byGeorgene Huangon Jun 28, 2016

How Women Really Feel About Workplace Equality

Women going to work

Photo credit:Flickr via Forbes

When I meet people for the first time and explain that I'm the CEO of a site where women review their employers, I get a lot of reactions that sound like: "Whoa...you must hear some pretty bad stuff." More often than not, people assume that there are a lot of complaints and negativity around what women say about their workplace experiences. I've gotten used to this reaction and I also wonder why that it should be everyone's first thought. Do they really believe that women are so unhappy in the workplace or treated unfairly, on average? Or is it simply that they believe anonymous reviews lend themselves to being populated by people with an axe to grind?

While I'll probably never know for certain, I believe there are a few potential explanations. First, because relatively few people actually leave reviews compared to the number of people that read others' reviews (whether it's about restaurants or hotels or employers), we think that reviewers must be motivated by an extreme experience. Second, many of us tend to see headlines about the most sensational stuff when it comes to women in the work place — sexual harassment lawsuits, and inappropriate incidents receive a lot of attention (and rightly so). Finally, both men and women intuitively understand that there are still many things left to do in order to improve the workplace for women. For example, we've recently seen a drop in the number of women CEO's in the Fortune 500 companies, and much of the research suggests that at our current pace of progress, gender parity is a long ways off in Corporate America.

In reality, the distribution of reviews women leave about their employers looks much more balanced (and positive) than they initially think.We have found that a majority of women think their workplaces are fair to women. The downside? It's a small majority and far from ideal at 55%.

Fairygodboss survey: Do you think men and women are treated equally at your employer?

Fairygodboss survey: Do you think men and women are treated equally at your employer?

Still, the majority statistic still surprises some people. Consider, for example, the Elephant in the Valley survey of 200 women in the S.F. Bay area that work in technology, 60% of whom reported receiving unwanted sexual advances at work, and 66% of whom say they have felt excluded from social/networking opportunities because of their gender. The inspiration for this survey of women in tech was the Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins trial last year which raised a lot of awareness among both men and women about the difficult issues that women in technology face.

Job satisfaction is another important data point. There are some women who report relatively good job satisfaction but still believe their employer isn't necessarily 100% fair to women. This may seem contradictory at first blush, but if you consider the fact that most of us tend to acclimate and adjust to our environments, even if they are not perfect places, it makes more sense. Especially if we get decent compensation, a good work-life balance, a shot at promotion (or whatever else it may be that matters to you), some of us may accept that the world -- and our workplaces -- aren't perfect. Can a good salary and perks things make up for other inequities that we read about, ranging from unconscious bias to women being left out of workplace bonding events? That's a complex question, and it seems to be a matter of personal opinion.

Fairygodboss survey: What is your level of job satisfaction?

Fairygodboss survey: What is your level of job satisfaction?

A woman's job satisfaction is also an important temperature gauge of how likely she is to leave or stay at her current employer. So at Fairygodboss, we asked women in our community whether they would recommend their companies to other women, and again, the answer may not be what you suspect. 53% have no problem recommending their employer to another woman considering a job at her company without any qualification, while 20% would not recommend the company to another woman, and 27% say "maybe" (providing reasons for their qualified answers). For example, it's not uncommon for women in our community to remark that their employers are perfectly fine for an ambitious, childless women but that they would not recommend it for someone who wishes to have a family.

Fairygodboss survey: Would you recommend your employer to other women?

Fairygodboss survey: Would you recommend your employer to other women?

Because there are so many social, financial and emotional aspects to what happens to us at work, calling the questions we ask women about their workplaces a "review" is a bit of a misnomer. The closest we get to what you normally think of a "review" question is when we ask a woman what she would tell another woman about working at her company. That could be a review, but usually it turns out to be a summary of her experience, a discussion of why she thinks her company's a great place to work, or even advice about how to best move up the ranks as a newcomer. It could even be that she wouldn't tell another woman anything different than what she would tell a man. We get a mix of all of these things, so that in the end, we're seeing that what women expect, want, and ultimately experience at work is pretty complicated.

It's far from black and white, and thankfully, it's not just bad news.


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