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Towards more feminism in ways of organizing

Feminism is a multi-faceted concept.

On one hand, feminist theory consists of the theory of political, social and economic equality of the masculine and feminine genders. On the other, feminism as a movement resides in the “organised activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests”.

What both have in common is their purpose, namely their strive for achieving social justice and equality. In this sense, feminism perhaps more corresponds to a project in that its ultimate purpose “has yet to be realized” (Ahmed, 2017, p.235). Yet, I could mitigate such say considering the multiplicity of initiatives undertaken in favour of this accomplishment. This (postfeminist) activism indeed proves the existence and realization of feminism in everyday life, from punctual actions such as marches and protests to fight gender-discrimination against women, to more sustainable endeavours, up to the extent that it has become a lifestyle enacted daily by some as a means of self-realisation.

The instance of the Swedish government, which has become "the first feminist government in the world" in 2014 by fostering and promoting feminine inclusion, stresses the essential part of politics in the process aimed at achieving the fair inclusion of women at a societal/national level. Such direct permeation in the political sphere has allowed for progresses in other societal spheres. Notably in education, with the avoided resort to genders among students; linguistics, through the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun “hen” (similar to the Finnish “hän”); social protection against sexual crimes; and welfare, by granting 480 days of paid maternity leave to mothers. Thereby, political decisions seem to affect the concept and reality of gender, feminism, and all related terms at a cultural level.

Whereas the influence of politics practised in organising has been recognized and emphasised as the premise for more inclusion (Butler, 2015), there remain inequalities in the business and political spheres of Sweden. Among these inequalities: a slight gender pay gap with women on average paid 87% of what men are according to the Eurostat SILC (Statistics on Income and Living Conditions) 2017; women hold only 5% of Swedish companies’ board chairs and 6% of chief executive tenures. Interestingly, these disparities exist in areas considered to be the proper of men in the patriarchal definition of genders.

In business and politics, presumed well-anchored masculine features of rationality, strength, protection, independence and the public (Tickner & Sjoberg, 2011) actually still prevail in the established common collective, which has been institutionalised for centuries globally.

In this regard, the change needed can only be slow and gradual, with disparities in its implementation of ways of organising in “contemporary workplaces and policy settings” (Bell et al., 2019, p.16) within a same country.

Therefore, intersectional and transnational feminism could converge in favour of the recognition and study of the interrelation of women’s rights with broader gender-related considerations in running systems.

This can facilitate the adoption of insofar categorised “feminine” characteristics, such as relationality, solidarity and emotionality (Bell et al., p.16), into the public and private sectors. Moreover, when considering all human activity, the associative/collaborative approach (yet deprived from public emotionality) has somewhat always been part of a “men’s world” for them to remain powerful and defend their own interests.

So, the dilemma and opportunity resides in how to integrate women in these interdependent relationships across ways of organising.

I believe that postfeminism allied to the deconstruction of genders and their related features by and amid people in spheres of knowledge and power paves the way for the recognition and neutralization of sexism and toxic masculinity by men.

The academia and CEOs, who, regardless of their gender, can be utterly influential, could indeed counteract sexism and toxic masculinity through research and experimentations on how the conversely created term of feminism, its related features and their application in organising might actually help in achieving individual and collective interests more responsibly and sustainably. In an interconnected world, alliances and partnerships could emerge and grow stronger in the long run.

Importantly, CEOs have both the power, legitimacy and responsibility to lead and drive positive change in the business world. Whenever they stand for the organizations they represent, CEOs can indeed speak up for what they stand for, what works or what doesn't, as well as the ways to achieve the adjustment(s) necessary to better their decisions, actions, and thus, their impact throughout time. The broadcast of their says in far-reaching channels (e.g. traditional and social media, company official webpages, forums and summits, etc.) amplifies their messages by creating a high-impact rippling effect on both the public opinion and lawmakers in their communities.

They can call on their organizational members and external stakeholders to refresh their perspective and address gender-related issues (and other social issues) through organisational change.

Whilst many have confined feminism to the women population, men play a key role in disrupting the existing and outdated view on feminism and masculinity. Perhaps their words would resonate and be heard more effectively than those of women because men are perceived to be more "legitimate" in speaking about salient matters in a world deeply rooted in a patriarcal mentality, a world wherein the powerful still define the rules of the game for the "less powerful".

Men may in fact have more legitimacy to speak about the urgent need to address sexism, toxic masculinity and behaviours because they are the very source of it, so they may appear to be more influential in driving a shift in mindset among their male peers. From this shift in mindset, a change in behaviours and language can subsequently occur for the sake of all.

The organisation of workshops to educate men on the power of feminism and soft leadership across spheres can encourage such shift. Men could open up about masculinity, confront themselves to its features and by-products, and ultimately feel empowered and relieved from its debilitating side-effects. They could turn into real leaders, fair leaders. Catalyst has championed the concepts of feminism, inclusion and leadership to create "workplaces that work for women".

What is feminism to you? Can you identify with it? Is masculinity a tenet which needs to be addressed in your organization? If so, how are you planning to do it in the daily? Who must join you in this endeavour? What do you want to achieve to make your organization thrive on inclusion of all actors? Imagine the infinity of possibilities and benefits you could reap…


Ahmed, S. (2017). Living a feminist life. London; Durham: Duke University Press.

Aiello, C. (August 17, 2018). “Social Change is Part of Business, Ben & Jerry’s CEO Says”. CNBC.

Bell, E, Meriläinen, S, Taylor, S & Tienari, J 2019, 'Time’s up! Feminist theory and activism meets organization studies', Human Relations, vol. 72, no. 1, p. 4-22.

Bersin, J. (September 5, 2018). “Yes, CEOs, You Do Need to Speak on Social Issues,” Forbes.

Butler, J. (2015). Notes toward a performative theory of assembly. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Catalyst. (2016). Infographic: Be Inclusive Every Day. New York: Catalyst, October 4, 2016.

Catalyst. (2017). Infographic: 10 Actions to Build Workplaces That Work for Women. New York:Catalyst, November 7, 2017.

Costigan, A. and Hughes, V. (August 13, 2019). CEO Activism: Trend brief. Catalyst.

European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). 2019. Gender equality Index - Money - Sweden - 2019

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Nickish, C. (March 27, 2018). “Interview With Michael Toffel and Ronnie Chatterji: Why CEOs Are Taking a Stand,” [podcast audio]. Harvard Business Review IdeaCast.

Salam, M. (March 8, 2019). "This Is What a Feminist Country Looks Like". The New York Times. (2019). Gender equality in Sweden.

Swedish Government. (2019). Government policy – A feminist government. Swedish Government Official webpage.

Tickner, J. A., Sjoberg, L., & Ebscohost. (2011). Feminism and international relations: Conversations about the past, present, and future. New York: Routledge.

The Open University. (October 3, 2014). International Relations – Feminism and International Relations (4/7) by Hutching, K. [video]. OpenLearn from The Open University.

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