A Feminist Survival Guide to Seattle
“I entered the workforce believing that my generation was going to have equal responsibility and equal opportunity. And it didn’t work out that way.”
Can you relate to this?
It definitely strikes a chord with me.
Gender inequality in the workforce is the main reason that Sheryl Sandberg wrote her 2013 book “Lean In,” based on her 2010 Ted Talk. Some have praised the book for the ripple it’s caused in the business world. Others have criticized it, saying it’s only the voice of the wealthy, and is the equivalent of the ‘trickle-down’ argument—if the ones at the top benefit, somehow all women will benefit. It’s certainly started more than a few debates.
What you may not be aware of is that Sandberg also built a movement to go with the book. Called “Lean In Circles,” groups of women get together in cities and towns and talk about many of the issues that Sandberg addresses in the book.
Seattle has its own Lean In Circle, which has expanded to recently become the largest in the world, at over 430 members (though the second group, Berkley/Oakland, is a very close second).
Last week, I attended my first Lean In Seattle event. The theme was negotiation, and a guest speaker, Lewis Lin, guided conversation around how to negotiate for a new job and for a raise.
The 30-person discussion showed that each woman had a different experience with and attitude about negotiation and the best way to do it. Some worried about backlash from their bosses or potential employers, as studies (and often lived experience) show that women are more harshly criticized for advocating for themselves or negotiating strongly. Others argued that you should forget about what others think, and do what is right for you. Some had never tried or even considered negotiation.
Talking about how much you earn and how to negotiate can be a tricky and often uncomfortable subject. But it’s important that those conversations take place, because in general, women tend to lose out most if those conversations are silenced, as we do not know if we are earning less than our male counterparts, and often haven’t been taught that we should negotiate.
And that, I think, is the best part about Lean In circles. It is a space created by and for women to wrestle with those tough questions and sticky issues that we often find ourselves dealing with on our own.
“Leaning In” is not a perfect model, but that’s ok. This is one type of feminism among many, and that diversity is important. If you’re interested in checking out the Seattle Lean In group, go to https://mightybell.com/communities/SeattleChapter. There are no dues or fees to join or to attend events. You can also start your own circle at http://leanincircles.org.
To find out more about wage equality in Washington state, take a look at the bill currently under consideration: HB 1646, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act. This bill would address the gender wage gap in Washington State by protecting workers from retaliation for discussing pay, fighting occupational segregation, and requiring valid, job-related reasons for gender disparities in pay, hiring, and promotions.
Martha Burwell is a gender equality and social justice advocate living in the Seattle area.