The conclusion of the Ellen Pao trial and the jury’s verdict that Venture Capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers didn’t discriminate on the basis of gender appeared to be a loss for female professionals everywhere. Especially in Silicon Valley, where women are heavily outnumbered at tech companies, the verdict could make them hesitant to speak out against harassment and inequality in their workplaces in the future.
But what if there was a place where such grievances could be aired anonymously—and still make a difference?
That's Ursula Mead’s aim for the platform InHerSight, which she started developing about a year and a half ago as a side project on nights and weekends. By day, Mead works as head of premium membership at a financial tech and media company, which she asked not to identify in order to continue to keep InHerSight completely independent.
The way it works is simple: fill out your employer’s name and location and whether you are a current or former employee (there is also a designation for part time or other), then click on the stars to rate the company on its policies in 14 areas such as flexible work hours, maternity and adoptive leave, family growth support (including child care and lactation rooms), equal opportunities, and female representation in leadership positions. There is an option to leave a detailed comment that is also anonymous. While many of the areas apply to women's representation and access at work, the rating system is open to both men and women to review their company's policies.
Rather than build in a way to verify that the reviewer actually works at the company, Mead says the goal is to give everyone a voice. "I regularly hear from women who are concerned about voicing their opinions, who are afraid of the repercussions from their employers," she tells Fast Company. "We don’t want to put up a barrier to participation, and we believe the best way to solve the real problems we’re tackling is to preserve anonymity and let the data speak for themselves."
Comparing InHerSight to TripAdvisor, Mead cites Adam Medros's explanation of how this kind of crowdsourced data provides "a kind of self-enforcing equilibrium" on that platform for travelers. "As we work towards the critical mass of data that creates that, we are using technology and manual review processes to look for patterns or indications of abuse and misuse," Mead maintains.
So far, she says, both women and men have already rated thousands of employers, from small companies to government agencies, to Google, Cisco, IBM, the Department of Defense and The World Bank.
InHerSight’s ratings system is similar to the ones found on Glassdoor, which uses anonymously posted information about interviews, salaries, and work environments to help candidates find the right job based on their personal preferences. Glassdoor offers information on more than 360,000 companies, according to its website.
Mead says InHerSight takes Glassdoor’s concept one step further for both applicants and businesses. "With this new transparency, women can use the website to make decisions about what companies they want to work for," she says. "And the data we’re collecting can help companies create roadmaps to make themselves more attractive to women and to retain the women who already work for them," Mead points out.
Winnowing the survey down to 14 factors was an exercise in developing a common framework and language for comparison among the dozens of factors that drive workplace happiness, Mead says. "We focused on factors that companies can control and where they’re likely to have policies, and also on a wide enough range of metrics that the information is valuable to women with many different definitions of success and workplace support," she explains.
The key question, Mead contends, isn’t about what the policies are, but how well they work for individual women. "Each individual needs to only make a small contribution, but together, these add up to an immensely powerful data set," she says. "These answers and this new transparency are what give us a true picture of each workplace."