Workplace flexibilities, feminism and funders

balance beam figures on a dollarI’ve had many opportunities to discuss the different kinds of flexibilities that feminist organizations in anti-violence movements provide to employees. At my first job at a local program the CEO openly discussed how she brought her baby in to work so that she could nurse her. Meetings with funders, counseling sessions, hotline calls…there was a baby there for it all. Although her experience had been 25 years earlier, a coworker who gave birth in 2010 had that same flexibility. We loved having a little one in the office a few days of the week and it seemed that many clients got a little “baby therapy” out of it too. 

I don’t think this organization was unique. Advocates across the country of all ages have shared their stories of organizations finding ways to honor the whole, complex identities and commitments that their employees bring into work with them. That’s a shining example of the ways that feminist thought pervades organizational structure in this movement. 

Recently, NSVRC and our parent organization, the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, gathered together a list of the different types of flexibilities that are offered in the workplace. They ranged from opportunities to take care of mind and body, like yoga or standing work stations, to ways that employees can better balance work/life commitments, like 4 day work weeks and telecommuting. I’ve written before about finding creative ways to negotiate your salary and benefits in organizations that struggle with ever-thinning resources. Identifying, advocating for, and honoring the ways that anti-violence organizations can foster flexibility are great ways to do it.

Simultaneously, the lean fiscal times have led to a burst of scrutiny into budgets and spending in government-funded organizations. I often wonder how our list of flexibilities will shake out if an auditor should call the productivity of employees working from home or the necessity of equipment to convert to a standing work station into question. The brave folks at organizations who dive deep into line items and credit/debit columns to find the pennies needed to keep the lights on may understandably tilt toward caution and uniformity in the workplace. 

This all makes it even more important to take the revolutionary action of maintaining and expanding flexibility. The health and welfare of the good people doing this good work depend on it. Many of us were called to this work because of a deep feminist praxis. The Preventionista recently shared with me some of the reflections from a crowd of preventionists participating in a self-care workshop. The creative things that they suggested would help them to keep above water while doing this work—training while baby-wearing or bringing pets into the workplace—require an organization that fosters flexibility. 

The reality is that taking this approach to workplace wellness will do major two things. First, it will value employees in such a way that they will be able to leave the office at the end of day. Period. That’s it. They can just go home and be fully present in their home lives. They can go out to dinner with friends, hug their babies, and walk their dogs without mulling over their to-do list or fretting over the never-ending, daunting task of ending violence or the frightening omnipresence of evil in the world. The second thing it will do is create a sustained workforce. A group of creative, inspired, informed activists who can come into work and put their full and complete selves into the task of ending violence. Imagine what we can do that kind of energy.

Filed under