Georgene Huang | Founder and CEO, Fairygodboss
You were two months pregnant when you started Fairygodboss – talk us through what you’ve created and why your situation played a role in what you’ve created.
Fairygodboss was born from my personal experience of job-seeking while two months pregnant (and hiding it). I hadn't told my own family members and friends about my pregnancy yet so I obviously wasn't planning on talking about my pregnancy with a prospective employer! When I went on interviews, I really wanted to ask about maternity leave policies, and how much face time there was at a company (versus a flexible work culture) and questions about whether there were women in senior management. These were questions I didn't feel were socially acceptable to ask -- or might be stigmatizing. So, like many women, I played it safe by never asking these questions outright. Instead I turned to the internet for answers. On job review sites, I noticed the fact that these topics were just not being addressed. My co-founder Romy Newman and I wanted to create a safe space for women to share workplace experiences, get advice from each other, and find support and information on the topics most important to them. We've grown rapidly in the past 2 years and now reach over 600,000 women a month on our site, which speaks to the fact that women really care what other women think about their jobs.
There has been a lot of conversation surrounding the debate of maternity/paternity leave. What do you want to see more of occurring in this conversation?
The United States is one of the only developed nations in the world without a federal safety net for people who have children. In other words, most women and men don't have any access to an income if they want to or need to take time off to care for or bond with their newborn or newly adopted, or fostered children. This forces people to make really difficult choices, or worse, leaves financially vulnerable people with no real choice at all. This is counterproductive in the longer run to the overall societal goals that most people can agree are important, i.e. that building strong families and communities is incredibly important. I think there's now more political attention being paid to this social issue than in the past. This makes me happy because I don't believe our laws reflect the wishes of the population at large and therefore I'm hopeful that its only a matter of time before there's a real legal change. States and cities are already taking matters in their own hands and adopting paid leave policies for employees within their jurisdiction.
In terms of what I think isn't said very often about parental leave is similar to what I think isn't said about working parents in general. That is to say, that many people feel compelled to hide their identities or responsibilities as parents in the workplace because there's still this outdated notion that being a good parent is incompatible with being the "ideal employee." That's just not true, and I think is a false choice. However, I think that so long as some number of people in positions of power think this (either consciously or unconsciously), it will take a long time for people to feel comfortable saying they are leaving the office for a child-related issue, rather, than, say for a doctor's appointment or just "an appointment." Parental leave is different and in some cases easier in terms of this day-to-day authenticity issue because when you take it, everyone knows why you are not in the office.
As someone who has worked in what is seen as a more male-dominated industry, what is the biggest myth you want to shatter about gender inequality in the workplace?
My career has mostly been working in male-dominated fields like finance and law, so while I always knew gender played a role in workplace dynamics I never fully appreciated how complex a topic this was until I launched Fairygodboss and heard from thousands of women about their workplace experiences and views on gender equality. To me, the biggest myth is that companies or managers are either sexist or not. There's no employer on the Fairygodboss platform that gets a perfect score by all female employees on being a place that's perfect for women. And conversely, there's no workplace without any redeeming qualities for women. The world and this topic is just not that simple.
How has your previous work experience shaped your work ethic as well as Fairygodboss?
My managers (and mentors) have almost without exception been men of the stereotypical "alpha male" mold and who have been a generation older than me working within male-dominated industries where they wore their work ethics on their sleeves. I now manage a team of predominantly younger women in a flexible workplace culture, and that's a new and happy experience for me. I've been able to prove to myself that flexibility work conditions and a strong work ethic are compatible with each other, at least under the conditions that everyone is a responsible adult who holds themselves accountable to deadlines and their results. It's important at Fairygodboss that we "walk the walk" of what we think the best employers for women in the world do.
A lot of women out there have great ideas that they struggle to then turn into successful business ventures. Sometimes it’s a lack of funding (we’ve all seen the horrific articles about VC funding not going toward women-started companies), sometimes it’s women being told before they even ask that we are at a disadvantage. What business advice could you share with our readers who are looking to start their own businesses?
My advice is that it takes a certain kind of persistent and resilient personality to successfully start your own business. Typically there are easier, more obvious career paths and jobs to take so you have to (a) really want to start your own business, and (b) believe you have the kind of grit and other business qualities it takes to stick with it when the going gets tough.
At La Femme Collective, we’re big believers in supporting the career development of women. What advice and/or resources (besides yourself!) can you share with our readers if they want to actively involve themselves in bettering gender inequality – whether it be wage gaps or maternity leave policies?
The internet is amazing and getting better all the time. I think there's almost no single resource that anyone should rely on in this day and age. It would be doing yourself a disservice not to read everything available about how to negotiate salary, more job flexibility, find out what you should be paid in a role, or how to find out whether your maternity leave policies are competitive. Use everything you can possibly get your hands on that's publicly available. That said, I still believe there's a lot to be said for finding someone who you really admire and respect who can give you personalized feedback on what you should do at various career junctures in your life. It's not as easy to find a mentor or sponsor as to do a Google search but you have to actively cultivate it and not give up if it doesn't happen right away. Building a strong mentorship relationship is extremely valuable which is part of the reason its also so rare -- but don't give up on it!
What keeps you up at night? What pushes you out of bed in the morning?
Lately I've been catching up on the daily news at night and some of the political and economic headlines have been so upsetting that I really should learn not to read them at night! I have two little kids at home so usually they literally are the ones pushing me out of bed in the morning!
What does being an entrefemmeur mean to you?
It means not fitting into any mold -- but in a good way!