Top Nine Reasons Why It’s Fabulous to Work for a Feminist Organization
By Alana Prochuk, Campus Anti-Violence Initiative Coordinator
In celebration of my two-month anniversary as a staff-member here at WAVAW, I’d like to tell everyone (literally, everyone!—my parents, my neighbours, my bus driver, my elevator-mates…) just how refreshing it feels to be working in an explicitly feminist environment. Although I’ve been here only nine weeks, I’ve already been struck by a gazillion things I love about working among likeminded folks—strong, smart, self-reflexive women who are passionate about social justice and unafraid to proclaim themselves as feminists. Far from being afraid, in fact, I think all of us here at WAVAW love the sound of that particular F-word, maligned as it may be in mainstream culture. We say it all the time (“Feminist!”), and we say it with conviction (“FEMINIST!!!”), because it helps us to discuss, understand and confront so many of our society’s most pressing issues.
I will limit myself to listing nine of the gazillion things I love about working for a feminist organization–that’s one for every week I’ve been employed here at WAVAW. (As you can see, I feel no compulsion to reproduce the customary Top Ten List—or other taken-for-granted cultural norm, for that matter.) In no particular order, here are some of the reasons it’s wonderful to work for an agency whose daily operations are closely aligned with its feminist principles:
1. Opportunities to learn from amazing activists and thinkers.
WAVAW’s staff members participate together –as part of our workday—in feminist lectures, video screenings, and conversations with women who are working for social change. Recently, for example, we were visited by Victoria Marie, a Roman Catholic WomanPriest whose life’s work has included solidarity with Asubpeeschoseewagong Netum Anishnabek (Grassy Narrows First Nation) on ecological and territorial issues; action for peace and justice in Colombia; and the co-founding of Vancouver Catholic Worker, an organization that works on and educates its members about Aboriginal, economic and climate justice. Not only do such visits inspire WAVAW staff, but they also provide affirmation to our guests, whose work too often goes unappreciated in mainstream society.
2. Ongoing in-depth training.
At many of my previous workplaces, “training” consisted in showing new hires how to work the coffee maker, handing them an Occupational Health and Safety brochure, and urging them to adjust their office chairs in an ergonomically sound fashion. Not so at WAVAW! Staff who are new to the organization are encouraged to attend sessions from WAVAW’s eleven-week volunteer training program, which takes an anti-oppressive approach and addresses topics ranging from psychiatric oppression to poverty to trans oppression to residential school abuse (to name only a few). WAVAW’s clinical supervisor also facilitates experiential training to engage staff members in meaningful dialogue about our collective ethics to keep them alive in our work.
3. Culture of critique and self-reflection.
At WAVAW, disagreement is expected and welcomed as necessary for developing our understanding of social issues and of our own position in society. While the process isn’t easy or perfect, I think WAVAW women are generally pretty willing to hear feedback if our way of working is causing problems for our colleagues or clients, if our language isn’t inclusive, or if we’ve made shortsighted assumptions based on our own privilege. After all, if we aren’t willing to speak out to challenge one another—within an environment characterized by respect, care and constructiveness—then how will we ever work up the guts to speak out against patriarchy in the much-less-receptive world at large?
4. Engagement with what’s going on in the world.
Every morning at WAVAW, staff members come together for scrum: we share social justice-related news that we can publicize through our Twitter and Facebook accounts. We educate each other about what’s been going on in Vancouver and beyond, and then spread the word far and wide via the mighty interwebs.
It’s also not unusual for us to attend rallies and other community events as part of our workday. Socially engaged blogging in the morning, marching in the afternoon—it’s all in a day’s work when social change is written into your job description. For real. It took me awhile to get used to reading the smart feminist blogs, news items and videos my workmates would send me links to—it just didn’t feel like… you know, work-y work. There was no report to submit after checking this stuff out, no Excel sheet to fill in. But luckily for me, WAVAW recognizes that it is part of my job to inform myself and engage with big ideas about the society we live in.
5. Connections to other community organizations.
Obviously, WAVAW can’t create monumental social change all on our own, or provide the full range of supports that women might want in the aftermath of sexual assault. So, we’re always sharing resources and information with other likeminded community organizations. We refer to them, they refer to us. We publicize and speak at their events and vice-versa. We deliver workshops for their peeps; they help train our phenomenal team of volunteers. It feels incredible to be hooked into a broader community and to collaborate to multiply the impacts of our efforts.
6. Consideration of women’s lives.
WAVAW puts some thought into making our services accessible to women with diverse needs and complex, full lives. This same consideration is extended to employees as well. If we need to take a couple of hours for a doctor’s appointment, we can count that as sick time rather than having to make up the hours later. If we need to make purchases for our program, we can get a pay advance and then submit receipts to cancel out the advance rather than paying out of pocket. In other words, WAVAW doesn’t assume that everybody has the financial wiggle-room to pay for work-related expenses themselves and be reimbursed weeks later. It might seem like a small thing, but it demonstrates that the organization has given some thought to our needs as people.
7. Faith in women’s (collaborative) capacity.
One of the rewards of working for a small or mid-sized non-profit is the variety of responsibilities you get to take on. In contrast to big corporations, with their thousands of highly specialized workers, each laboring away within one narrow (and probably boring and hella depressing) niche, smaller workplaces require their employees to try all kinds of different jobs. And guess what? At WAVAW, women do all the jobs! Collectively, we run this entire, spectacular show. It feels good to work for an agency where women are presumed (and proven) capable of doing whatever needs doing, from executive leadership to technological trouble-shooting. By the way—if you want coffee, you can make it yourself.
8. Understanding of the big picture.
At WAVAW, we draw connections between our experiences on the job and our socio-political context. If we are struggling to keep up with our case load, that doesn’t mean we need to pull up our socks and work even more frantically; it’s symptomatic of the chronic underfunding of organizations that serve women (and social service organizations more broadly). If a particular individual or group resists our outreach efforts or opts not to partner with us, well, that may have something to do with our culture’s state of deep, willful denial about the prevalence of gender-based violence. We name this stuff, and it helps us strategize about how to move forward with a full awareness of what we’re up against.
9. Telling it like it is.
This is very much related to #8 above. I can’t tell you how liberating it feels to escape the euphemism-happy mainstream work environment, where systemic oppression gets coded as “interpersonal conflict” to be tackled by a few PowerPoint slides worth of “sensitivity training” (if at all). At WAVAW, we openly share our analysis of what’s really going on. We don’t deny that colonialism or racism or transphobia or misogyny or poor-bashing or countless other oppressive systems exist, and we don’t consider it unprofessional to make our socio-political values and investments known. In fact, given that it’s our professional duty to serve women, and given that women are deeply impacted by all of the aforementioned systems, we cannot ignore them.
This isn’t to say that everything at WAVAW is perfect, of course. Actually, we talk a lot about imperfection here, and try to accept that we are engaged in a long and messy process. All I really want to point out is that WAVAW is significantly different from most of the other places I’ve worked—and in so many wonderful ways. I hope we can transform our cultural belief system about what counts as “good work”—and with it, our public funding practices—to allow more folks to get paid for contributions to social change.