What makes a company a great place for women to work? On Sept. 17, dozens of New Yorkers gathered to discuss just that.
Hosted by Fairygodboss, Quartz, and Women.NYC, Monday’s "Catalyzing Career Change: A New Age For New York Women" panel explored questions about company culture, equality implementation, and why New York City is a great place for working women.
Moderated by Lauren Brown, the special projects editor at Quartz, the panel consisted of Co-founder and CEO of Fairygodboss Georgene Huang, Managing Director at Accenture Laura Peterson, Employer Brand and Recruitment Marketing at Squarespace Colleen Finnegan, and New York City Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, who helped found Women.NYC.
When asked what makes a good company culture for women, Huang noted that a data analyst who analyzed women’s company reviews on Fairygodboss found a correlation between the language women used to describe companies and the overall rating they gave the company on a scale of one to five. Women who worked at companies where they believed they were equal to men — and had benefits like flexible work-life balance and longer paid family leave — were more likely to positively review their employer on Fairygodboss. Meanwhile, when women view companies"boys’ clubs," or report that they’re not promoted or supported, they review their company more negatively.
Peterson said she believed there are two core values that foster a good company culture: transparency and "how human a company is." She emphasized the importance of companies recognizing the core of an employee; each individual has a life outside of work, and they can't just leave it at the door. She explained that viewing employees as whole humans helps companies implement policies that are supportive of mothers, people with mental illnesses, and other employees with distinct circumstances they bring to work every day.
Finnegan drew on personal experience to suggest how companies can implement this kind of transparency and “humanness”; they said you have to bring your employees along for the ride and give them a voice at your company. At Squarespace, Finnegan collects feedback from employees on policies to determine what's working for them, then brings recommendations to the executive team based on employee responses. Getting a wide-range of perspectives in this process and accounting for "all different types of folks" is particularly important, Finnegan emphasized.
As they put it, "If you don't know who your employees are, your policies are going to fall flat" — a point Commissioner Torres-Springer later echoed, saying it’s important to always consider "who isn't in the room" or who isn't represented when policies are being made.
Later in the conversation, Peterson highlighted the importance of talking about culture and diversity in a transparent way. She said that behind closed doors, change doesn’t often happen organically. But by placing external pressure on yourself as an organization by doing something public, like publishing your company’s diversity statistics, you can ensure these issues are truly prioritized.
Torres-Springer, who works for the city, offered insight into how companies in New York are uniquely posed to make gender equality a priority – and what challenges they face. She said while the city is a national leader in employee protections and gender equity, we must not be blinded by progress as there remains work to be done. There's a large pay gap in the city which disproportionately affects women of color, and only one Fortune 500 company headquartered in New York City is led by a woman. The city has implemented many programs to emphasize female representation and equity in various industries, and this support is lacking in other parts of the country, she added.
Peterson agreed. She said she’s found a supportive network of people in New York that she hasn’t enjoyed in in other parts of the country — from executives who realize parents need time to leave the office to friends who lift working mothers up.
In one of the most compelling moments of the evening, each panelist spoke about what they wish they’d known known at the beginning of their career.
Finnegan said they wished they’d realized the importance of having solid boundaries regarding work-life balance and sticking to them. Huang reflected that despite our best efforts, we can't plan for some of the more exciting things that happen in our lives – and instead, we have to roll with the punches.
Peterson said she wished she would've realized how impressive she was. She says she spent much of her young career worried that she shouldn't say or do things, but that she should've had much more "swagger."
Torres-Springer agreed with Peterson. She said she would tell her younger self that it is normal and acceptable to have feelings of guilt, of guilt about feeling guilty, and of fear. But you should have "swagger" because you deserve it, she reiterated. You're doing much better than you think.