A Day Without a Woman at Work

The International Women’s Day protest made this blogger think about her own value at work, and the value of the protest in general.

I recently  took part in a protest. It’s my first one in recent memory, so it was notable.

Let me be clear; I was not in the streets under a hot sun with police dogs nipping at my heels or fire hoses threatening. In observance of the International Woman’s Day A Day Without a Woman protest, I simply worked remotely and refrained from making any significant purchases. OK, I bought $8 worth of fruit from the grocery store; I had to, I was gasping for Pink Lady apples.

I didn’t make this decision lightly. Staying home, I mean, not buying the fruit. I thought about not working at all, but ultimately decided that stressing out over an extra heavy work load – not to mention importuning my colleagues who were waiting on things from me – would not be the best course of action for this woman at work. Although, I must say, it would have proved the point about my value in the workplace.

As I sat at home in comfort, tapping away on my company issued MacBook, I thought about privilege. You might raise a brow at that; I’ve talked about privilege before in my blog, and it’s not something that I usually associate with women, specifically women of color. But I do have it. More importantly, I’m aware that many women in the work world do not.

no women at work

Imagine a week, or a month, of no women at work.

I know there are many women who couldn’t even consider taking part in #adaywithoutawoman because their financial or employment situations wouldn’t allow it. They don’t have understanding bosses – shout out to Rick Bell who didn’t turn a hair – or they aren’t salaried employees and could not afford to lose the pay, no matter how steadfast their principles and gender equality-based beliefs.

But I disdain the various Instagram posts and articles I ran into that poured salt over the movement by pointing out the differences between black and white women’s ideas of feminism. Or, wise cracking about A Day Without a Privileged Woman, or using some facet of intersectionality to suggest that the entire effort was wasted, ineffective or silly. That’s not helpful, and it’s untrue.

For me, the point of the protest was to unite women and collectively prove something to the general workplace: Discounting our contributions, devaluing our efforts, or treating us as less than our male peers can have a negative impact on your business’ success. That all women could not or would not protest in the same way is outside the point. To insist on picking apart the protest or to attempt to weaken it by pointing out any divisiveness within the ranks is to fall into a common diversity trap: thinking that any change effort is a zero sum game. Or, that any change effort is invalid if all participants in the group at work do not agree. That’s stupid.

Nothing as complicated an issue as diversity in the workplace will ever be that cut and dried. Nor should it be. Women – men, disabled workers, LGBTQ workers, those with particular religious preferences – are complicated individuals, emphasis on the individual. All women don’t have to agree on a charter for the workplace at large to take our grievances seriously.

My only critique was there wasn’t enough advertising around #adaywithoutawoman. For women with children or sketchy work situations a bit more notice might have helped them clear the decks so they could take part beyond wearing a red shirt or keeping their credit cards leashed.

Now, I also considered that advertising the protest might have had the opposite effect. Bad companies – insert finger wag and mean face here – would have had time to poo on their female employees’ plans with directives like, “participate and you’re fired,” or something equally crappy. That could have opened those companies up to legal sanctions, which might not be a deterrent for some. But the real victims would have been the women who either lost work or whose work environment became more contentious as a result of their stance on gender parity.

Whether you protest in spirit or in practice, advertise for weeks or a day in advance, protests have value, if only to bring awareness to an issue. I haven’t always felt like that. Even fairly recently, I’ve thought, “if y’all don’t sit down somewhere and stop clogging the streets with this nonsense.” But I think I was wrong. Solidarity, a show of force, sometimes you have to go there to get attention for the issues that matter.

Can you imagine a week without women at work? And I don’t mean working remotely or wearing red shirts, either. I’m talking, nada. Zippo. Nothing. Now, let’s stretch that to a month without women at work, and see how companies do without 51 percent – or more – of their talent. Sounds like a good way to get some change to me.

Kellye Whitney is associate editorial director for Workforce. Comment below or email editor@workforce.com.