On Women and “Good” Places to Work

When reviewing a job offer, there are certain questions every person who wants to do quality work will ask themselves. Do the company’s goals align with my own? Will I be doing really great work? What long term impact can I have? It’s a major life decision; where you work is where you learn, hone your craft and spend a huge amount of your time and energy.

After years of career conversations with women in tech, I’ve confirmed that almost all of us do extra investigating. We want to know: will we be championed, or interrupted? Will we be supported to do the best work of our lives, or will we have to navigate unwritten requirements that stop some of us from getting ahead?

After yet another woman reached out asking me for the lowdown on “good” places to work (and I knew exactly what she meant), I’ve realized that there’s a serious communication gap going on.

Women in tech are using back-door strategies to evaluate potential workplaces, while most companies want strategies to attract more of them.

Why not try to shed some light on the situation? Over the past week, I’ve asked women how they’ve vetted potential employers. From my collected conversations, here is a short list of tactics women often use to decide whether a workplace is committed to growing women:

Women look for other women

This one is simple. Even if a company doesn’t have an “our team” page, it’s easy enough to sleuth around on LinkedIn and see how many women work there. While I in no way put a lesser value on marketing or HR roles (I’m in one myself), a strong positive indicator is women in technical positions or other male-heavy roles. Seeing multiple women in leadership positions is a very good sign.

Women talk to other women

Women talk about your organization. Women talk about you. The most common tactic I heard about in my conversations was simply asking other women who had worked at a company what it was like. Many will reach out to women they don’t even know to ask this. Many said they’d only join a company with a strong review from a woman they trust.

Women notice your language choices

Ninjas or Rockstars? No thanks. Cliches aside, research has shown that language in job descriptions can have inherent bias, signalling a certain subset of people to apply and others not to, regardless of skill or experience. If you think of us while you write, it’s a good sign that you’ll think of us while you lead.

Women look for clues in your benefits

We all know it: bragging about beer and ping pong is long out of fashion. But what a company does choose to offer says a lot. Most companies don’t start offering top-of-the-line parental leave or women’s mentorship programs until they already have a diversity problem. The smartest founders will get a head start and bake these into their company values from the beginning.

Here are some other ideas for great perks:

: Women still do the majority of housework when they get home from their jobs. Sucks, but it’s true.

: This need not be a built-in nursery a la Marissa Mayer or a huge company expense. There are some great daycare companies you can partner with that simply guarantee your employees a placement, a huge relief for many parents.

: Companies can help women grow their careers by offering access to a coach (external if need be) or speaker training. A huge benefit to offering speaker training is that other women will see your awesome team member doing her thing, and will want to work on the same challenges that she is.

Alternatively, you can just ask the women on your team what would be helpful in their lives. If you can’t afford big perks, simple flexibility is great.

Women look for committed leadership

OK, so you don’t have an equal amount of women at your company. What can you do? You can be aware of the issue and have a plan that you can speak to. Host women-friendly meetups, sponsor great organizations, and talk about it in your job descriptions and in your conversations.

When I first met my now-boss, Mike Katchen, he spoke at length (without my asking or prompting) about this concern and how we might partner on it if I came aboard. This factored hugely into my decision to join his team.

One woman even told me that she’ll check out a founder’s Instagram account to see what they value. Are they with family or are they always #hashtagcrushingit?

Women are interviewing you, too

Indicators of a good company are a collaborative and transparent interview process. No intimidating panel interviews or “prove it” attitudes need apply! If you use case studies or technical challenges, consider working side by side with candidates to solve them. A bonus here is that you’ll be able to see exactly how you’d work together, which is a big part of what you want to evaluate anyhow. Consider sending a “what to expect” agenda beforehand, and try to involve women in every interview process. Use this same, inclusive interview process for everyone.

(For a good review of the major legal don’ts, see Melissa Nightingale’s great piece, How to Kill your Startup’s Referral Pipeline in a Single Interview and its follow up).

On retention

It’s not just about getting great people to join you. My best advice for holding onto good people is to make it clear how to grow and get ahead in your organization. Communicate what it takes to get to the next level and how promotion and compensation decisions are made.

At Wealthsimple, we work on fluid and fast moving teams. To keep professional growth consistent in a changing environment, everyone has a mentor who holds regular 1 on 1s, with no project talk allowed. If you’re a manager, you should always know where each person on your team aspires to grow, and collaborate with them on a plan to get there.

Then, when they’re inevitably asked, the women on your team are more likely to respond with this truth:

It’s great here.

*Illustration: A detail from a piece by Laura Callaghan for the Exhibition


A collective of modern HR experts on a mission to craft the…

Nora Jenkins Townson

Written by

Founder @ Bright+ Early, former head of people ops @wealthsimple, startup HR veteran. Into food, books, weirdness and creating the future of work.


A collective of modern HR experts on a mission to craft the world’s best workplaces.

Nora Jenkins Townson

Written by

Founder @ Bright+ Early, former head of people ops @wealthsimple, startup HR veteran. Into food, books, weirdness and creating the future of work.


A collective of modern HR experts on a mission to craft the world’s best workplaces.

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