Romy Newman, Co-Founder and President of Fairygodboss, the largest career community for female professionals, joins the program to discuss her own diversity story of working as a woman in corporate America, and shares her thoughts on what companies can do to improve gender diversity. Romy reveals the most common challenges that she hears from women in the workplace, and how to best engage allies.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Romy’s diversity story and her experiences as a woman in corporate America (2:15)
- The purpose and vision of Fairygodboss (8:15)
- What companies need to do to improve gender diversity (10:15)
- Some of the most common challenges that women report in the workplace (14:45)
- How employers can have an impact beyond their own organization (20:45)
- How women can help their managers make the case for a pay increase (27:15)
- One of the challenges around engaging allies (28:45)
- The lessons we can learn from the Google walkout (30:30)
- How women can support each other in the workplace (32:00)
- The issues facing female employees in their 40’s and 50’s (37:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Romy, welcome to The Will to Change.
ROMY NEWMAN: Jennifer, thank you for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN: Well, I am so excited to learn more about your incredible company that you’ve cofounded, Fairygodboss. I’m so excited, also, to talk to a woman entrepreneur and CEO. There is a certain unique experience that I think we share. We need more of us in the world.
ROMY NEWMAN: I agree.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I’m so happy for your success. I celebrate you. We’ll have some honest dialogue about what the pluses and minuses are of running the show, so to speak, growing a company like you have – a fast-growth company and all the other founder questions that I have for you – cofounder questions.
I always like to start The Will to Change with our personal story, and specifically our diversity story. We say that everyone has a diversity story here at JBC and what would you like to share with our audience to get us started about yours?
ROMY NEWMAN: Something that we talk a lot about at Fairygodboss is that most women have an “ah-hah” moment. I think as young girls and younger women, we’re taught that women can do anything, everything is possible. We go to a school that’s half boys and half girls. We go to college, it’s half boys and half girls. Suddenly, we get into the workforce – particularly the corporate workforce – and, suddenly, we recognize that there’s not an even playing field where we thought there was one.
I’ve very much had that experience. My mother had an incredible career. She is an insurance broker, and I was very aware of her accomplishment growing up. I was very aware that I came from a household that had a female breadwinner, and that was very different than pretty much every one of my peers’ experiences. I even grew up watching movies like Nine to Five. (Laughter.)
To me, that was very much her battle. And I thought, “Gender diversity was my mother’s battle. She’s the Gloria Steinem generation.” For me, I’m going to come in and I’m a girl that has transcended this. I had a lot of achievements, and in many cases and in many ways I did transcend the initial challenges of gender diversity.
I went to business school, which was one-third women and was lucky to get grades at the top of my class and never had – I never felt discriminated against or like I couldn’t achieve what my colleagues could.
But then in my experience as a corporate executive, I even rose through the ranks and I reached a point where I was a vice president of sales and I was one of eight VPs of sales and the other seven were men. Even still, I thought, “Well, I’m a glass-ceiling-breaker, but I’m showing everyone this can be done and I’m one of the boys and it doesn’t matter.”
One day, I came into the office and none of the other VPs were there. I thought, “Where are they? I don’t understand. Did I miss a meeting?” They were all golfing. They were all golfing and they hadn’t invited me. I was eight months pregnant. And I will say, I don’t know if I could golf eight months pregnant, I know I can’t drink eight months pregnant.
JENNIFER BROWN: No.
ROMY NEWMAN: But, actually, I can golf. I was shocked. It never occurred to me that I was not one of them. But after that, I just felt very aware that there was nothing I was going to do that was going to make me comparable and that I had my own journey. I was not exactly on the same path as they were.
JENNIFER BROWN: And did you feel the stirrings of entrepreneurship in yourself at that point? Was that decision made for you? How did that come about?
ROMY NEWMAN: Not at all. In fact, it was actually different. I always thought I would be a corporate CEO. I really wanted to be a corporate CEO and then I had my children. I saw what it would entail to run a corporation, and I realized that was a sacrifice I couldn’t make. That was how I eventually came to start my own company. Certainly, the demands and responsibilities at Fairygodboss have grown and changed, especially as we’ve taken on investors, but ultimately, owning my own career has made all the difference. I work harder now than I ever did when I was in a corporate job, but I can still dictate the terms.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
ROMY NEWMAN: And that makes the difference. Ultimately, I control my schedule, my time. I can also control my work. This has been such a blessing for me both professionally and personally. Personally, because I can make room to be the kind of mother I want to be, even if it means sometimes staying up and working until 2:00 a.m. But it also means that I can make the time and space to be the professional I want to be. I can work on the projects I want to work on.
One of the things that I wrestled with a lot in corporate America was I was pigeon-hold. For example, in my last role, I became known as excelling at sales. But if I had thoughts about how marketing should be done, someone would say to me, “Romy, stay in your lane.” I think that is very much a corporate mentality, but I hated it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. Yes.
ROMY NEWMAN: I don’t want to stay in my lane. Now, I don’t have to stay in my lane. I can decide what my lane is; I can decide the work I want to do. I have so much more control. It is much more gratifying for that reason as well.
JENNIFER BROWN: I know, and so much more stressful when you are, as we say, the chief cook and bottle washer, in the beginning days when it was just you and your cofounder, Georgene.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Now, you’ve built to a team of 30?
ROMY NEWMAN: Correct.
JENNIFER BROWN: That is fabulous.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes, and a lot of that growth has come this year. I think we were six people at the beginning of this calendar year, and we went to 30. Very sudden.
JENNIFER BROWN: Incredible. Incredible.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Has the Me Too conversation – in a good way – just poured gasoline on the fire of the conversation about your product and how needed it is? You should probably elaborate on the business model for some of our listeners who don’t use the platform. What do you exist to do? And then talk about how the climate has really driven your business.
ROMY NEWMAN: Absolutely. Fairygodboss is the largest career community for women. We’re used by nearly three million women every month who come on our site to share advice and information and research jobs.
We have a social mission. We’re for profit, but we have a social mission, which is to improve the workplace for women by creating transparency.
Our business model is that we’re always free to users, we always want to be free to users. We want to be a place where women are using their voices and sharing information to advance the cause of gender equality and support each other also. The way that we make money is by working with companies to help them articulate their value proposition to professional women as to why they should want to work at their company.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m sure they’re trying to woo all diverse talent. Most of them know that they don’t do this well. A lot of it is probably critique about what they’re not understanding, how they’re not supporting female candidates or even existing employees, correct?
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. I think there’s part of that. To answer your earlier question, when we first started out, the first conversation I had with the company was, “Well, are you interested in hiring more women?” And they’d say yes or no. Then, if they said yes, that meant they were a prospect.
I don’t even ask that question anymore because every company in the wake of Me Too seems to be much more aware of and concerned with hiring more women.
I should say, in the wake of Me Too plus zero unemployment, both those factors have coalesced to mean that companies recognize that they need to be better places for women to work.
I’m a believer that the number-one thing that will make every company a better place for women to work is having more women in positions of responsibility at these companies. I think a lot about the opening chapter of Lean In. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is all about how when she was pregnant at Google, she finally realized that there was no maternity parking, and she had to walk miles and miles from the parking lot to her office. She thought, “Why isn’t there maternity parking?” It was because no one who had held a position of power had previously been pregnant. It wasn’t that they were against pregnant women, it’s just that no one in the executive suite had been thinking about the concerns of the swollen ankles, right?
The more that we have representation of women and all minorities in places of decision-making power, we’re not going to – that, to me, is the key to advancing diversity.
That said, I think the cycle that needs to happen is companies have to want to be better, they have to change policies and programs. Then they have to bring in more women – some of whom may come in on a first step to a company that’s not perfect for women. But they’re there to help make it better. Part of their responsibility is to make the company more successful at being diverse, and then you can become better.
It’s my belief that, first of all, every story that has the desire – I should say every company that has the desire to be more diverse, the genuine desire and is genuinely taking steps, is worth being talked about as a company where women should consider working. What that company, who has already articulated a desire to be more diverse, needs more than anything is a woman – or a few – who are willing to come in and help transform it.
JENNIFER BROWN: And a couple enlightened men – or more than a couple – as well.
ROMY NEWMAN: You definitely need those. Coming to that point, something that I have been talking about a lot lately is that I’m thrilled to see the sea change that’s happened where there is an interest in diversity.
The next thing I want to have happen, I think the main reason that most companies are pushing for better diversity is for reputational reasons. They don’t want to be called out as a company that’s not good for diversity, not good for minorities, but I want these companies to internalize what I already know, which is that diverse teams perform better.
Instead of having the decision and the investment in diversity be about doing what’s good, I want it to be what’s, decidedly, best for the business.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’ve talked about that forever.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Sadly, we’ve all realized the limitations of the moral case, right? You can try to convince.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. No matter what people think, corporations are not people.
JENNIFER BROWN: Totally. Some of us may be tired of utilizing the business case and over rotating on that because it’s what executives and business people understand and what they respond to. I would put diversity driving innovative teams up there.
Also, I would put all of those wonderful stats about having more women on boards and executive teams, the better the company does from a bottom-line perspective.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: I think we’ve got to be armed with a lot of these.
ROMY NEWMAN: Stock price.
JENNIFER BROWN: Stock price.
ROMY NEWMAN: Also, anybody who’s marketing anything to a broad consumer base has to have decision-making that reflects their consumers.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
ROMY NEWMAN: You don’t always see that.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And the buying power of women is probably the fastest-growing demographic, in addition to the buying power of other diverse communities, by the way. They are the fastest growing consumer segments.
The women who come on your platform, then, can share anonymously and safely the real deal, right? Even amongst employers that state their desire to do this well, they’re still going to stumble along the way.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: The only way you know you’re stumbling is the accountability that you have with your employees. If you’re a leader, you should want to know, “What are we getting right? What aren’t we getting right? Where are we not hearing you? Where are you feeling that you need to have one foot out the door or the need to protect yourself or you’re not able to bring your full self to work?” Tell us about the dynamic of what the women are sharing that you’re hearing bubble up. And how are companies responding in the way that you would like them to be responding to this information?
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. We ask every woman to anonymously answer 15 questions. The questions we ask are: Do you think men and women are treated fairly? Would you recommend this company to another employee? Do you think your company values work/life balance? What is one thing your employer could do to make it more likely you’d stay? We also ask big, open-ended questions: What advice would you give to another woman who is thinking about working here?
We hear a few things over and over again. Women feel that promotion and pay are still not equal. It’s rock solid how that doesn’t change or dissipate. The other thing that we hear is how much the individual manager impacts each person’s experience. That is one of the most interesting and challenging pieces that every company faces. We actually have a list of top-rated companies that’s predicated entirely on what the employees have said.
Presumably, these are the best of the best. But even within them, you will see, there are women who have bad experiences. That’s because so much of any individual’s experience is dictated by her manager. To me, where I think companies need to be investing is at the manager levels because those are the places that so much happens.
When we look at the world, the average tenure in jobs has just plummeted, right? The average tenure in a job is two and a half years. Part of what that means is that people are becoming managers much earlier, much sooner, with far less training than they ever did before. Basic managerial skills are just not as strong as they once were. Certainly, a consistent level of respect for diversity and for women’s rights within a company could vary greatly.
Look at a company like Microsoft, where executive compensation is tied to diversity within the team. Companies need to think about how they’re setting incentives that hammer home the diversity message in an emphatic way, but then, moreover, how do you train and equip leaders to deliver on what you’ve articulated? That’s important, too.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so true. What gets measured gets done. You can introduce metrics all day long.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: But it will feel like a compliance exercise that people are literally “working to the test,” if you will, when they don’t understand all the other compelling reasons why this makes better teams, makes you a better leader, you’re going to retain people more easily, people will feel like you’re an inclusive leader, they will want to work for you. On an individual level, these are the reputational benefits that can accrue to somebody. There are many men in these roles, by the way, and they can develop a reputation for being inclusive in their leadership.
We all can sit here and say, “I wish we didn’t have to require something that is so fundamental and so important.” But what gets measured gets done, as we say in business.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: At the same time, I’m cautious about metrics. We need to be careful of people who will do anything to meet the metrics so they can get their bonus, versus imbuing the culture around them to be one of inclusion. Anyway, it’s a good place to start. I’ve often asked, “Why don’t companies put more teeth into these things?” For some people, that’s all they listen to. I’ll take it; it’s not ideal. I’d like people to see the inherent value in this for themselves, for others, and for the company. That is a missed opportunity.
If it is executives who have goals and objectives relating to representation, say, how are we, then, driving that to the next level, to the middle-manager level – the frozen middle, as we lovingly call the middle of organizations? These kinds of things tend to get lost in the daily shuffle and obligations. I find that senior management talks a huge game.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: And often does walk the talk, but how do things get lost or watered down in the middle? How do we address that?
ROMY NEWMAN: For one thing, having been a corporate manager, there are a lot of demands on you. I don’t think there’s malice, but if it takes hanging a stick over your head, like, “If you don’t make your P&L, you’re fired,” how worried are you about the diversity of your team? Well, only if you really believe that that’s the number-one key to driving your P&L.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
ROMY NEWMAN: Also, we live in a world where companies are so lean. Every manager probably is dealing with vacancies on their team, so they’re picking up work. We’re asking a lot of our managers. I’m also a big believer that the quarterly earnings cycle causes a lot of pressure and short-term behavior that works against things like diversity and long-term innovation in general.
Look, it’s not easy to be a middle manager. That’s why companies have to really build an infrastructure around emphasize diversity. It’s one thing for senior leadership to send a message about how much they value diversity, but at the end of the day, if the earnings are the most important thing, that’s what’s going to drive everybody.
JENNIFER BROWN: And people pay attention to that. They listen to what happens and the behaviors versus what is said. Right?
ROMY NEWMAN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: So, they’re watching that.
ROMY NEWMAN: That’s why it’s also about shareholders and boards. Holding up Microsoft again, it’s about someone like Microsoft pushing for supplier diversity. Now, Microsoft is only working with companies who have 12 weeks of paid leave. There are a lot of ways that companies and stakeholders can put pressure on others to emphasize diversity that might have an outsized impact.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. What you’re talking about, for our listeners, I think Microsoft introduced this requirement of 12 weeks of leave for suppliers and vendors that the company partners with. I love examples like that, where a large employer is throwing its weight around to influence change in the system, meaning in all the smaller companies that feed off of Microsoft in their ecosystem are now having to consider their policies, their practices. It’s one of the key ways that I think we can scale the DEI progress through these incredible companies like Accenture and PWC.
I’d like to ask you: What are the names of the companies that come up often as those who do this well? Can you let us know what those are?
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. Accenture, certainly. They’re aiming to have gender parity by 2025 and they have built an incredibly inclusive culture. Apple constantly comes up well, as does Salesforce. I’m so impressed with what they’ve done.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love Marc.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. And Cindy Robbins, their chief people officer. As you may know, they did a compensation audit.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
ROMY NEWMAN: I’ve heard this a lot in my corporate days, “We can’t do a compensation audit because it’s not apples to apples. You can’t just stack up everyone and see if they should get paid the same thing.” Marc and Cindy said, “Why can’t you?” And they did.
JENNIFER BROWN: And they did.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right. And they found discrepancies and they owned up to it. That was courageous, right? By being willing to go on the record and say, “We saw men and women who were not paid fairly. We spent $9 million to correct it.” They threw the gauntlet out. I always say that Cindy is the woman who asked for a raise for women everywhere, right? By putting those pieces together, she really helped elevate the issue and helped the world see that it’s not a fabricated concern.
People cite the state of women getting paid 78 cents on the dollar in the States, and it gets dismissed. Right? “Oh, but there are so many reasons, you can explain it.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Is it fake news? (Laughter.)
ROMY NEWMAN: Exactly. Exactly. So, for a large tech firm to step up and say, “Hey, it’s not fake news,” that meant a lot.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree.
ROMY NEWMAN: And they were willing to take that to their reputation. I thought that was really admirable.
JENNIFER BROWN: They really, really did. There was an innovative on homeless that was on the ballot in the midterm elections. And Benioff, in particular, became a champion for it. He couldn’t get a lot of the other CEOs of tech companies rallied around the issue. He believes, obviously, that it’s the right thing to do. They do business in San Francisco. San Francisco has a tremendous challenge. He didn’t disembody or detach Salesforce’s ability to enjoy that same city from the plight of so many residents of the city who are struggling with homeless.
He was out on his own. He didn’t have a lot of cooperating CEOs. Since then, and since the initiative was actually passed, a lot of CEOs have jumped on board. I’ve had my eye on Marc for a long time, as a member of the LGBT community, he’s the one who decided they were going to threaten Indiana around its religious freedom laws – the “cake case,” as we call it, the cake maker who didn’t want to bake a cake for a gay couple. Marc and the Salesforce team said, “Well, I guess you don’t want our thousands of employees to be located here anymore.” He and Mike Pence had a conversation and things changed. It was fascinating. I watch him carefully.
If anybody wants to read more about what Romy’s talking about – Marc Benioff’s commitment to pay equity – she said $9 million. He’s had to do this pay audit several times. More recently, I found it interesting that Salesforce has grown through acquisition, as so many companies do. Salesforce inherited the pay gaps that were in place from all the companies that it acquired.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Marc, then, had to go through and gross-up all of those as well. It’s this never-ending commitment that you have to make. It’s not just writing a check. I’m sure they’re doing a lot more than just writing a check to gross-up pay. In some ways, that’s a superficial fix, but it was a fix that, let’s face it, not a lot of companies are even doing that, let alone rooting out the core issues.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right. It’s interesting, we have a community discussion board, and one of the things I’ve seen come up a few times is where a woman gets promoted to run a team, and then finds out that someone on her team – a man on her team reporting to her – now makes more, post promotion, than she does. He was, clearly, making a lot more than she was when he was just her peer, and now he’s making still more now that she’s the boss.
I’ve actually spoken with my friends about this. They’ve had similar experiences and they’re outraged. That actually happened to me a bunch and it didn’t even occur to me to be outraged. Isn’t that terrible?
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that’s terrible!
ROMY NEWMAN: I definitely had a front-row seat to that, and you see it happening all the time.
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course. What is the advice in a case like that? Let’s get into brass tacks.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. Good question. I am a huge believer in absolutely speaking up. But when you ask for any kind of salary, you have to respect or understand what it looks like to be a manager who’s requesting a salary adjustment for one of their employees, which is it’s a process. So, if you go in and you say, “You fix this tomorrow or I’m out,” they’re not going to be able to fix it. They only have so much clout, themselves. It’s all about, “Help me help you.”
I actually had the pleasure and privilege of recently interviewing Fran Katsoudas, who is the chief HR officer at Cisco. She was telling me that in every job she’s ever had, regardless of how she was paid, she said at the beginning of the job she sits down and says, “I intend to be in this job for about a year, and after that, I would like to X, Y, Z. I’m excited to be working with you, and I hope you will help me prepare to do this next thing.”
That’s amazing, but it’s all about setting expectations and saying, “Help me help you.” I’ve written articles about this, but if you’re looking to ask for any kind of raise, due to inequity or because it’s time, help your manager make the case. Ask your manager at an appropriate time and say, “Look, I don’t think I’m making enough money. I’d like to correct this. What do you think is a reasonable timeframe to get this corrected? Three months? How can I help you?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Beautiful. I love it. I love it. That’s fabulous.
ROMY NEWMAN: Be their ally. It’s hard to tell when you’re on the other side of it, but it’s not easy to be a boss, either.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s true. You’re teaching. As you make these requests, you’re creating “ah-hah” moments around you as well, for people who have been doing business as usual and didn’t realize there was a pay gap in their organization. So, you’re pointing things out, in some cases for the first time, and opening up a lot of people’s eyes. That can be risky and dispiriting if you’re ignored when you try to bring light to the issue.
More often than not, there is just such a lack of awareness about the inequities in workplaces. So much education is needed. We talk a lot about getting tired of always being the ones who educate.
ROMY NEWMAN: The problem is it’s hard because there are so many men who are supportive, but it’s not their life, right? They don’t experience the bias, so until you point it out to them, it’s unlikely they will notice it. It’s just not their personal experience. That goes for all of us. We all need to internalize when others are treated unjustly, but when you’re just living your life, you may not always notice it.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. I hope for a day when we have enough male allies who are aware of some of the issues that repeat over and over, that they can be aware and become the watchdog for them.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: And they don’t need them to be pointed out by a woman or a person of color doesn’t always have to be pointing out racial injustice and bias in an organization.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: But a white-identified ally or would-be ally can say, “Hey, wait a second. I’m seeing this, this, and this, and I’m going to be the one who speaks up.” In a good way, it’s knowing enough to be dangerous and knowing enough to disrupt. If just a few of us who are underrepresented are carrying the torch for these conversations, the work is so much bigger than us. And then to raise issues can come with a penalty depending on what organization you work for. If you’re always the squeaky wheel, you can actually suffer in your career from that. Either people start to downplay your real contributions or they say, “Well, she’s angry. She’s always the one that’s bringing these up; she’s too much trouble.”
It’s so critical to get your group together. I love the story of the Google walkout. 20,000 people walked out across the world over the course of a day to protest all sorts of things. There’s power in numbers and a diversity amongst those who walked out. It was an inspirational thing. A lot of us have been having these conversations solo, but that’s the power of ERGs and diversity networks where you can get in a room and say, “Are you experiencing this? I’m experiencing this. What is our plan? What are we going to do to apply pressure?”
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. This is my number-one sticking point. Women have got to work together. For example, we really did a webinar with Claudia Chin. She’s fabulous. Afterwards, everyone approached us in the post chat. And someone said, “Well, what do I do if women are the ones holding me back?” I hear this too often.
JENNIFER BROWN: I do, too. I don’t like when I hear it. It’s not been true for me, but I hear it a lot.
ROMY NEWMAN: It’s so unacceptable. I have a daughter who is going to be five tomorrow.
JENNIFER BROWN: Cute.
ROMY NEWMAN: And I watch her and her girlfriends. I am sorry to say that for some reason, little girls are trained to be competitive and to be mean. It kills me. I think we have to get over it, get past it, and move to a place where we’re all embracing and helping each other, particularly because we will never advance if we are not working together and supporting each other.
I actually love to tell the story about when I worked at the Wall Street Journal, I actually inadvertently – I wish I was smart enough to have thought of how to do this by myself, but it was an accident from which we can all learn. I built an alliance with another woman. I was in the business, she was in HR. She was a rising star and I was a rising star.
What happened was we were both in the room when each other’s performance was being talked about. We each were able to advocate for each other in a way that would have never happened if we weren’t genuinely supportive and believing in each other’s capabilities.
But then we shared information. So, we would be in a room and then tell each other what happened. Our alliance made us so much stronger. And I think women should be working with men, but first women have to be working with women. If we’re asking men to support us, endorse us and fight for us, we have to be allied as women. Let’s get ourselves together. Women are so capable, like in the Google walkout, if we all coalesce and come together around an issue and actually work together on it, think of the progress we could make.
In terms of the ERGs, that’s something else I’m a believer in. That’s we have our annual Galvanize event. It’s called Galvanize: Making Women’s Resource Groups Powerful. It’s on the micro scale that women within the company need to help each other, but then you’ve got all these women’s resource groups, ERGs, or business alliances working at a company in a silo.
Just because we’ve used Microsoft, the Microsoft ERG is not working together with the Citibank ERG, and it’s not working with the Caterpillar ERG. What if they were? What if you stitched together the hundreds of thousands or millions of women who work at all these companies and put their efforts together? How powerful would that be? Representing this strong block of women who advocate for fair treatment, equal rights, and equal opportunity within these corporations. That would be the thing I would most like to see happen.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. I’ve envisioned that for a long time for other ERGs. I’ll tell you, the LGBT ERG community has been doing that for years.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I literally grew up in that world and know that firms like the professional services industry or the banking industry. There is something called Open Finance that I’m involved in that is two representatives from each bank, and the sole purpose of the community is to talk about what’s next for LGBT policies, protections, and education in our respective firms with a belief in “coopetition.”
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes, I love that word.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. They’re a bunch of competitors, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion, knitting together across companies and across industries is the bigger promise to create this block that is informed, that is coalesced, organized, able to apply pressure, all backed by arguments like, “Don’t you want to be the most competitive employer in this space for LGBT people?”
We can use that language against leadership in a loving, supportive way, but to say, “Hey, this should be a wake-up call. We are falling behind our peer companies, therefore, we don’t have the greatest reputation as a place where LGBT people can bring their full selves to work, thrive, and get promoted.”
The same should go for all of the other networks. There is the USBLN, which is the conference for disabilities, and the resource groups are a big presence there. There are other conferences here and there for ERGs for people of color, multicultural talent. But I think that the LGBT community is way ahead. It’s probably because we had something called the Corporate Equality Index, which is HRC’s benchmarking tool. Every company wants to get 100 percent on it. That is the thing.
ROMY NEWMAN: Wow.
JENNIFER BROWN: I don’t know if you know about that.
ROMY NEWMAN: No.
JENNIFER BROWN: But everyone who’s LGBT in corporate knows all about the index. The index gives us a roadmap to actually go to our companies and influence their policies and know from 100 percent on down, where are we scoring? This is embarrassing. We need to add transgender health benefits. We need to provide LGBTQ training in our onboarding for managers. They evaluate a lot of these really important things and it gives us a plan to work against. People who have 40 percent on the index one year, two years later can have 100 percent if they put everything in place.
I do think we need to be strategic about deciding the criteria that are good for women in a workplace. What is that benchmark? There are so many out there, but how can we hold our companies accountable to a set of expectations? Like you said, I love the energy of not forcing this, but we would like to cooperating on building this together and bringing it to reality.
ROMY NEWMAN: Right. Why is everybody reinventing the wheel? It seems ridiculous.
JENNIFER BROWN: We shouldn’t be. No. Tell me a bit about post-40 and post-50 women and the issues they face given your expertise. What do you hear about women in their 40s and 50s vis a vis treatment at work and opportunities? Is there a different narrative? I find myself thinking a lot more about that these days.
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. Well, as one –
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, as one would.
ROMY NEWMAN: I am a woman over 40, so I have a front-row seat for this.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
ROMY NEWMAN: Obviously, the tenure in the workforce has increased drastically. The number of women in the workforce who are 50, 60, or even 70 is growing. There is also a reentry that’s happening not just among women who stopped to raise their kids for five or ten years, but 20.
There is tremendous bias. Unfortunately, I think all genders are facing some ageism at work. It can be challenging. I always say that in my lifetime, what it took to be a vice president when I was just out of college compared to what it takes to be a vice president now in terms of years of experience and training has changed so much. The pace of work, the tech age – the likelihood that a person might be reporting to a person who is younger than them is high.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
ROMY NEWMAN: I’ve been a woman managing men and women much older than I am. That’s been a difficult dynamic for several reasons. That is one more thing that the world needs to be cognizant of and to find a path for.
There is this idea that if you didn’t work your way up the corporate ladder the first time or in the right order, then you’re not going to again or there is no room for you to do it again. That all needs to be reimagined.
JENNIFER BROWN: I agree. I agree. I’m always surprised there are not resource groups for the post-40 or post-50.
ROMY NEWMAN: There are some.
JENNIFER BROWN: There are some.
ROMY NEWMAN: There are pockets, yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: But I would like to see a lot more. We are living longer lives and we are, in some ways, hitting our stride in terms of knowledge, abilities, leadership skills, and context, which gives leaders that extra-special wisdom. I’ve seen so many things in my experience. Companies seem to be entranced with the younger talent population, and all that energy goes towards talking about what they want and need and how they will feel welcomed in the workplace. It’s very interesting. It’s sucking the energy to the bottom of the pyramid of the employee base.
I predict that this is going to become a real crisis point or may feed into greater entrepreneurship. If companies don’t want you and aren’t valuing you, you go create your own thing and other people are the beneficiary of all of that wisdom and success.
ROMY NEWMAN: Exactly.
JENNIFER BROWN: I celebrate it, too, but street I know entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. I want workplaces to do all of this better. We need them to.
ROMY NEWMAN: And the performance of the company would benefit from it.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly. Absolutely. We don’t have much time left, but I want folks to know how they can engage with your platform and follow you and your writing. I think it’s so cutting edge and so needed. Where can people find your info?
ROMY NEWMAN: Yes. Please find us at fairygodboss.com. We encourage you to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and I would love to invite you to create a profile on Fairygodboss and connect with me there. You can engage in the conversations that we’re having every day around topics of gender diversity.
JENNIFER BROWN: Wonderful. Romy, thank you so much. Best of luck to you. I hope Fairygodboss sets a new bar and standard and that the community of women you have built is going to achieve what some of us haven’t been able to achieve. The energy and size of that population is really exciting. They have a conviction that they are important enough and that their relationship with their employer is a two-way street that matters. I’m hoping this generation puts an end to the unfair practices that perhaps you and I experienced in our generation. I’m really excited for this. Thank you for joining us today.
ROMY NEWMAN: Jennifer, thank you very much.
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