Feminist workplace collaboration: practical tips for incorporating principle into practice

Feminist workplace collaboration: practical tips for incorporating principle into practice
This blog was written by Lauren Messina, COFEM Coordinator, and draws from discussions and guidelines created by COFEM’s Secretariat, Coordinating Committee, and members of the Internal Communications and Diversity Working Group. 

COVID-19 has reshaped the way feminist networks and organizations work and think critically about how to adapt to all-virtual advocacy and continue to meaningfully connect, build trust, and foster relationships using only virtual tools. At the same time, we’re addressing urgent and complex issues,  such as social justice and anti-racism, which has led us to consider how we can better practice feminist principles and live our values in an online space. 

This past year has laid bare how challenging it is for a global team to juggle trying to accomplish activities while building momentum for transformation into a remote working environment. At the same time, the pandemic we’re experiencing has exacerbated and revealed the acceleration of violence against women and girls, which makes COFEM’s outward-facing work more needed than ever. This gives new richness and meaning to the journey that we are on, who we want to be and how we want to work in the moment. While not a new priority, COVID-19 has led to our placing renewed value on the practical daily work of building a feminist infrastructure and ecosystem that allows team members to continue doing their important work and also address issues of the moment in a transformative space. 

A few foundational ways that teams can incorporate this into their virtual work environments are:

  • Embedding flexibility around meeting times, understanding that everyone is continuing to face challenges — whether it be caring for loved ones, managing health crises, etc; 
  • Ensuring team members have the resources and technology to connect; does the infrastructure exist for your team members to sustain an all-virtual work environment? If not, consider covering data costs;
  • Allowing participants to join meetings without cameras on. While we all share the aim to show up fully present with one another when we meet, background noise, data bandwidth, connectivity, time zones, and positionality may affect this. 

With all of this in mind, COFEM members have worked on synthesizing conversations and dialogue around what it actually means to practice feminism in the workplace into several sets of guidelines: feminist review and feedback processes, inclusive virtual event planning, and internal communications. Below, you can find a few key considerations in each of these areas. As we’re committed to an ongoing learning process, these are not exhaustive but may be helpful for others navigating similar processes within their own teams. As always, we’re inspired by other feminist thought leaders doing this work as well, and you can find more resources on these topics at the end, and encourage you to share your own with us on Twitter @COFEM-EVAW. 

Feminist Review
As a feminist network, COFEM aims for all review processes to align with our overarching Guiding Feminist Principles. In this spirit, the Secretariat team created guidelines to streamline this process, in an attempt to make it consistent and predictable for both reviewers and authors. During feminist review, collaboration is welcome and valued; it encourages us to use writing opportunities to build supportive relationships, collective power, and mutual trust – and produce a better product. 

As a collaborative process, all forms of feminist review are primarily focused on supporting the author(s) to strengthen their piece, and to ensure that publications are consistent with one another and across broader working objectives. As much as possible, reviewers create space for discussion with the author to improve the presentation of the idea, the flow, or the technical aspects of the piece, while also remaining open to feedback from the author on the review process. 

As you review, keep the following questions in mind:

  1. Clarity of Communication 
    • What is the document trying to achieve? 
    • Who is this document for? 
    • What is the author(s) really trying to say? 
    • Are you focusing on the document’s clarity or accuracy? 

It is important that knowledge products are written in a way that is clear and accessible for the intended audience. Pay attention to your own thoughts while reading; do you have to re-read? Might someone with different levels of understanding/familiarity with the subject and/or language skills find it difficult to follow? Flag this to the author and provide suggestions for clarity.

  1. Specificity 
    • Are you providing specific, detailed feedback, as well as suggestions for how to address your comments? 
    • Did you review the entire piece, or focus on one particular section? 

When something is unclear to you, offer suggestions or directions on how to clarify this section. Be upfront with a writer if your general comments are based on particular sections, and not the entire piece. 

  1. Sources, references, and credibility of content
    • Are statistics and facts backed by resources? 
    • Can the resources cited be verified? Are they authentic, themselves? 
    • Is any of the content plagiarised?

Any piece that makes an academic reference must be referenced suitably with links/articles from and by credible sources. To verify whether the piece is appropriately referenced, triangulate a piece of news before writing about/quoting it (this means you verify if three or more credible sources present this news, and if they all say similar – if not the same – thing).  

In the spirit of solidarity, feminist review asks us to reflect on ways that we can provide meaningful feedback that is kind, encouraging, useful, actionable, and doesn’t diminish the author’s perspective and/or experiences. Another thing to remember is that not all feedback needs to be ‘constructive’, you can also provide positive feedback when you read something inspirational, or when an author captures a point well. A final point to keep in mind is that this process should be flexible depending on the piece being reviewed, i.e. a donor report or research article requires different considerations than a blog post. 

Inclusive Virtual Events
As virtual events have become the norm over the past year, we’ve all been thinking through how to ensure that they are designed primarily for the speakers and participants. While ‘flexibility’ is what comes to mind as the most important tenet of virtual event planning, some additional tips include: 

  • Set a realistic timeline for your event planning, and plan dedicated speaker prep calls (including logging on 30 minutes early on your event date to connect and test the technology); 
  • Create a shared ‘run of event’ document that is accessible to all speakers and participants, and ensure that speakers are given the opportunity to contribute to this; 
  • If applicable, send out pre-read documents or presentations, and provide a contact for registered participants to reach out to with any questions or accessibility needs; 
  • When convening remote events or meetings, ask invitees if they will require accommodations or adjustments to attend. For example sign language interpretation, CART or live captioning, or provision of materials prior to the event; 
  • When presenting in a remote event or meeting, don’t assume everyone can see PowerPoints or other visuals. Avoid phrases like “please take a moment to read the PowerPoint slide” or “as you can see on this chart,” and instead describe the chart. You can also announce ‘I am done speaking’ when you are finished speaking so that there is no confusion. This will also benefit colleagues who are joining from their phones or devices with small screens; 
  • Consider the data access/bandwidth of your audience, and reduce the number of participants on video if needed. Consider providing data vouchers to participants without high-speed internet access who are required to attend. 
  • Allow participants to use pseudonyms if they don’t wish to be identified by their name, and encourage participants who wish to do so to share their pronouns;
  • Establish meeting norms and have a reporting process in place if these are breached;
  • Explore tools for optimal engagement and keeping people interested (such as Padlet, Mentimeter, Kahoot, Jamboard, etc.). 

Additionally, security and safety are critical. As feminist activists ourselves, we have experienced backlash (virtual and not) that can quickly become hostile. We prioritize safety above everything else. Online harassment, trolling, and other forms of discriminatory behavior are prevalent, and it is important to recognize the need for additional tools to mitigate their effects. On a practical level, this can mean requiring advance registration, designating specific event ‘hosts’ who can share their screens, identifying team members who can troubleshoot during the event, and using the Q&A function instead of the chatbox. Unfortunately, this reality can have the effect of making virtual events feel less inclusive, especially in comparison to in-person activities where we are able to meet face-to-face and participate more fully in a dedicated knowledge-sharing environment. 

One of our partners, Ford Foundation, hosted a series of Inclusion Labs in April and May 2021, and shared several key takeaways for facilitators to keep in mind: 

  1. There is no checklist for a perfectly accessible event. Instead, ensure that you are considering all of the options available as well as the needs of your speakers for a particular event, and continue to ask people what they need throughout the planning process. 
  2. Mistakes happen. Always ask what people need, provide the opportunity for speakers and the audience to provide feedback in this area, and learn from them. 
  3. Usually, there is no one right way to provide accessibility. Discuss feedback from the audience with your team, and debrief to consider the ways that you can improve the experience for your speakers and audience in the future.Femin

Internal Communications
Defining a standard set of communications guidelines among teams is a key aspect of any working environment, and it is especially important to outline a commitment to amplifying, affirming, supporting, and advocating for teammates and constituents of diverse identities.

In this spirit, you can initiate collaborative processes among your teammates to co-create or amend guidance on the intentionality of language and communication in your working environment. For example, within COFEM there is a Working Group dedicated to this ongoing conversation, and these members are working together to better acknowledge and understand evolving language and conceptions as defined by individual positionalities and cultural meanings around gender identity, race, ethnicity, and ability. 

Acknowledging and understanding the unique lived experiences and realities of people in all of their diversity is essential for providing an affirming and validating space for team members to appropriately communicate intentionally, respectfully and effectively. In this spirit, it is even more critical to adopt increasingly effective, creative, and collaborative models of leadership, as often our primary understanding and models of leadership come from patriarchal forms of authority. Applying feminist leadership principles allows us to do this.

Additional resources: