Georgene Huang on improving the workplace for women through honesty
Once upon a time, there were two women: Georgene Huang and Romy Newman. Both worked at Dow Jones, but between running different departments and rushing home to mother their children, it was hard to connect despite having much in common.
When Huang was let go from her job—then discovered she was pregnant—she set out to find a new job while trying to keep her pregnancy a secret. But it was difficult to get the scoop on companies from a woman’s perspective. As a young mother-to-be, she had legitimate and daunting concerns. Where would she find the information she needed? Whom could she speak to about benefits, maternity leave, and child care? Oh my! She realized there was an information gap on the Internet.
It was a lonely time for Huang and difficult for women in the workplace in general. So she decided to do something about it. She would create a website for women, by women.
She took her own unpaid maternity leave, Newman left her job, and together they founded Fairygodboss (FGB)—a review site where women can share their workplace experience openly and honestly.
Q: What exactly is Fairygodboss?
A: It’s a free and anonymous site. Women contribute their work experiences and thoughts in the form of a job review. Our goal is to improve the workplace for women by creating transparency around what it is like to work somewhere—the good and bad.
Our professional community reviews and crowdsources information so you can learn what women are paid, the hours they work, whether they believe their company is fair . . . We’re a place to discuss work-life balance and working motherhood, wherever you are in your career.
Q: Can anyone read the site, or does one have to join?
A: Anyone can see a good deal of content. For example, you can look up a company and see how many people reviewed it and its overall score—in the sense that we ask a few questions, “Would you recommend this company to another woman?” etc.
Then there are the reviews themselves that get into a little more detail. We ask what advice you’d give other women interested in working at the company. And because opinions are often only as good as those they come from, we also ask demographic questions: “What’s the title of your department?” “What are your salary ranges?”
You can preview these things for about 20 seconds. Because we’re really trying to build a constructive community, we ask people to contribute their own story. The only way we can grow and be more useful is if people add their voices.
Q: Why did you start FGB?
A: It was personal, actually. I never set out to start a company for women. I have two small children. My son is three today, and I have a 15-month-old—so you can imagine.
I was two months pregnant when I was let go from a management job, and I left in the awkward position of looking for work while not being able to tell people I was pregnant. This was a very different situation than any previous job search I’d had. I needed to find out about things like benefits, maternity-leave policies . . . things you can’t typically find out from employers, things you can’t ask in advance. There was word of mouth, asking around, using Internet research, but there really wasn’t a resource with data about benefits.
I also had workplace questions: Could I leave at 6:00 p.m.? Work from home? Is it a good place for moms? Would I get stuck in a position where I’m never promoted? I’m very career-oriented and couldn’t find the information I needed.
I thought about building the site just for moms, but when I started interviewing women to determine what they wanted to know, I found it wasn’t only moms. All women have unique experiences and need information from other women.
I ended up stopping my job search, and when my daughter was one, we started working on this.
Q: How did you and your business partner get together?
A: I was let go of my job. [Newman] left hers because she was looking for something different. Between us, we’ve worked in tech, media, finance, beauty, law, advertising, and information services, which means we’ve had to do a lot of career research and know that a little empathy can go a long way. Through it all, we’ve been the humble beneficiaries of the difference that women who help women can make.
Q: How did you get FGB off the ground?
A: It was about putting in the work—and it was a lot of work. I’d never started my own business completely from scratch, but I’d helped start other businesses within a different context. I had some sense of what needed to be done—a laundry list of things. But our content is user generated.
Q: How did you spread the word?
A: Initially, it was through people we knew and predominantly social media. There are many groups online: mom groups, feminist groups . . . women who are more inclined to understand and care about what we stand for—women helping women. We reached out to these logical organizations. I even told my bank teller about it the other day.
Q: How can FGB best serve the Solo Mom?
A: The Solo Mom is more likely required to work. She needs to know very particular information, like which departments would work for her, if she can work from home, if certain policies apply to every department, etc. These details are impossible to acquire unless you find someone already at the company to answer your questions. We’ve seen activity where women message each other to find out specific information.
Q: How do you motivate women to write a review?
A: People who leave reviews are not normal people. They care. I was worried it would be a bunch of disgruntled employees. This hasn’t been the case. I think it’s how we built the site. It doesn’t help other people if all you are doing is complaining.
We initially targeted people by where they work. On Facebook, you can reach people by employer. The people who tend to post on Facebook don’t post negative things. It’s almost 50/50—the negative and the positive.
We actually spent a lot of time calling and interviewing women about why they wrote good reviews. Much of the time it was about altruism: “I remember being in that situation and want to tell women what they are getting into,” or “I had such a positive experience with my employer that I want to tell women they should work here.” I’m so glad these people exist.
It’s been a very uplifting social experience.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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