Women in Leadership

Insights from Georgene Huang, CEO of Fairygodboss.com

By Nicole BeckermanNovember 25, 2016

Georgene Huang knows the importance of doing your research and carefully evaluating a potential employer. She’s worked in law, finance, venture capital, and product management with major organizations such as Bloomberg Ventures, and Dow Jones. Two years ago, she found herself doing a round of job interviews while pregnant, and had questions she wanted to ask. For example, she was interested in a variety of topics, from equality of advancement opportunities and company culture for women, to maternity leave policy. These issues affect women’s lives in enormous ways, yet Huang realized these questions felt stigmatizing to ask about, and she had to gather information on potential employers from her personal network. “There are dramatic differences in the ways companies support and develop women,” Huang explains. “Yet, it’s sensitive to ask some of these important questions directly.”

“I knew I wasn’t the only one who wanted to ask these questions,” says Huang, which spurred her to start Fairygodboss in 2015 with her co-founder, Romy Newman. The website is a platform that provides information on pay, corporate culture, benefits, work flexibility, and other topics that are of interest to women. The site also offers anonymous ratings and discussions by employees about these issues at major companies, along with job listings, resources, and career advice. The idea is that women can provide vital information and advice to other women and help them know what to expect at a particular company.

A Mission of Transparency

“The mission of Fairygodboss is to improve the workplace for women through transparency,” says Huang. She believes that transparency about policies directed at women is the key to them making beneficial decisions on their career path. And while women talk about work-life balance endlessly on the site, Fairygodboss actually doesn’t take a personal position on the subject because every woman’s experience is so different. The company believes women should have all the information they need to find a workplace that supports their unique goals.

Fairygodboss has been doing well at crowd-sourcing hard-to-find data women care about. For example, there are now about 1,500 parental leave policies documented on the site. Companies often don’t feel comfortable publishing information about sensitive topics like parental leave, and even internally there can be a lot of hoop-jumping to find out what they are, resulting in opacity around this type of information.

Trends and Findings

Huang’s team reads every single review and comment that is left on Fairygodboss, and she has good news: A lot of women are happy with their workplace. Specifically, Huang says some of the best stories are from women expressing surprise at how well they’ve been treated regarding maternity leave or how many professional development opportunities are available to them.

While many women are quite happy, Huang also notes there is a spectrum of experiences out there, and huge differences exist between employers. There are many reports on the website of women not being taken seriously by virtue of their gender, and enduring uncomfortable comments or assumptions about their marital or family status, or even stories of sexual harassment. While this may seem like a culture issue, it feeds into more visible areas impacting women’s advancement.

In fact, the number one struggle women report on Fairygodboss is obtaining promotion and leadership opportunities. It is even discussed more than equal pay. Certainly a plethora of statistics show that women in general are not promoted equally to men, with the biggest disparity being at the first step up to manager. At the top, the C-suite continues to be male-dominated, with just 5% of US Fortune 500 and 4% of FTSE companies being run by women. Globally, just 9% of CEOs and managing directors are female. For women looking for mentors and leaders to help them on their career path or simply with executive aspirations, gender disparity in leadership is highly visible and informs how they can expect to be treated at an organization.

Advice for HR Teams

Fairygodboss is working with companies today to improve transparency and shape better policies for women. Organizations can list jobs directly on the site, and can have an official employer page where they post their policies publicly. The site also offers many resources for companies looking to understand gender disparity in the workplace and how they can make progressive changes. Among these are many external studies from respected sources, but Fairygodboss is also doing their own research and will be introducing benchmarking tools and information in the future.

With over 10,000 companies reviewed on the site, Fairygodboss has uncovered a wealth of useful information on where the exact issues lie with gender disparity. Huang’s expert advice to HR departments is to make sure they understand women’s experiences within their organization deeply and in a granular fashion. “The lack of consistent practices,” she says is a major issue both across organizations, but more specifically between departments. “It may come down to the department head or manager what experience women have, even within companies that are over all vocal about a progressive culture. Roughly one third of women on our site talk about this issue of consistency.”

A leader can set a tone for the whole department that is detrimental for women, even if the overall organization is vocal about supporting them. For example, while the official company policy on parental leave might be generous, it could be known within a particular department that if a woman takes advantage of it, she will likely be passed over for development opportunities or not taken seriously. If a department or group has these kinds of issues, HR should be aware of it through their metric tracking and strive to ensure a satisfying environment for women organization-wide.

Employee surveys are a key way to understand what is going on within an organization and make sure all departments and managers are on the same page when it comes to creating a positive employee experience. Surveys can also help identify what benefits and policies are unclear so HR can help fill those information gaps.  With talent retention becoming an increasing issue, employers need to make sure they are setting the standard for company culture with clear policies that support women and training for managers on gender issues.

Historically, HR hasn’t been responsible for advertising policies, but with the market for talent becoming increasingly competitive it matters more than ever for companies to showcase what they are doing well. A healthy employer brand is imperative to attract and retain top talent, and women are looking carefully at policies which affect them. Huang believes greater transparency of information will benefit everyone, as organizations notice what one another are doing and compete to set the bar higher.

Nicole Beckerman

Nicole Beckerman


About the Author

Nicole Beckerman is a marketing consultant, writer, and clothing designer based in Los Angeles, CA. She holds an MBA from Mills College as a Goldman Sachs Scholar.

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