February 13, 2016
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. These are just a few suggestions, by no means the solution or an exhaustive list.
1. Gather your crowd.
Whether you're a boss or an employee or a freelancer (which means you're a boss), you will need to gather a support network around you. I'm talking beyond friends, a network that will help you learn faster, grow in your career. I learned this by accident. When I first moved to LA, a director friend asked if I could connect her to some female producers and DPs I knew. So I invited 13 women to my house to meet one another and 26 women RSVPd. We ended up screening some work, talking about what we do and want to be doing, how to help one another. We agreed we needed to do it again. Almost 2 years and 21 near-monthly meetings later – the WOMEN IN MOVING PICTURES SALON (yes, that's WIMPS) – is a google group of nearly 800 women at all levels across all sectors of the industry emailing each other every day for advice, support, social media amplification, and - most importantly - to hire one another into media jobs at the rate of about 5 per day. The list is changing the ratio in the film business.
At our monthly WIMPS meetings, we explore big questions about our work, the challenges we uniquely face, and how to solve them. It's also a safe place to try on new ideas, to explore the edges of them. Just sometimes to ask: am I crazy? Did I respond appropriately? To know that when you walk into a meeting there are actually 800 women in that room who have your back - it's a game changer. But it doesn't have to be at this scale either.
Milana Rabkin is the founder of a new company called Stem Disintermedia. She's another ladyboss. We get on the phone once a month at 8:30am - she's always driving to work - and just talk about stuff. Dealing with employee stuff, investor stuff. We share resources and commiserate, advise one another. And most importantly, we...
2. Get really real.
I want everyone to talk about the shit you're not supposed to talk about. Fuck "polite conversation."
Talk about your salaries, your periods, miscarriages, your abortions. Silence is tantamount to not asking for help. Our bodies are absolutely built differently, but we've been taught that the workplace is no place for women's bodies to be very womanly. Fuck that up. Put a red tent on your desk. If you're a boss, make sure everyone knows that a very bad period day is the same as the flu – stay home, do what you can. You can actually increase productivity when people feel safe to take care of themselves. Use that support network that you built to ask about salary standards for a position you're thinking of taking or a raise you want to ask for. Don't stay silent about your miscarriage. Did you know that something like 1 in 3 pregnancies ends in miscarriage? But most of you didn't – it's not something they tell you until you have one. These things they tell us to keep quiet about for politeness – early pregnancy, salaries – these things prevent us from getting the information and support we need.
This is also good for the men, and gives them the opportunity to be better partners, better peers, helps them feel more safe and supported at work as well. This means being personal. Like, a person. Which is why I think in the workplace you should also...
3. Be loving to each other.
Fuck "professionalism." We don't walk into our offices and become robots. In fact, in your lifetime you are likely to spend more time with your coworkers than your romantic partner. Treat your coworkers with love and respect. Assume they have the best intentions. Respect their boundaries outside of work, and don't send them a panicked email at 11pm if you know the problem can't be resolved until the next day. Talk about work things at work.
From a boss's perspective, this also means I want to build policies that make it better to be a whole person. Most of us at Seed&Spark don't have a work/life balance, because we LOVE our work. If I want to retain my people, I have to respect the way they approach work, which isn't just for the money.
I am in the startup world and the vast majority of companies are built by young, mostly white, men. This means the standards for what counts as ‘good company benefits' are huge salaries and then a bunch of stuff in a college frat house – ping pong tables and kegs and all the sugary cereal you could ever want! For the record, Seed&Spark has a ping pong table and a keg, but we also have a big garden that grows food people can eat, and we're now working on – in addition to the standard benefits - the longest period of paid family leave we can afford at our stage, as well as a fund for the outside creative projects of our staff.
Almost two years ago I told the team they were required to continue working on their outside creative projects. What I have witnessed and participated in since then is that we all work on our outside creative projects together. You can't buy this kind of team building! So, rather than working on just one creative project outside work, I'm working on 4 in a sustainable way. It contributes to my sense of personal satisfaction.
People who are working together to achieve one another's creative dreams outside work – they help each other even more inside work. They are kinder, more collaborative, more creatively flexible, more supportive, more loving, than any other group I have ever been a part of. Which extends to how we talk to each other...
4. YES, AND...
Many of you may have seen the Amy Schumer sketch about the way women qualify and apologize for their ideas in the workplace. It's easy enough to say to these women "just fucking stop doing that," but that behavior is often a response to being talked over, contradicted, or ridiculed. I think the onus is on the entire workplace to train this behavior out of everyone.
I was very lucky that my dad worked for years getting larger organizations to listen and learn better, and rule #1 for any meeting he ran was that you are never allowed to start a sentence with "Yes, BUT," because you just actually mean "Yes, but fuck everything you just said." You can only use "Yes, and." So I brought this policy to our meetings – and really any discussions – at Seed&Spark. What it means is that you have to respond to people by adding something, which naturally implies that what they just said is valuable and worth considering. This is a culture of inclusion – if you know that when you speak up, everyone is going to add something rather than detract, you're less likely to need to qualify or apologize for what you are about to say. And finally...
5. Nothing is "fucked"
I ran restaurants in my 20s, and that can be a really stressful environment. One day an old and dear waitress – I swear her name was Esther – put it all into perspective: "It ain't life and death, honey; it's just lunch and dinner." Now, if you work in the medical profession, this may not apply to you as well, but here's how it works for us:
Nicole is our community manager. We hired her right out of college, because she was the best goddam intern you could ever imagine. She's an incredible writer, and recently she was finally given her first by-line a print addition of our magazine, BRIGHT IDEAS. Nicole set up an interview with an actress from Sundance selection FIRST GIRL I LOVED. She did the interview and recorded it. All went well.
When it was over, however, Nicole discovered that apparently GarageBand doesn't auto-save (bad plan, GarageBand,) then her computer died, and then she lost the entire audio file. Her first big interview, and she lost the whole file. (She had, of course, taken copious notes, but we all know that in this moments, especially during your first big job, all can feel lost.)
When Nicole came back in to the office to try recover the file, everyone in the office immediately told her everything would be ok. Nobody behaved as if this were a big fail, instead assuring her that it was just a common mistake. James, the editor and chief of BRIGHT IDEAS, said it had happened to him many times and reassured her that her notes were great. Erica (our head of crowdfunding and distribution) turned to Nicole and said, "It's also OK TO CRY."
Nicole said that knowing there was room for her to be upset, and that this had happened to others, allowed her to click into problem solving mode a lot faster than just stuffing her feelings down deep. And she learned something about what to do differently next time. So it was a win. (The profile she wrote, by the way, was nothing short of brilliant.)
So, there are no out and out failures, only things to learn from! Which is why nothing is ever fucked.