia. To others, a frightening arena where the cubicle and standing desk merge with bra burnings and protests. Here is what we are talking about. For Emily - a feminist CEO - she wanted to create a very different type of corporate culture at her company.

"So I was really bummed out by the New York Times expose about Amazon's workplace because no matter how the majority of Amazon employees feel, most workplaces run similarly: top down institutions with no mercy, a lot of fear of being fired, and very little room to be a human. This hurts women especially. Our bodies, in order to be the carrier of the species, are, in fact, different. But we have to keep our unrestrained humanness out of the workplace as much as possible. Well, what a hostile fucking environment for women! I have been obsessed with the idea that perhaps we could build a more equitable workplace by doing a few things differently, as bosses, employees and as people."

To begin, the paradigm shift in culture happens when someone who can impact change decides things should be different and makes choices from a place of caring about the human beings who work in that organization. What kind of things did Emily implement that are so different? Glad you asked. Here are just a few examples of different approaches and philosophies that have made Seed & Spark so successful:
  • Open door policy to talk about the things most corporate cultures tell you not to talk about (i.e. periods, miscarriages, etc.).
  • Respect your co-workers. You will likely spend more time with them than your romantic partner.
  • In meetings and discussions, show respect and inclusion for the thoughts and contributions of others in the organizations (see her refusal to use "Yes, but" during any discussion at her blog)
  • Create a culture where people are allowed to make mistakes and recover from them (without being lashed or pummeled with shame)

For more of Emily's approach in her own words, visit her blog, "A Feminist Way to Work?"

Emily's thoughts reminded me of the story of a friend who was pregnant at work in a large corporation in the communications sector. The Director at her office asked her when the big day was. She told him her due date and he replied with, "I meant, when will you hit your quota?" This lack of respect for women and human life, and working full time while pregnant, is exactly the thing that should be banished from corporate culture, not accepted as the norm.

Additionally, a corporate culture that allows room for failure and mistakes from their employees is more likely to see innovative ideas, risk taking, honest feedback and constructive ideas from its employees. When making a mistake is considered a catastrophic event that is followed by lashings and punishment, you are guaranteed that some critical issues are being swept under the rug to avoid the blame game.

This type of culture - a feminist workplace - also makes it more likely that employees will contribute value to the company in a real way that could improve the bottom line (versus not saying anything or only towing the popular and acceptable company line).

WHOA! THAT'S DIFFERENT FROM MY EXPERIENCE

Yeah. If you are like me you're thinking, 'that sounds different than every single company I've ever worked for.' It turns out a feminist workplace is also a place that is better for men too (they are human beings, after all). When people feel appreciated and have space to grow and shape their work, they contribute more. When there is room for us to be human and vulnerable and feel supported as we grow, it is a better place to work. When this occurs in sales organizations - or organizations that have a substantial sales component - this can also impact how customers feel. When the employee is just a number, so usually are the customers they sell to.

As if we need them, here are some counter examples:

  • Generic company communications: My friend received a letter from the company he worked at. It arrived from someone in the organization's leadership team (someone he had never met). I will pick a line out indiscriminately from the letter (and for confidentiality's sake): "Looking ahead, we are planning enhancements to our business to benefit our clients and all of you who work with us." Hmmmm, could be almost any company on the face of the earth. Very impersonal, generic and useless. The only reason the letter isn't crumpled up in the trash is because I had informed my friend I was writing a piece about corporate culture and wanted to use it as "exhibit A."

  • *To build a strong culture, you must care about and connect with employees from a genuine place. Generic communications fall on deaf ears.

  • Performance only driven culture: Of course productivity and performance are important. But in roles from B2B sales to analysts, companies are spending thousands of dollars to send their people to out of state trainings, flights, hotels, per diem and other expenses. Then if, within six months, they aren't the best producer they let them go or ride them so hard they almost crack. Why invest thousands and then refuse to allow your investment to bear fruit?

  • *To get the most from your people, especially after investing large sums of money for their training, have a time horizon of at least one year to get them up to speed. Be prepared to genuinely invest in their success and onboarding to the company.

  • Never Enough! The culture of "more, more, more" is a brutal blow to humanity. A friends' company, that already works them 60+ hours per week, wants them producing even more. Another colleague of mine who is a skilled B2B salesperson loved her job in a mid-sized tech company, until it was swallowed up by a global organization and things went to shit. What had worked culturally and driven her productivity and loyalty became a numbers driven corporate wasteland.

  • *To drive your people, you cannot eliminate what fed them, even after a merger. For a large, global company, running segments as smaller companies within a larger company may help to achieve a positive culture that has space for the qualitative as well the quantitative.

    Many large corporate cultures, especially publically traded entities, have devolved into the destroyers all things human, equitable and qualitative. With the sole driver being numbers to report - which can lead to a culture of corruption and deceit (think VW scandal) what actually appears to drive revenue growth, actually in fact, hampers profits in the long run.

    By destroying morale, loyalty and productivity (as well as the reputation on the street with customers as you churn employees, diminish long terms relationships and relegate customers to a number) you are actually driving down the collective good will of an organization over time. If profits truly do decline over time, than the only way to reverse that trend is to provide something unique in a valuable way that others do not have the patience to do.

    Need a place to start? Hire a feminist.