Tips on Making Career Out of Feminist Work

Tips on Making Career Out of Feminist Work

By Suzanne Grossman

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on a career panel to young women enrolled in Feminist Summer Camp, an intensive weeklong immersion in womens issues and feminist organizations organized by authors and activists Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner. Though Ive worn many hats at a variety of organizations over the past ten years, this time I was representing the company I founded last year called, LYJ, which is shorthand for Love Your Job, Love Your Life.

LYJ started as a group blog but quickly turned into classes and workshops related to career exploration with a focus on women. My background in womens leadership development and career development led me to design curriculum for and teach a five-week class for women jobseekers in NYC called Love Your Job Search where I guide participants through the jobseeking skills of resumes, interviewing, networking and salary negotiation with the more thoughtful process of discovering who they are and where they are going.

Over a long table at the Ms. Foundations colorful new offices in Brooklyn, the aspiring younger women at Feminist Summer Camp raised their hands with numerous career questions, many of which struck me as back to basics, though others were in areas that touch concerns of much more experienced women, as well.

Some of the questions: How is a resume best organized Is it okay to have tattoos Should an applicant with big unruly hair tie it back Whats the proper way to send a thank you note after an interview What will employers think about a womens studies major Is more than one year too long to wait for graduate school And more.

I could see my younger self in the participants women who want to do meaningful work in the world, but are unsure how to get there beyond unpaid internships or volunteering.

I began by letting them know a little about my personal journey after college, a period of struggle, which relates to how I came to provide career assistance to women over 14 years later:

When I was 22, I moved from Boston to NYC, intent on finding work at a womens organization similar to my college internship with Teen Voices magazine, which I had loved. Six frustrating months after applying for jobs and living at home with my parents, I finally secured an entry-level job at a nonprofit organization on lower Fifth Avenue. I made a lot of friends and learned information still useful to me today, but I was immediately bored and spent half of my time looking for a new job.

During that year, I snuck away at lunch or left early for fake doctor appointments in order to go on 11 job interviews. This included an interview to be assistant to the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, two interviews at the Feminist Press, two at the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, the Metropolitan Opera, Cond Nast and more. I could write a strong application letter to get to the interview stage, but the job offers never came. I was a poor interviewer. I made mistakes all over the place, even such basic ones as answering, No, in response to the question, Do you have any questions for us I never asked for feedback after these interviews, something I learned years later was an option.

After a brief unhappy position in book publishing, I left NYC for the summer to live in Berkeley, CA, which proved to be an important time to re-connect with my passion for feminist work. When I returned, I was determined to stick it out this time and wait for the right opportunity rather than jumping into a job I hated. Temping at Pfizer pharmaceuticals in the Human Resources department proved to be the short-term solution I needed.

Three months later I had my third interview over a period of two years with the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (now called the Center for Reproductive Rights). Thankfully, my maturity and confidence had grown over time, and therefore my interviewing skills had also improved. I was offered the position of Communications Assistant, which turned out to be the job worth the wait. I had taken my first steps in the right direction on my career path and there was no turning back.

I wanted to comfort the Feminist Summer Camp participants and say it all becomes clear once you get that first meaningful job, but the truth is there are still many career bumps along the way and courses to chart. It just becomes a lot easier to understand this is all part of the process.

Part of why I do this work now is so that younger women dont have to go through the painful mistakes I made early on. However, I know that making mistakes is part of the process of personal growth and resiliency, and that each woman has to discover for herself what she most needs to learn. What I have learned is that getting paid to do work you love (feminist work, if that is your interest) is possible, and it starts with making a decision to not give up until you find it.

I left Feminist Summer Camp inspired and 100 percent confident that these younger change-makers would secure and create a myriad of opportunities for themselves, even if they were not yet so sure.

June 17, 2010