Georgene Huang and Romy Newman cofounded Fairygodboss to help the women of America's workforce find jobs at supportive, female-friendly companies. Could they change American companies in the process?
When Georgene Huang and Romy Newman came together to launch Fairygodboss, a website that helps women job-seekers find work at female-friendly companies, they weren’t yearning to start a business. They wanted to improve working women’s lives by steering them toward supportive work environments — and to encourage more businesses to create them.
Huang, the firm’s CEO, says the idea came to her when she was job hunting while pregnant. As she investigated family-leave policies at companies she was potentially interested in working for, she found information frustratingly hard to come by. And the policies she did find were paltry, at best. “I assumed everything is fine, but it made me realize that things aren’t as fine as I thought,” she says.
Indeed, the United States is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t require paid parental leave. As a recent McKinsey & Company report notes, that leaves the task of establishing such programs to employers — and many do not offer them. As a result, women are often forced to choose between their careers and their families, research shows.
To help women who want it all find family-leave packages, as well as better salaries, health benefits and more supportive and inclusive working environments, Huang and Newman launched New York City-based Fairygodboss in March of 2015.
Its site features user reviews of companies big and small that offer insider information on how a given firm treats its female employees. In addition, Fairygodboss hosts job listings, posts career advice columns, and carries out research on issues women grapple with in the workplace.
Still less than 2 years old, Fairygodboss only employs seven people, but its reach is growing quickly. Huang says the site has accumulated more than 122,000 reviews and tips, with totals continually rising.
The experience has been educational. “There are real differences in how women experience the workplace,” Huang says. “Sometimes we meet women who don’t think gender matters in the workplace. And we hope that’s the case — there really are companies where that’s the case … but it depends on where you work, and to some extent, your luck.”
Huang started her career as a finance professional. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Cornell University in 2000 and a law degree from Stanford in 2004, she worked at firms like Lehman Brothers and Bloomberg Ventures before becoming the head of enterprise business and institutional products at financial-news company Dow Jones in 2012. Newman, Fairygodboss’ president, followed a similar path, attending top schools before working at companies like Google, as well as Dow Jones, where she and Huang met.
Huang hadn’t grappled much with gender discrimination until, in April of 2014, she began looking for jobs while carrying her first child and found scant information on paid-leave policies — if they were available at all. “I realized I’d spent the past 10 years not in denial, but not convinced that [female-friendly policies] really mattered or made a difference,” she recalls.
This experience galvanized her into action. She and Newman — who, between the two of them, have four young children and two spouses — decided to build an online resource to help women find and apply for roles at companies of all sizes that value women workers and provide for their needs. Thus, Fairygodboss was born.
To get the word out about their new venture and build an audience early on, Huang and Newman leveraged connections with folks at feminist groups, nonprofits and other institutions, such as Mother.ly, Ellevate and LeanIn. And to make their new resource easily accessible to all women, they made it free to use.
Though they declined to disclose revenue figures, Fairygodboss makes money by charging employers for job listings. It has just over a dozen clients currently, Huang says, with more deals in the works. The company doesn’t let just anybody post want ads. To avoid conflicts of interest, “we approach companies that care about gender diversity or are looking to hire more women,” she says.
While building Fairygodboss, Huang has prioritized creating a space marked by civility and positivity. “Initially, we were very concerned that the site might become a dumping ground for negativity,” she says. “It wasn’t that we were trying to discourage people with bad experiences from leaving reviews,” but she and Newman wanted a balance between cautionary tales, constructive criticisms and positive accounts.
Happily, for the most part, Fairygodboss has been a home for “women who wanted to help other women.”
Going to the Next Level, for Others
Earlier this year, news of Fairgodboss’ work spread, thanks to generous media attention from the likes of CBS News, The Atlantic and more. Huang says the press helped elevate awareness of its brand. “When you have no customers, you’re establishing your initial credibility. It helps to spread the word among women who you want to use our site.”
Press coverage isn’t Fairygodboss’ main source of traffic, but it’s “certainly important,” Huang says. More women find Fairygodboss while searching online for employer reviews, but the press coverage has helped there, too, by lifting its ranking on search-results pages.
That’s important because Fairygodboss is going up against “behemoths in the space” such as Glassdoor, after all. But as it grows, Huang and Newman remain focused on the women they’ve sought to help since first starting up.
“One of the things that Romy and I really love about this job that we’ve taken on is we’re a company with a social mission,” Huang says. “We come from corporate backgrounds, and we know there’s nothing wrong with having a profit motive. But to have a social mission, it’s more fulfilling.”
Already, their work is making a difference on an individual level — and beyond. “It’s gratifying to hear personal stories about how women have been able to change maternity leave policies. We’ve found 20 or 30 stories of women who negotiated more leave at their companies or kicked off the discussion” about what female employees need at work.
“We feel good at the end of the day,” Huang says.
Helping Every Female Employee
Huang and Newman initially relied upon personal savings and contributions from friends and family to get the firm off the ground. But to build on the momentum they’ve created, they plan to pursue a round of outside funding later this year. “If we do that successfully, it will help us accelerate our growth,” says Huang.
Down the road, they would like to expand the site beyond the United States – and Huang says they’ve already received great feedback from the international users they do have. But at present, their main focus is America’s female workforce.
The firm’s ultimate goal is to be visited by “every woman who ever looks for a job in North America. Whether she leaves a review or not, she knows we’re there as a free resource to make job application decisions” easier, Huang says. “If we’ve done that in five years, I’ll consider it a success.”
Posted: October 25, 2016