This past week The United State of Women Summit happened in Washington D.C. The Summit’s goal was to rally and to celebrate what we have achieved, and how we are going to take action moving forward to address gender equality issues. Along with Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey, Romy Newman, President & Co-Founder of Fairygodboss, was there to add to the conversation of how we can make a powerful difference in our collective future.
I had an opportunity to catch-up with Fairygodboss Co-Founder, Georgene Huang. You’ll want to read our exchange if you’re a professional business woman. I share it below.
What pushed you to start Fairygodboss?
I was 2 months pregnant and trying to find good, serious information for women in the workforce. I had questions such as: What was a company's maternity leave policy? How many women worked in senior management? Was the culture more about face-time or flex-time? And was the culture one where I could really thrive as a woman who wanted both a big career and a personal life/family? It's still really stigmatizing to ask those questions because the "ideal" worker (which almost nobody is) is supposed to be available 24/7 and be committed to their job over everything else. This isn't true for most men or women, but women are particularly hurt by these ideals and assumptions about who they are and what they prioritize. Fairygodboss was built to create a fear-free zone where women could get this information from each other and that's what we're doing today: we crowdsource information about culture, policies, benefits and allow women to really do their research on prospective employers and jobs.
Why is it important to promote transparency about company policies and culture?
We're luckily past the days where employer brand messaging is a one-way street. We've had social media for years and people share their opinions and views on pretty much everything. So transparency is here, regardless of whether an employer chooses to embrace it. The ones that do it are brave because the fact of the matter is that no place is 100% bad or 100% good. Most places are somewhere on a spectrum and transparency about the different viewpoints within an organization can help identify issues (and solutions), especially where people don't feel they can be honest, otherwise.
What would be the look, smell, and feel of an ideal woman-friendly company?
Every woman is an individual but there are some things that the community we've built say. We have found that certain things correlate with a woman's job satisfaction. Increased paid maternity leave is one, some degree of job flexibility (hours and/or location) is another, having access to female role models, mentors and sponsors within their company (in the form of female senior managers) is another. Finally, higher job satisfaction for a woman is unsurprisingly correlated to whether she perceives that men and women are treated equally and fairly where she works.
What is the biggest challenge in getting to a woman-friendly company?
The biggest challenge for a female job seeker trying to find a good place for herself is actually the fact that relatively few large organizations have strong enough cultures to transcend problematic individual managers. If your work-life balance, your ability to be promoted is unfair and the culture in your immediate department is sexist, for example, an employer can have the greatest policies and benefits (and intentions) in the world but will probably still lose that woman. Conversely, having a great manager in a company that generally isn't so great for women can keep a woman at a company for longer than she would normally stay. We can't go around asking people to rate their managers, but that's why we ask about departments and titles (which a user can choose to keep private and unpublished). It gets pretty granular, which is also why we encourage women to contact each other anonymously through the platform to answer any really tricky / sensitive questions.
How can Fairygodboss help women in the workforce now?
There are 2 concrete ways Fairygodboss can help women right now. First, if you're a job seeker, you can find open positions with our employer partners who have taken a pretty brave step and embraced transparency with respect to what their female employees are saying about them. The companies that work with us are those that really believe in trying to improve the workplace for women and their benefits and policies lead the pack. Second, even if you're not a job seeker, you can negotiate better things for yourself and the women around you. We crowdsourced a parental leave database for example, and women have told us they've been able to convince their employers to improve their paid leave policies by showing them that their competitors are offering more, or that the industry standard is higher than what's in place. Knowledge is power when it comes to negotiating. That's why we also have a crowdsourced salary database by title and department and company.
If you could give women in the workforce one piece of advice what would it be?
My advice would be to get as much information and advice as possible. We recently conducted a poll that showed 60% of the women in our community get their career advice from what they read (i.e. perfect strangers, not friends and family, nor mentors and sponsors). That shows you that people are really taking in things from everywhere. The beauty of the world we live in today is that there is so much free data and advice online. You can get advice from "experts" as well as inspirational people of all kinds. We offer peer to peer advice in the form of a job review but we've also just launched community discussions where you can get information and opinions from other women that's not employer-specific. All of that breadth is good, but at the end of the day, you also have to know yourself in order to figure out what really makes sense for you and your goals.
The bottom line is to avoid settling for an unfriendly company; to collectively work on addressing the obstacles we face in achieving women-friendly environments; and to always remember to celebrate our progress (each step of the way). May we, in the words of the first lady Michelle Obama,“Be better, be better, be better.”