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Georgene Huang was two months’ pregnant when she was made redundant from her job as a senior executive at a publishing company. Suddenly finding herself back on the US job market, where companies are not required to offer parental leave policies, she needed good advice and insider knowledge — fast.
“When looking for work and pregnant, it made me realise how much my gender impacted my prospects. I was frightened,” she says.
When it comes to access to information about structural inequality at work, today’s young female job seekers are — on the face of it — in a stronger position than previous generations. They have access to more pay data, reviews, campaign groups and personal testimonies than ever before to help them choose an employer with fair and attractive pay and parental leave policies. Sites and online communities such as Glassdoor, the employers’ review site, can offer quick, first-hand accounts from those already working there.
But not everyone has the same questions and concerns, and women in particular have specific questions. Employers’ policies change; official gender pay gap data reporting is in its infancy; employers present themselves in the best possible light and many online review sites are anonymous, making it difficult to know which to trust and which to disregard.
So how can jobseekers navigate the information out there in order to find the employer with the best policies on topics that matter to women, such as parental leave and equal pay?
As Ms Huang says, she found very little information for women, even on sites like Glassdoor: “The questions [about employers] were very general and anonymous. There is no incentive to talk about gender.”
In the UK, female jobseekers have one potential advantage over counterparts in the rest of the world: gender pay gap reporting is compulsory for employers with at least 250 employees — legislation that came into force in 2018 when the first round of published data revealed a national median gap of 17.9 per cent for all employees. Some of the worst performers included big consultancy groups: Bain reported a 36 per cent gap and Boston Consulting Group 35 per cent. When the second round of data under the legislation are published in April, individual employers’ progress will be accessible to all.
There are signs that the legislation is working in women’s favour. Businesses with large gender pay gaps are aware that they are in danger of missing out on hiring the best employees. According to an October 2018 poll by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, 61 per cent of women take an organisation’s gender pay gap into consideration when applying for jobs. Most UK employers — 93 per cent, according to the CBI 2018 Change and Opportunity report — are taking some form of action to reduce their pay gaps.
But a lack of pay transparency is not the only problem women face. Fear of demanding information from prospective employers about parental leave policies at interview runs deep. Sixty six per cent of women surveyed by Mumsnet, the UK parenting and campaigning website, said they were reluctant to ask potential employers about parental leave policies at interview stage because they feared it would “make a job offer less likely” (57 per cent avoided asking even after a job offer, and 40 per cent even after they had got the job). More than half said employers had made it difficult to find details of policies.
Mumsnet says that by keeping policies hidden, for example when policies change or when senior women are offered more advantageous terms than junior women, large employers are putting parents and prospective parents at a disadvantage.
Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts says many parents are “in a double bind” because asking questions can mean they go no further in the application process. The site is calling on the UK government to demand disclosure of such policies in employers’ gender pay reporting.
“Requiring large companies to publish their policies is a small, cost-free change that puts power back in the hands of jobseekers. This sort of public accountability celebrates employers with inclusive policies, powerfully incentivises others to be better — and allows parents to decide which job ads just aren’t worth their time, ” Ms Roberts says.
The power of communities
Back in the US, with little in the way of reporting requirements on employers, Ms Huang took matters into her own hands. In 2015 she set up Fairygodboss, an online community where women in the US workforce can share information on employers, pay, family friendly policies and the elusive “culture” within organisations. Access is free for individuals; the site makes money from writing sponsored content for clients and offering them insights on competitors.
The site now has about 3m monthly unique visitors, and claims to have tripled the number in just a year. “People are searching for this information, which is driving our growth,” says Ms Huang. “We have no branding budget — support just resonates for what we do.”
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