How acts of microfeminism can help stamp out bias at work

Microfeminism A team of four business people is standing in front a desk in a bright office room. They ambitiously point at documents while smiling and looking at the charts and notes.
Microfeminism celebrates women taking part in small acts of defiance that challenge the status quo in the workplace. (Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images)

Sexism in the workplace can be obvious and easy to identify, such as groping or inappropriate language. Sometimes, though, misogyny can be subtle — but these small, seemingly innocuous comments and acts can add up to create big problems.

Take one example. You’re organising a meeting with a CEO called Alex, but you’ve never met in person. So when they walk through the door, you’re surprised to be greeted by a woman. But why are you surprised — and why did you assume Alex would be a man? And more importantly, will your behaviour change now you know she isn’t?

A new trend called "microfeminism" is emerging on TikTok to tackle these kinds of problematic assumptions. It celebrates women taking part in small acts of defiance that challenge the status quo in the workplace, in a bid to tackle gender inequality.

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Although microfeminism is nothing new, it recently gained popularity on TikTok after Ashley Chaney, a producer from Los Angeles, shared how she addresses women first in a group email. She created the video after reflecting on her previous workplace and how frustrating it was to experience misogyny, even in seemingly small ways.

Acts of microfeminism may seem petty, but these small, intentional gestures can have a big impact on how we treat women at work. In part, because they encourage us to challenge the unconscious assumptions we make, as well as the biases that can hold women back professionally.

“These acts are sparking conversations about gender inequity in the workplace. Women are signalling their frustration with the status quo by challenging traditional gender norms and calling out biased behaviour,” says Lucy Kallin, executive director EMEA at Catalyst, a non-profit organisation that helps create women-friendly workplaces.

“When according to the Fortune 500 Europe list 93% of CEOs are men, is it any wonder that women are getting impatient?”

According to’s latest Women in the Workplace report with McKinsey & Co, women are more than twice as likely as men to be interrupted. They are also twice as likely to receive comments on their emotional state and 1.5 times more likely to have a colleague take credit for their work.

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The findings reinforce years of research that women face these sorts of microaggressions at a significantly higher rate than men. The overwhelming majority (78%) of women say they experience microaggressions at work.

Catalyst research shows women are often overlooked for these high visibility jobs which can propel them to top leadership roles. This bias is rooted in societal stereotypes and unconscious biases that associate leadership traits with masculinity,” says Kallin.

“Worryingly, we also found that the more senior the man, the more likely he is to exhibit benevolent sexism, where they hold seemingly positive but ultimately damaging views of women, further perpetuating gender-based discrimination in the workplace.”

This discrimination impacts women in many ways, from lower pay, under-representation in leadership roles and restriction to roles based on gender stereotypes. Also, microaggressions make a working environment more stressful, which increases the risk of mental health problems and burnout.

However, Kallin points out, women alone shouldn’t have to shoulder the responsibility of advocating for women with small acts of feminism.

“Worryingly, companies tell me that their engagement surveys are showing that women are facing more, not less, microaggressions but they feel too fatigued with the situation to challenge them. However, this is not women’s responsibility,” she explains.

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“They cannot make structural changes in the workforce on their own. It’s up to organisations to take intentional steps to stamp out bias and create gender-equitable workplaces.”

Ultimately, women shouldn’t have to think about who is named first in an email, or come up with a response when interrupted by a male colleague. It’s an additional mental load. Therefore, it’s up to employers to root out and address structural gender bias in their organisations that negatively affects women at work.

“To address this, look at your data and question your systems and processes,” advises Kallin.

“Who, in the organisation, gets rewarded? Who gets the high visibility, development roles? What competencies does your organisation value? Are these gendered? Who have you identified as a future leader?

“These might lead to uncomfortable findings but, fundamentally it’s leaders’ responsibility to role model inclusive behaviours and champion people, who are different from them, to build inclusive teams with diverse voices. Ignore these and you are missing out on future talent and a sustainable business.”