The first thing I noticed when I walked into the offices of Lilith was the books. Piled up in every corner of desks, chairs, shelves, and the floor, the books were an almost unintended design concept. They tell the visitor that this is a place where people love to read.
Really, though, Lilith is a place where people love to *eat*. Well, maybe not eat so much as to work around the conference-table-slash-kitchen-table. My meeting with the Lilith staff took place around the table in the center of the office that was filled with all kinds of salads and baked goods that the multi-talented and multi-tasking staff members made. “Lilith is a place where people love to talk, and our conference table has always been a place where good talk happens over food--much like at a wonderful dinner table, or even a salon,” Lilith editor-in-chief Susan Weidman Schneider said. “Despite the yumminess of the victuals, the important part is, of course, not what food each person brings to the table, but what *voices* are at the table. The food is just a signifier of our hospitable impulse to invite in guests and their ideas. For example, the Lilith staff has mentored more than 150 interns in our 35 years of publishing, and almost every one has told us that what they valued most about their experience here was being heard at that very table.
Lilith is probably the most intellectually welcoming office I have ever encountered. And what’s amazing about that is that the atmosphere is definitive part of the working culture, a purposeful outgrowth of the feminist ideology that drives the magazine content. “Everything gets done around this table,” Susan told me over salmon salad and soft fennel-molasses bread made by Lilith’s inimitable managing editor Naomi Danis. Every issue and every article gets created over food, slowly, with cooperative input, tossing in and kneading new ideas as the staff chews and digests. The entire magazine is a product of group thinking and collaboration, mostly over food.
This is a remarkable model of feminist work. It’s about giving women power and voice in a way that strengthens everyone rather than adopting patterns of being controlling, aggressive, manipulative or hierarchical. That’s not an easy thing. Expressions that are ambivalent, uncertain, hesitant, or help-seeking are not valued in most workplaces. They are often taken as signs that a person is not serious, or intelligent, or “management material”. Definitions of professionalism are often a function of being single-minded, unwavering, determined, loud, aggressive and abrasive. The person most unflinching is often the one whose ideas are adopted and who seen as the “leader”.
In fact, much of the current literature on helping women “get ahead” in the workplace focuses on teaching women to adopt these behaviors – drop the qualifiers, we are told, get rid of all the “I think”s and “perhaps”es, and don’t forget to unabashedly self-promote and publicly give yourself credit. If this is the model that developed from generations of women’s exclusion...