Trying to find a company that will meet your changing needs as a woman? According to experts, you need to investigate how the organization supports its workers, particularly its female workforce.
Jan Shubert, associate director for Babson College's Center for Women in Leadership, suggests you investigate "anything that helps you get a picture of how they look at and value women."
Shubert and other experts say the clearest picture will emerge as you research corporate culture, company leadership, and policies and programs aimed at promoting women, respecting workers and their individual rights, and providing family support.
So how do you obtain the information you need to evaluate these areas? Start your detective work with these 11 strategies:
1. Look for Blue Ribbons
Many companies that recognize women's work issues get recognized. Catalyst, a nonprofit that researches, consults and educates on workplace gender issues, recognizes pioneering companies. For starters, Julie Nugent, senior associate of Catalyst's research and model workplace initiatives, advises women to take full advantage of the organization's Web site. The National Association for Female Executives' (NAFE's) Top 30 Companies for Executive Women and Working Mother magazine's 100 Best Companies lists are also great resources.
2. Scan the Web for Who Came in Last
"You can do this by searching on phrases like ‘gender discrimination' and ‘lawsuit,' or ‘sexual harassment' and ‘settlement' to see companies against whom suits have been filed or with which settlements have been reached," advises Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women, a Rhode Island-based firm offering leadership education for women.
3. Find Out Who's Running the Show
"Take a look at their leadership," says Nugent. "Are there any women? Are there diverse individuals on their site? Do companies have diversity on their agenda, and is it plainly important to them?"
Shubert advises women to scan annual reports and company Web sites to count the number of women in upper-level management. Is it a boys' club, or is it inclusive? Is it diverse? More top-level women usually means a better environment for all women.
Also consider who your boss will be. You can work for the most women-friendly company in the industry, but if your boss does not embrace the company's espoused values and is unwilling to acknowledge individual needs, that potential job may not work for you. So pay attention during the interview process. Look around your boss's office or cubicle. Is there a sign that your boss has a life outside work and respects others? Ask her what she is most proud of. If she says, "the time I got everyone to pull an all-nighter to get a job done," take note.
4. Evaluate Programs and Policies
"A company's policies around what kind of packages they provide speak to their values," explains Deborah Cutler-Ortiz, director of national programs and policy for Wider Opportunities for Women, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit that trains women for better paying jobs. "When you're talking about no benefits, no nothing, you're communicating how you value your employees."
Again, awards, reports and Web sites are excellent research tools. Shubert recommends reviewing the criteria Catalyst, NAFE and Working Mother use to judge companies for their lists. See which policies are most important to you and base your search accordingly. Programs that typically matter to women most are those that affect promotion, work-life balance and pay equity.
5. Rate the Space
Does the physical office space look gender-neutral? Shubert recalls once visiting a company with the women's bathroom a hiking distance from the executive offices. When you visit a potential employer, take note: Do you see women? Are you introduced to women during the interview? If so, what are their positions and do you get a sense of how long they've been with the company? Retention rates are an important gauge of worker satisfaction.
6. Interview Them
Don't be shy about discussing gender. "It's completely appropriate for a woman to ask the questions that will impact her own career and career growth," says Nugent. And when you ask questions, consider: "Does it feel like an open culture where things are shared and the process is clear?" she says.
Poor or veiled communication indicates an unfriendly manager or work setting. This is also the chance for you to evaluate the hiring manager. Look for signs that she is gender-neutral. "Your first and foremost concern as a good leader is the development of talented people," says Shubert.
7. Go to Lunch
In the advanced interview stage, ask to go to lunch with a would-be colleague. Shubert explains this is where you can ask questions about how women fit into the work environment. You also can get a better indication of whether employees feel the company is a good place to work and whether workers feel valued.
8. Turn on the Tube and Flip through Magazines
If a company advertises, see if it recognizes the importance of the female consumer, suggests Shubert. Women affect the majority of purchases in the US, and not acknowledging this fact signals that a company isn't aware of the importance of women to its success.
9. Rank the Industry
Catalyst's Web site lists studies by industry. Here you can get a sense of which are friendly by evaluating the industries big players, says Nugent. But, adds Cutler-Ortiz, don't dismiss industries that aren't yet women-friendly as they generally pay higher wages. Look for standouts and unionized companies to get the best pay and the best setting.
10. Make Some Phone Calls
"Have a robust network of women colleagues who can tell you what it's like to work in a particular company or who can connect you with a woman who can," says Colantuono. And if you can't find someone connected to your prospective employer, try to connect with someone in the industry who can speak about industry practices. Companies will often benchmark their policies against industry practices as a whole.
11. Consult Your Intuition
If your instinct is telling you something's not right in a company, listen to it. That prospective employer should not only value women but value and respect all workers and their rights. If the employer's emphasis seems to be on input rather output, or face time rather than results, beware.
"Don't ever treat any one piece of the puzzle as the big picture," says Shubert. "Trust your tummy. If it doesn't feel like a good fit for you, keep looking."