How to find a gender bilingual employer

Looking for a great employer for your next career phase? The one that lets you meet both your professional ambitions and your personal priorities? Most companies are vying to be great places to work, but how do you cut through the politically correct (or awesomely hip) speak to spy the soul of the organization you will devote your next few years to?

Companies have gotten much better at appearing to be ‘gender bilingual,’ equally friendly to both men and women. The reality is a bit more complicated. Here are a few ideas of what to look for if you don’t want to settle for less than the best.

Me First – Know Yourself

The first step in any phase change is to look inwards. What are your personal goals and values? Is your current priority to save the world, have a baby or reimburse university loans? Do you prefer to care or to compete? Do you like to work in teams, or on your own? Like to travel the globe or walk to work? Revisiting what energises you is a great place to start. Personality tests (like Myers Briggs or the NEO 5-factor personality test) will give you an idea of how your personality type might react to different organisational cultures and career options.

Crucial too is to figure out what career phase you are in, and what you want – both personally and professionally - at this particular time. The answer is likely to be totally different in your 20s, 30s, 40s or post 50s. And what got you to where you are today is unlikely to get you to where you want to go next. So be ready to re-evaluate every 5 to 7years. What’s the priority, what are you ready to give, what do you want to get?

The Point – Why Work There?

What are you looking for in an employer?  An inspiring vision that you want to be passionately part of? Or to be part of a team that is the best in the business in an area you want to master? A stepping stone to something you want to do next, or your ultimate dream organisation? Get clear about what you are after, write it down, and then investigate if an opportunity meets or contradicts your wish list.

The People - Who Works There?

Check out the people who work there. First stop, check out the leadership teams to see who runs the place. Is it all one gender or nationality? Are there people who look like you at senior levels? If not, do you like the idea of being a pioneer and trailblazer? The leadership team is a visible indicator of what the culture feels like… Dig a bit deeper if you can. Or ask. What’s the gender balance? Are most of them (including the women) parents? We often see teams where all the men are married with kids, and all the women are single or no kids. Not a happy model for most women… Are they in dual career marriages/ partnerships? If any of the answers to the above is no, know that there are probably some trade-offs in this system, spoken or unspoken. Put them clearly on the table.

The Feel – What Culture Lives Here?

Companies have dramatically different cultures, and we are all happiest where there is a decent ‘fit’ with our personality and preferences. Ask a lot of culture questions… Is it a ccompetitive or collaborative culture? Is it a modern, progressive workplace, very flexible about where and when people work? Or is it a 24/7, face-time in the office or with clients a necessity? What makes a leader? Check out websites, advertising and services for the language, metaphors and imagery that’s used. It is usually pretty (unconsciously) revelatory of a company’s culture. Check for consistency between what you hear and see.

The Reality – Do They Walk Their Talk?

Behind every company’s leaders and cultures is the third element of a company’s reality: the systems and policies that make it run. Worth checking out what they are. If you are, or about to be a parent, how does the company manage leave? Has maternity leave been replaced by parental leave, and do men in the company really take it (a great sign of a progressive workplace)? Also, is career management flexible over time, or is everyone identified as a high potential (or not) at a pretty specific window (e.g. 30 to 35 years old)? Are there opportunities to progress and get promoted later, in your 40s and 50s? Are the company’s leaders the kind of professionals and the kind of parents you aspire to become? An easy way to check this is to ask what the top team looks like: is it gender balanced?


The Benefits of Gender Balanced Businesses

Why check the gender balance of companies? Three simple reasons: performance, people and meritocracy.

Performance: Research shows that the highest performing companies in the world are consistently more gender balanced than the lowest performers. Gender balance allows companies to recruit the best talent from 100% of the available talent pool (and 60% of today’s university graduates are female), and to effectively connect with 100% of the potential customer base. If you are looking for a company with long-term, sustainable growth prospects, check out the Executive Team’s gender balance before you sign on.

People: It’s 2016. Wouldn’t you rather work in more balanced team? The research keeps showing that balanced teams are higher performing and more creative.  Most people also find them more fun. If you aim to work with the best and the brightest, you are more likely to find it today in a balanced team.

Meritocracy: If organisations aren’t already balanced, it usually means there is still an unconscious preference in the system for a rather narrowly defined, traditionally male style of leadership. Wouldn’t you rather work for a company that recognizes and promotes a range of different leaders, both male and female? That allows individuals to be themselves, to do their best work in supportive environments.

Three simple reasons to vote with your feet. Go for balance, it’s a better career choice.

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Avivah  Wittenburg-Cox
  • Avivah Wittenburg-Cox

About the author

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox is CEO of consultancy 20-first. 20-first work with progressive global companies interested in gender balancing their leadership teams and optimising 100% of the talent pool and 100% of the market. She helps CEOs, Executive Committees and managers build ‘gender bilingual’ organisations.