What can tech companies do to create more women-friendly workplaces?

If you’re thinking about a woman-friendly workplace and automatically picturing something like Bumble’s headquarters — with couches, a glam room, and floral wallpaper — think again. As nice as those perks are, what women really want goes deeper than a pretty office and beauty treatments on site.

Full flexibility

While all employees are impacted in some way by lack of flexibility at work, it’s women who are often hit the hardest,” Annie Dean, co-founder and co-CEO of Werk, which uses data-driven solutions to help companies create more flexibility for employees. “Workplace flexibility is a top-three search criteria for millennial job seekers, and the number one criteria for women.” A 2018 Mercer report found 51 percent of those polled wanted more flexibility. Adaptable schedules mean everyone in the office can take advantage, so the expectations around childcare aren’t implicitly placed upon women.

Werk

In an office that makes flexibility a priority, no one would give you the side-eye for leaving in the middle of the day to pick up your child or go to the gym — as long as the work gets done. “When it comes to things like discounted gym memberships, for example, remember that if an employee doesn’t have the time to actually go to the gym, no monetary incentive is going to enable them to prioritize working out,” said Dean. “So our advice would be to think less about free beer on tap and more about creating a flexible culture where employees are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work — and to remove their whole selves from work when they need to, no questions asked.”

how to create more women friendly workplaces annie dean werk
Annie Dean, co-CEO of Werk Lydia Hudgens

Such a setup works better for some offices than others. Those who work in retail have to show up when the customers are there, after all. There are other ways all workplaces can combat second-generation gender bias. While women work in engineering, construction, and other male-dominated industries, there are subtle, often unconscious ways in which stereotypes favor men over women for more senior roles.

“There’s a perception that women are less confident, especially for leadership positions,” said Diana Bilimoria, Chair of the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University. Her research focuses on ways companies can facilitate the career development of women and minorities, and she also teaches courses at the school’s Leadership Lab for Women in STEM.

Higher-ups may assume women aren’t willing to travel because they have kids, so they simply don’t offer the opportunity.

Women miss out on the stretch assignments that allow them to gain new skills and put them in line for new positions, said Bilimoria. Higher-ups may assume women aren’t willing to travel because they have kids, so they simply don’t offer the opportunity. Managers are also sometimes hesitant to offer necessary feedback that would help women excel in new tasks. “Again this is not anyone deliberately saying, ‘I’m not going to give you the feedback,’” said Bilimoria. “It is more an unconscious sort of paternalism.”

Banning biases

Some of the biases are so subtle and so unconscious, women might not even realize them.

how to create more women friendly workplaces jeannie eula battle tactics
Eula Scott Bynoe and Jeannie Yandel, hosts of the podcast, Battle Tactics for Your Sexist Workplace. KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

“Sometimes jobs can make it feel like you have to ask permission to use the bathroom,” said Scott Bynoe. “When you’re on your period that can be so much work.” Dress codes also favor men, said Yandel: “The accepted parameters for what it takes for a man to look professional in a range of environments is different and it’s easier to meet than it is for a woman,” she said. “And it’s cheaper.” (And sometimes there just aren’t enough spacesuits in your size.) Plus, women often have to bring more clothes to work to combat office temperatures that were designed for men. “Women have sweaters and shawls and all that other shit at their desks,” said Yandel. “There’s a reason for that, and it’s sexism.”

“Sometimes jobs can make it feel like you have to ask permission to use the bathroom.”

Recently, Glassdoor released its report on the gender pay gap. The results? It’s getting better, but it could still take decades for women to receive equal pay for equal work. In some cases, though, women are doing more. They’re often expected to pick up the slack when collaborating and to perform “office housework,” like doing the dishes in the workplace break room. While the statistic often used to talk about the gender wage gap is 83 percent, it’s actually the average. White women actually earn more than African-American and Hispanic men and women, according to Pew Research. Companies often encourage salary secrecy, but Glassdoor has a tool that can help you determine how much others with your experience and in your city are making. “One of the ways we recommend employers create and foster culture that really appeals to both men and women is to make sure that everybody at the company is getting paid equally for equal work,” said Sarah Stoddard, Glassdoor’s career trends analyst. The site also has tools to help employers examine and close gender pay gaps that exist in their company.

Networked

Another way to improve company culture for women is to, well, have more women. “It’s not a formula where you put one women on a board or you put one woman in the senior executive team and then everything changes,” said Bilimoria. If it’s just a token position and she isn’t empowered to make real changes, then the women below her won’t get any real benefit. “I think having just one or a very small minority puts a lot of pressure on them,” she added. “It’s about critical mass.” Setting up opportunities for women to network not only benefits them, it offers employers an opportunity to stock its pipeline with more diverse candidates.

This is especially true for tech companies. Bilimoria suggests they send women in computer programming and similar roles to schools and colleges. “They can serve as role models and really help to share the work they’re doing as being exciting and innovative and contributive to society,” she said. It can help combat the stereotype of tech companies as work-obsessed and socially awkward.

Smaller companies that don’t have the resources for such networks can signal in their hiring process that they are looking for diverse candidates. Even the language in job descriptions can inadvertently discourage women from applying. You might feel like less of a “rock star” and more like you have a singer-songwriter vibe. Meeting with a room full of men during an interview also sends a message. “One way to help find diverse candidates, especially women, is to include more women in your hiring process and the decision-making process when it comes to finding top candidates,” said Stoddard.

Meeting with a room full of men during an interview sends a message.

In addition to a flexible schedule, equal pay, access to training and feedback, and a clear path to leadership, there are some other perks Scott Bynoe and Yandel would have in their dream, non-sexist workplace. One is an emphasis on results over process. “It’s really backwards to expect everyone else to fit into what I’m asking of them because so often the end result is more chaos and trauma and anxiety,” said Scott Bynoe. “I would be really clear about that there is a space where you do not have to expect to be on call,” so no texts or emails after work hours, said Yandel. She’d also want zero stigma and better access to mental health services. “I feel like one of the things that happens in a lot of workplaces is you feel like you have to lie about what’s happening in your personal life,” she said.

Unfortunately, Scott Bynoe and Yandel aren’t actually buying up real estate for their fantasy workplace. Instead, the responsibility to improve the culture of workplaces should fall on managers and business owners, while legislators introduce bills that will fix more systemic problems like the pay gap.

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