How to see how a company treats female employees - before you even take the job

By Julia Carpenter

Here's how to evaluate a company culture at the start of a job search. Photo / Getty Images
Here's how to evaluate a company culture at the start of a job search. Photo / Getty Images

Women looking for jobs and looking to leave jobs need the same thing: a space to share recommendations - and horror stories. Like Yelp, but for women in the workplace.

And now, a host of websites wants to do just that. The sites collect women's experiences from different office cultures, addressing questions like: How satisfied are current female employees? What's the family leave policy like? How many women are in top leadership?

InHerSight, a fairly new entrant into the field, takes workplace feedback from women to create "scorecards," grades based on a 5-star scale calculating how well companies provide for leadership opportunities, women's professional development, female employee recruitment, maternity leave, welcoming company culture and more.

The scorecards reflect well-documented industry trends, trends that InHerSight is also working to catalog. Technology companies like Facebook may rate highly for perks and benefits, for example, but they lose points when it comes to well-publicized issues like female representation in leadership.

And while women working in government offices report they're happy with management opportunities for women, federal agencies like the Department of Energy score lower for their lackluster family leave policies.

InHerSight is just the latest innovation in wave of women's workplace rankings. Popular sites like Glassdoor and Payscale stack different workplace salaries and cultures against one another.

As more and more headlines flood our senses and depress our daughters - " It's 2016, and women still make less than men... so many female managers but so few CEOs.

"The number of Fortune 500 companies led by women is at an all-time high: 5 percent " - the ranking of women's workplaces has become its own cottage content industry.

Says InHerSight chief executive Ursula Mead: "[Women] want to know, 'What am I getting into?' One of the most impactful things we can do is when we take their experiences and capture them as data points."

And these ratings work the other way, too - company leaders can check out their own industry scorecards to see where they're lacking and what could improve.

"We need to take individual stories, combine them to make trends, and it represents the collective," Mead says. "It doesn't just represent the individual."

After a first round of seed funding from the Motley Fool, 64,000 women have contributed to InHerSight's database, rating more than 13,000 workplaces. Mead says companies can have anywhere from a single rating to more than 200.

"We always feel like the more ratings, the better," Mead says. "We're trying to build a listening platform. We think companies can evolve and change over time, and we're trying to capture that."

I'm nearly always one of the only women at a very small company, and I've never worked with another woman who was in engineering leadership.

In asking women to rate these women-centric values and also to leave anonymous comments, users can sift the good experiences from the bad. From Facebook's own scorecard : "The environment encourages backstabbing and gossiping" appears right alongside "Women are still underrepresented as a group, but my experience has been entirely positive so far."

But this kind of calculation worries Emily Leathers, a 30-year-old software engineering director at Brigade in San Francisco. She's suspicious of what value these ratings on sexism offer someone like her, who has been one of the few females on her engineering team at a small business focused on civic activism.

She has always worked at young companies, so there isn't much data on their employee experiences to start - and she's also cautious of how women can process this kind of information.

"I'm nearly always one of the only women at a very small company, and I've never worked with another woman who was in engineering leadership," she says. "So saying anything on 'how women are treated at whatever,' that associates those comments with my role, identifying me to any co-workers who read it."

Yale University management professor Zoe Chance cautions against exactly that kind of enterprise. Not everything, she warns, is measurable, especially when it comes to happiness at work. Sexism in the workplace isn't always direct harassment, or boss-to-employee conversations. Instead, statistical discrimination and lack of opportunity for women ultimately characterise a workplace as "good" for women (or "bad").

No doubt there are innumerable situations in which the legitimate victims of sexism have no idea they were shortchanged.

With relatively small numbers of women contributing to the websites, Chance points out, it's harder to take personal stories and turn them into identifiable trends.

"No doubt there are innumerable situations in which the legitimate victims of sexism have no idea they were shortchanged," she said in an email. "Often the perpetrators have no idea either."

But Mead of InHerSight says what her company is doing is very valuable.

"By measuring satisfaction we can help companies understand what's working and what isn't for women in their workplace when it comes to their policies and initiatives," she said. "At the same time, we can help address problems and low scores that exist as a result of sexism, either intentional or not."

According to a Facebook spokeswoman, women's comments have led to more lactation rooms on campus. At the Energy Department, human capital manager Tonya Mackey says female employees have rallied around a formalised women's social group focused on networking and mentorship - from there, they make proposals about facility changes, work policy upgrades and more.

Gloria Feldt, a leadership expert at Take the Lead, reminds job seekers that the value of these sites lies in their transparency: Here are some stories, here are some women's opinions.

She advises younger women to survey all the resources available to them in the job process: Glassdoor, InHerSight, LinkedIn, networking and more.

"Like with anything else, the better informed you are, the better choices you can ostensibly make, but these crowd-sourced rating systems, they are always fraught," she says. "You have to take things with a grain of salt. You have to do a little research on your own and if possible speak with real human beings who have worked at those places."

- Washington Post

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