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These are the four factors that make a company a great place for women

Spoiler alert: Just because you have women in leadership doesn’t guarantee that women at all levels are going to be supported.

These are the four factors that make a company a great place for women
[Photo: Christina Morillo/Pexels]

There is no shortage of annual reviews of the best companies to work for. This year, the companies with the happiest employees covered a swath of industries from tech to transportation.  The ratings were based on employee sentiment about their company’s goals and work environment.

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That doesn’t mean that every company on the list is a great place for women to work. In fact, Google landed the No. 3 spot. But it took some 20,000 employees globally walking out in protest over the way the company handled cases of sexual misconduct to make Google change its policy.

Now, the Wharton Social Impact Initiative released a report that drills down into specific findings from hundreds of academic studies on women and work that reveals what makes certain companies better for women to work for than others.

[Image: courtesy of Wharton Social Impact Initiative]
The report identifies four critical outcomes that matter most for women: representation, pay, health, and satisfaction. Each of these factors was weighed and scored quantitatively. For example, in representation, the company was ranked highly for having a large number of women at all levels and units of the organization. As women make up 43% of the current workforce according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that was the benchmark used for all industries, companies, and roles.

For pay, companies had to provide wages that didn’t leave women in poverty as well as equally for work done by both men and women. The poverty gap between men and women is significant according to the U.S. Census. In 2017, 9% of men and 13% of women fell below the poverty line, but that number jumped to 41% of women when they were raising children alone versus just 19% of men raising children alone.

Health and satisfaction had to be supported across the board for women and men. Health encompassed insurance as well as benefits like paid parental leave, protection against injuries and fatalities, stress, and harassment. In terms of satisfaction, employee ratings of their overall job satisfaction were used to determine whether or not the organization was a good place to work.

Women in leadership

One of the most surprising revelations is that companies that have women on the board and/or in the C-suite don’t necessarily mean that they are great places for women to work. Some studies found no correlation between women in leadership and their ability to foster an environment that develops and promotes women in lower positions. According to a new report from Indeed, 53% of women believe they have the same opportunities to enter senior leadership roles as their male counterparts.

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Heather Combs, chief revenue officer for 3Pillar Global, a software development company, asserts that their leadership team is 50% women, but that alone doesn’t guarantee the company’s status as a great place to work. “Building the best-in-class digital products that meet the needs of the market requires a leadership structure that reflects the diversity of the customers we serve, and to do so, it requires a range of experiences and perspectives,” she says. Combs says 3Pillar is committed to seeking, interviewing, and hiring candidates from a wide range of backgrounds and profiles and then committing to the fair and respectful treatment of all its employees.

And a male CEO was the one who supported a landmark equal pay audit at Salesforce. In a recent white paper from Fairygodboss titled How to Drive Gender Parity in Your Workplace, Cindy Robbins, president and chief people officer of Salesforce, comments, “There’s a level of accountability that starts at the CEO level,” which publicly held Salesforce accountable for addressing its pay inequity. Going forward, Robbins says Salesforce’s leadership is held accountable to gender equality every quarter.

Why the whole picture is important

As Katherine Klein, professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and vice dean of the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, points out, “You really can’t look at any one of the four factors in isolation. You wouldn’t want to work at a company where women are well-represented throughout the company–one of the four factors in our framework–but women are still underpaid, harassed, and dissatisfied.”

Yet it can be tough to tell if a company will support women across these four outcomes, because gender bias can sneak into unexpected places. The Fairygodboss white paper reveals that the Boston Consulting Group faced a unique retention challenge. Jenn Garcia-Alonso, global women@BCG director, said that internal data showed women were leaving BCG because they were being coached on communication skills when they neither wanted the coaching nor found it helpful. A deeper dive illuminated unconscious bias from those who were coaching with an intent to “fix” women’s communication styles because they were different from their own. “We used the data to prove that bias was happening,” Garcia-Alonso said. Her group also started educating senior employees to help them understand that different communication styles can be equally effective.

How to figure it out before you take the job

It’s even tougher to determine if a company is supportive of its female employees when job hunting. Klein reminds job seekers to check to see if the company publishes statistics like those suggested in the report, rather than vague statements or promises. “A company that is transparent in providing these statistics is committed to being a great employer for women and for men, too,” she says. “Its holding itself accountable.” If not, ask specific questions about representation to find out how many women work in the company and at what levels and roles, and what the difference is between the company’s average compensation for women and men.

She recommended asking these additional questions in an interview:

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  • I see you have several programs to support women at the company. What metrics do you track to know if they’re effective? And do you share that data?
  • What are the primary challenges women have in this industry? What is this company doing to combat those?
  • I’m hoping to join a company where I can grow in my role and make a real contribution. I’ve seen that a growing number of companies are choosing to publicly report their gender composition and gender pay gap. Is this information available here?
  • Do you measure employees’ job satisfaction here? Can you share information about how job satisfaction at this company compares to industry and national norms?

Ultimately, says Heather Combs of 3Pillar Global, it’s important to feel valued, regardless of gender, race, or any other factor at work. “I am personally committed to hiring and mentoring the rising female leaders that surround me every day,” she says, “and I am proud to look around and see I am not trying to change the world alone.”

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About the author

Lydia Dishman is a reporter writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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