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A series of comics takes a look at the struggles of being a woman in the workplace.

A satirical look at corporate culture unearths a major problem.

A series of comics takes a look at the struggles of being a woman in the workplace.

It's tough being a woman in the workplace, even (and perhaps especially) if you're the boss.

Reaching the top of the corporate ladder is a tough journey if you're a woman, with less than 5% of S&P 500 companies being led by female CEOs. To make it to the top, it's hard to know whether you're supposed to sit back, "lean in," speak up, or sit out — the world is filled with mixed messages for women in business. Women who do make it to the top face bias when it comes to things like pay and perception. Studies have found that while men in leadership positions are often viewed as "assertive," women with similar traits are "bitchy" or "shrill" or unlikeable.

This conundrum has spawned an entire industry dedicated to telling women what they're doing wrong and how they can subvert corporate culture.


Photo by iStock.

A recent series of comics by Sarah Cooper on her blog The Cooper Review perfectly satirizes the many "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Being Male" type articles found across the internet.

Her post, "9 Non-Threatening Leadership Strategies for Women," has racked up (as of this writing) more than 800,000 views in less than a week, a testament to the cultural nerve it struck. Interestingly, the article took its inspiration from another well-known source of American satire: The Onion.

"I was brainstorming for my next post and came across this headline I'd written down from The Onion: 'Woman Quickly Cycles Through Non-Threatening Voice Inflections Before Expressing Concern,' and from there I thought it would be funny to write a whole post about how women can be less 'threatening' in the workplace," Cooper tells Upworthy in an email, clarifying that "threatening" is in quotes "because I don't think women are threatening in the workplace, but are sometimes perceived that way if we are too direct/honest."

Cooper shared her idea with a small focus group of family and friends, who told her they liked the idea, but it made some of them feel "sad/angry." Her goal was to land in a place that was "just serious enough to feel honest and yet also just silly enough for people to know it's a joke."

"For the record: this is not serious advice!" she says.

The joke is that the "threatening" action is something managers do every day. For example, the first in the series handles how to set a deadline.

All illustrations by Sarah Cooper/The Cooper Review.

Of course, this comic isn't saying that men are actually and in real-life threatened by a woman saying, "This has to be done by Monday." That's a pretty standard thing for a manager to say. And, yet, women are more likely be labeled "unreasonable" for phrasing their request that way.

Many of the illustrations play on the common criticisms women face when it comes to public speaking.

And let's be clear: These criticisms are based on some deeply sexist notions. You'll find a number of posts online (and even here at Upworthy) about things women say that can cause their language to "lose its power," such as apologizing too often, speaking in self-deprecating terms, or appearing too cautious.

What's interesting, however, is that when men do the same thing, it's received in a completely different way. For example, a woman using vocal fry in her speech is often viewed as being unintelligent or unsure. When a man does it, however, it's considered perfectly normal.

The point is that the world is filled with some pretty tricky double standards, and it's on all of us — men, women, and everyone else — to take note.

Asked why she thought her post had gotten so much attention online, Cooper chalks it up to lived experience.

"I think it's the perfect storm of a topic people feel very passionately about (policing how women speak in the workplace) along with the fact that the post has enough truth in it to really resonate, in addition to being a little silly so that it makes people laugh," she says. "So many women (including me) identify with having to change how they talk at work and being frustrated when they get feedback that they're too aggressive, even as men do the same thing and it's just seen as confidence."

What can we do about this? Start by paying closer attention to how you interact with others in the workplace.

Do you react differently when a woman does something than when a man does? Whether it's on the basis of gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, or other attributes, we all have our own biases baked into our existence that have been shaped by culture. Most of the time, we're not even aware we have them. These are called "implicit biases," which have been described by the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity as follows:

"Also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control.  Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection."

Once you understand what biases you might have (Harvard University has a series of short, and free, tests that can be used as a start), you can begin to address them.

Photo by iStock.

Workplace sexism is — and will continue to be — an issue, but at least people like Sarah Cooper are helping the world have a laugh while highlighting the ongoing struggle.

On Oct. 4, 2016, Cooper's book, "100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings" comes out (and is available for preorder now). She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and of course, at The Cooper Review.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
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Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Photo by Vanessa Garcia from Pexels

A professor's message to students has gone viral.

If you know any teachers, you probably know how utterly exhausted they all are, from preschools all the way up through college. Pandemic schooling has been rough, to say the least, and teachers have borne the brunt of the impact it's had on students.

Most teachers I've known have bent over backwards to help students succeed during this time, taking kids' mental and emotional health into consideration and extending the flexibility and grace we all could use. But teachers have their own mental and emotional needs, too, and at some point, something's gotta give.

A college student posted screenshots of a professor's message on Twitter with the comment "someone PLEASE check on my professor." It's simply incredible.

The message reads:

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Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
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Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

man and two children on grass field

When I conceived my first born, I was elated. I took four at-home tests to confirm the news, peeing on my hand four times — and on four different sticks. I rushed to the city to tell my husband, with a congratulatory card and a few goodies in a yellow gift bag. There was a pacifier, a bottle, and an adorable Big Bird brush and comb set. And I called my doctor within hours. I scheduled an ultrasound the following week. But when I told everyone else the news, they wanted to know about my unborn baby's sex. Did I want a boy, they asked, or a girl?

I said I didn't care because I didn't. I wanted a child, to be sure. A happy, healthy baby who could (and presumably would) grow to become a happy, healthy kid. But everyone was focused on colors. On labels. Would I be a dance mom or a soccer mom? Would my shower be decorated with pink balloons or blue? And while I learned at my 20-week checkup that I was having a daughter — that I would be having a baby girl — I didn't identify as a "girl mom." My daughter is 8 and I still don't. Because sex doesn't define my daughter. It doesn't dictate her interests or mine, and it doesn't affect how I parent. I treat my son and daughter (more or less) the same. Because I'm not a boy mom or a girl mom, I'm just Mom, and that's an important distinction.


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Mom gets surprise call from daughter.

A FaceTime from her daughter is the best surprise this mom could ask for. Why? Because unbeknown to her, the daughter arrived back home from college in secret. And she shared this touching impromptu reunion with TikTok for everyone to enjoy.

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