When Jessica Bennett worked as an office assistant, she and her female colleagues met monthly to air their grievances about their workplace. These meetings became a place to express frustrations with working in fields traditionally dominated by white men.
They called it their “feminist fight club.”
Bennett, a Boston University alumna, author of “Feminist Fight Club: An Office Survival Manual for a Sexist Workplace” and the first-ever gender editor at The New York Times, discussed the importance of female empowerment on Thursday at the Questrom School of Business.
Hosted by the Boston chapter of Lean In, a national organization promoting the advancement of women in the workplace, the event featured Bennet’s thoughts on “feminist fight clubs” as a method of raising awareness about the need for workplace gender equality.
“My job is essentially to cover gender issues of all kinds. So that means feminism. It means women in business. It means sexuality and gender identity. It means masculinity,” Bennett said.
Inspired by the experience of creating her own fight club, Bennett took the initiative to write a book full of tactics and strategies for other women.
While the book contains tips and advice for dealing with different sexist encounters women could experience at work, readers are often surprised by the sheer amount of humor found in her writing about a rather bleak topic, Bennett said.
“I thought to myself, how can I actually take those tools [of research] and deliver them in a way that was fun to read, maybe had a sense of humor that allowed you to laugh while also knowing that these were serious issues and give you something tactical that you could put it in the back of your mind and use,” Bennett said.
Her book was originally published in 2016 months before a presidential election in which sexism’s influence was the subject of great debate. Bennet said she never could have imagined the relevance it would gain with #MeToo and Time’s Up.
Looking at Fortune 500’s 2017 list of CEOs, only 6.4 percent of those roles are occupied by women. Additionally, women make $10,800 less per year than their male counterparts, according to the Senate Joint Economic Committee’s Democratic staff. The earnings drop even lower when those woman are not white.
There are several reasons for this phenomenon, said Kabrina Chang, who helped organize Bennett’s talk and teaches classes about markets, public policy and law in Questrom.
“[The number of women is] low for a variety of reasons: choices women make, discrimination, lack of systemic support for working mothers, traditional child care, elder care, household roles for women and men that put extra burdens on women,” Chang said.
Chang said increased gender diversity in workplaces not only empowers and encourages women but can also benefit businesses.
“Research has shown again and again that more diverse teams and offices — not just gender diversity but also racial, cultural, experiences, et cetera — are more productive, more creative, have better returns and solve more problems,” she said.
Claudia Chica Diaz, a graduate student at Northeastern University, said Bennett’s advice was particularly helpful not only for combating workplace sexism but also for handling run-of-the-mill, yet slightly awkward, debacles.
“The things that [Bennett] mentioned are so important right now,” Chica Diaz said. “I believe that we need this kind of information just to survive in the workplace, but also to deal with some situations that maybe sometimes we don’t know how to do it and we just want to do it in the right way.”
While there are many issues that need resolution, Bennett said, she’s nonetheless eager about the progress society is making and the growing power of the modern woman.
“I think that we’re in a moment right now where we’ve seen the power of collective action and we’ve seen the power of women supporting one another,” Bennet said. “And I do think that has made [its] way into the workplace as well.”