How to Find the Best Workplaces for Women
What does empowerment look like? That depends.
The best workplaces for women are ones that empower—but what exactly does that look like?
As a woman, support from employers can come in various forms, and in the era of the #MeToo movement, many firms are taking steps to encourage more gender diversity and inclusion. But while some companies' offerings may seem like obvious wins—Onsite childcare! Flexible work schedules!—others are more difficult to evaluate.
Here, experts weigh in on ways to sniff out companies that support women's issues.
Check existing intel on the best workplaces for women
There are several lists each year of top companies with female leadership, including the National Association of Female Executives, InHerSight, Working Mother, and Forbes. If you’re considering a job at a major employer, it’s worth noting who shows up here—and who doesn’t.
This info can help you pinpoint the things you’re looking for in a company, whether it’s flexibility, a generous maternity leave, women in leadership roles, or equal pay for equal work.
“Just like every company is different, so is every woman in how she defines success and what she considers a supportive, female-friendly work environment,” says Ursula Mead, founder and CEO of InHerSight. “The first step in finding a company that’s right for you is really to identify the things that you care most about and want to make sure are present in the next company you work for.”
For example, maybe maternity leave is of no concern to you, but a strong mentorship program is at the top of your wish list. Know what you need in order to feel empowered.
Study the company’s online presence
“Typically, you can find [companies'] family-related policies online,” says Jessica Gaffney, co-founder of Pro Mama, a company that connects mothers to mother-friendly jobs. “But I would also look to see how the company presents itself on social media, because often their core values can be presented to their customers in other ways.” Look at what the company emphasizes, as well as the language and imagery they use.
For instance, does their company blog feature posts about diversity, women in the company doing newsworthy things, or their gender policies? Do female employees regularly attend or speak at industry conferences?
“If you go to the benefits page [of the company website] and they talk about culture and flexibility at the very beginning of the page, that could give you a lot of insight into the organization,” says Aram Lulla, general manager of the HR recruiting practice at Lucas Group, an executive search firm.
Look at the firm’s top brass
Are there women CEOs and elsewhere at the top of the company food chain? Are they in leadership positions or on the executive team? It’s critical to see women there, although it’s not necessary to see a 50/50 split.
“Having representation is important, but it’s not about the number,” Gaffney says. “It’s more about the efforts the company is making to increase their gender balance and the policies they’re currently creating to improve it. Even the best companies I speak to that are very women-friendly are still working to improve that balance and that ratio.”
It’s also worth noting that the numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. “You can have great representation from a numbers perspective in a company,” Mead says, “and at the same time, women at the company can feel like the female leaders are left out of critical conversations or don’t have their voices heard.”
Talk to current or former employees
If you can, find someone who works there or worked there—preferably a woman—and ask her about her experience at the firm.
“Even if the company touts that they have unlimited vacation and the ability to work remotely, which are two really coveted policies for women, it’s something that people could be penalized for taking advantage of,” Gaffney says. “It’s always good to talk to someone on the inside.”
If you don’t know someone directly, find someone on social media with whom you have a mutual connection and ask for an introduction.
Pay attention during your interview
You can learn a lot about a company’s culture during your interview. “The language employees use and the way teams collaborate can provide demonstrations of or symptoms of a glass ceiling,” says Dani Gehm, marketing manager at ChickTech, a nonprofit that works to engage women in the technology industry. “When people constantly interrupt each other, don’t listen to each other, or don’t share credit with team members, women—and many men—will automatically assume that there are limitations to their ability to succeed. Observe the dynamics between interviewers of different genders.”
Remember to keep your eyes open on your walk to the interview room too. Are there women around—both in cubicles and in offices? Is everyone's head down or up? Do you see a lot of people with personal effects or is the office on the stark side?
“Even when the interviewer is bringing the interviewee through the office, are they saying hello to people along the way?” Lulla says. “When you’re in the office, it’s important to get a feel for, ‘Is this not only a diverse culture, but a culture I feel comfortable in?’”
Ask open-ended questions
It’s not always easy to ask directly about women-friendly policies, but there are interview questions that can shed light on corporate culture in general. Think big picture.
“When you ask broad questions about the culture, you’ve got to key in and listen to find out if they are talking about flexibility.” Lulla says. “Are they talking about diversity initiatives? The key is to ask the same set of questions, interview to interview, to see if there’s consistency.”
Some questions to try:
- “Working for a company that supports women is extremely important to me. How do you do that?”
- “I was wondering about X policy, which is mentioned on the company’s website. How does that work for the men and women here?”
- “How would you describe the company culture here?”
- “Why do you like working here?”
- “Are there initiatives or support structures in place for minority groups?”
- “What training is offered or required for all employees?”
- “You have X technology available here. Would there be opportunities to work remotely?”
Ask about benefits
You can gather a lot of data about benefits from a company’s website, but you’ll get better information by asking the company’s HR rep about specific policies. For instance, do employees take advantage of paid maternity leave? Has anyone ever used that sabbatical program?
However, you’ve got to time this strategically. “If they’re questioning you about your skills, it’s best not to start discussing leave,” says Sheri Mooney, CEO and president of HR consulting firm Mind Squad HR. “There’s a time and place for the discussion in the interview. If you rush to discuss the female-friendly pieces of the corporate culture and you haven’t sold yourself to the employer on your skills, that puts you in a tough position.”
Trust your gut
In the end, use your judgment. “This means flagging if something is said or done during the hiring process that makes you uncomfortable, so you can either ask for clarification or make a decision about whether to continue pursuing the position,” Mead says. “We don’t all have the luxury of turning down a job that’s being offered, but we shouldn’t ignore any warning signs early in the process.”
The best workplaces for women are the ones that work with you
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