5 Lessons from Famous Feminists You Can Apply to Your Career

Feminism is about gender equality. It’s liberation for every woman. It’s civil rights for men and women alike. Often the term carries with it baggage: the deep-seated fear of not being likeable, of being called bossy or being labeled as someone who is hard to work with. But it should be all about women’s empowerment without the hassle that women face with in regards to the feminist movement.

During Women’s History Month it seems appropriate to share five lessons on women’s empowerment from a famous list of feminists that you can apply to your life and your career right away, regardless of what type of feminist you are (or aren’t). The lessons for this list of feminists are for men and women alike.

Lesson 1: Advocate for yourself

Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani advocate for educating women, started by advocating for herself. Then Malala Yousafzai saw the power of education, that it could change the lives of all people, and stood up for those who did not have access to education in her country under the Taliban.

How can this help you? 

Women are often more motivated when we’re advocating for others. It’s easier to ask to educate all girls than it is to ask to educate one, when that one is you. Or to march for the rights of all women than to ask for a raise for you.

Ways to take action 

Don’t wait to be offered a high profile project or assignment or promotion. Ask. Not sure what to say? Get a script at MelissaHereford.com. Once you create your own script, practice it 25 times out loud before you deliver it. When you say words out loud the delivery is sometimes different than when you just think them!

Lesson 2: Ignore the naysayers.  

Hillary Clinton, one of the most famous and most harshly criticized feminists ever, wisely said, “Take criticism seriously, but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you.”

How can this help you? 

People will criticize you. They’ll tell you that you’re too aggressive, too bossy, that you “have an edge.” Listen to their criticism and then make a conscious choice about whether or not it’s valid.

Ways to take action 

Ask for the opinions of people you trust, people who know you and have worked with you. Take their opinions seriously. Never take one opinion as fact. My last boss told me that I couldn’t write. I was destroyed by that criticism for a while, until I took my own advice and asked for feedback on my writing.

Lesson 3: You can be authentic and successful.  

Oprah Winfrey is America’s first black multi-billionaire, and she always happens to be a black feminist. But if you ask her fans what we love about her, it’s not her money or even her success that we admire the most. We love her for her ability to authentically connect with people, her honest conversations about the things that matter most to us.

These traits are often frowned on at work. Women who are interested, collaborative and ask questions are often called “weak” or “indecisive.”

How can this help you? 

Oprah is a black feminist who has showed us that her way of being genuine and authentic and curious can work, too. You can be different and true to yourself and still succeed, even if you don’t fit perfectly into the norms of your workplace.

Ways to take action 

Build rapport with anyone by starting with their WHY, the “what’s in it for them.” When you help other people, you’ll build rapport, trust and long-lasting relationships. But don’t forget to look out for your own needs. Mutually beneficial relationships are your goal, so go back to #1 on this list and ask for what you want too!

Lesson 4: Pave a new road without a map

Eleanor Roosevelt was the first First Lady to do more than merely entertain in the White House. She held press conferences, wrote a daily newspaper column, spoke at a National Party Convention, and was an advocate for feminism before the term existed.

How can this help you? 

Despite the expected obligations of any job or position, your personality and beliefs can help shape and expand the role you have into the role you want. If you have an idea about how to make a project better, don’t let the confines of your job hold you back.

Ways to take action 

Many women suffer from immobilizing imposter syndrome. We criticize ourselves in ways we would never criticize our friends or co-workers. You might not speak up because you’re the least experienced person in the room. If you have an idea, you might tell yourself, “It must not be a good idea or someone else would have thought of it.” Instead, think about what you would tell your best friend. You’d probably encourage her to speak up, to share her ideas.

Lesson 5: What you wear matters

Michelle Obama used her clothes to send a clear message: “I am one of you.” Yes, she wore all the famous designers, but she also shopped at J.Crew, Talbots, Target and the Gap.

How can this help you? 

Every outfit is like a uniform. Dress for the occasion. Like firefighters in their fireproof gear, doctors in their white coats, and police officers in their blues, choose what you wear to convey a message about who you are. When you see someone in a uniform, your brain shortcuts to who they are and what they do. Use this tool as your own shortcut for the people you want to influence.

Ways to take action 

Going to a corporate meeting? Your uniform is a suit. Going to a cocktail party? Your uniform is something fancy. Going to a weekly meeting? Your uniform should mirror the person who is in the job you want, not the job you have.

The bottom line…

When you act for one, you act for all.

These lessons from famous feminists can help you take the next step forward in your career and create social change. You don’t need to have studied women’s studies in college to be a feminist. Every time you speak up, ask for what you want, find ways to ignore the naysayers, learn to communicate in ways that build authentic connections, treat yourself as well as you treat others and learn to use your outward appearance as a tool, you are advancing yourself and other women at work.

Adapted from Melissa Hereford’s Fairygodboss blog post.  Melissa Hereford is a negotiation expert who will teach you to respond clearly, calmly, and effectively so you can get more of what you want, all while building stronger relationships. Get your free negotiation script at http://MelissaHereford.com.