Choosing your next job with a gender perspective

I got my first job right out of high school, almost 13 years ago. During these first years of my professional life, I worked for a variety of companies: different sizes, different kinds of people, different organizational cultures. I learned a lot throughout, from my own experience and others’, and now I am lucky enough to be able to choose where I work. I am also fully aware of how privileged this position is.

Now, I want to use everything I’ve learned so far to give others some tools or tips to use when looking for a job, if you are aiming to be in an inclusive and diverse setting.

Six areas for evaluating your potential employer

Today, many companies portrait themselves as inclusive and diverse in terms of gender but, how can you tell if they are being frank, of if they are only adopting that speech because of the prominence of the feminist and LGBT+ movements in the last few years?

There are different things we can look at to understand how an organization treats diversity.

Recruiting process

Before applying you can check the wording used in their published jobs and look for clues. Are they asking for applicants of a specific gender? That’s a big red flag. In some countries, this practice is actually illegal. If they ask you to specify your gender in the application process, what are the available options? They may show a binary perspective or offer various options (or even let you write your own!).

Another hint is to look at your interviewers: Do you see diversity there? What language do they use? There are companies that include their pronouns as part of their email signature, which might be a small gesture, but conveys that they consider freedom and identity important, and foster a non-binary environment.

Also, remember to pay attention to the questions they ask during interviews. Do they relate strictly to understanding your abilities, experience, and background, or are they asking about your personal life and what other priorities you have outside of work (e.g. questions about your plans to start a family)?

Online reputation

There are several sites where you can read anonymous reviews from current and former employees. This can be tricky, as it works like all online reviews: anonymity gives people freedom, but also enables angry people who might say something that isn’t true. A good rule is to read many reviews and look for patterns or repeated experiences. As with any rule, though, there is an important exception: there might not be a lot of people willing to talk openly about sensitive topics (such as harassment), so any red flags in these areas are serious.

Moreover, if the company you are applying for is big or popular enough you can simply google them. You might find a lot of information on news articles, blog posts, or other sites that can give you insight on how they have handled issues in the past. In the last few years, mass media has paid a lot of attention to how companies deal with harassment and discrimination reports.

Benefits program

A company’s benefits package can give you insight into what they consider important: if they try to nurture work-life balance, or simply aim to make people more productive.

Pay attention to how those benefits relate to gender roles, and whether they promote stereotypes or are neutral and inclusive. For example, do they have any special benefits for new parents? Are those exclusively for moms coming back to work, or do they offer extended paternity leaves? While the former might imply they want to encourage women to take as little time off as possible, the latter means they understand all parents need to care for a newborn.

Can you see any other stereotypes in how they market their benefits? Spa days for the ladies and education aid for the guys? In 2020, many companies already know this is not the right approach, but you might still see some organizations perpetuating rigid gender roles, instead of centering on people and their uniqueness.

Their take on diversity

When trying to understand if a company celebrates and empowers diversity and individuality, you can check if they have a specific diversity program. You can ask about this in interviews or find out via their corporate site and social media accounts.

Organizations can have 50,000 or 500 contributors, so there’s definitely not a “one size fits all” diversity program, and some may be related to local legislation (like quotas or holidays). While some companies might not be big enough to have a huge program in place, they can have some initiatives that show they care. They might do research on diversity, strive for a balanced and diverse workforce (even if they are not quite there yet, or are facing industry-specific challenges), speak about it on social media, attend/sponsor events, and design their workplace to accommodate everyone’s needs. This last point is something you can see when attending an on-site interview. For example, whether or not there is a “mother’s room.”

Diversity outtakes

Besides all this very important stuff, there are many things that happen at work that may seem trivial or insignificant, but can make your day-to-day environment a bit more aggressive, and are based on the same inequalities as more obvious issues (like wage gap). In gender studies, there is a term for this: gender microaggressions (micromachismos in Spanish) which refers to these “everyday things” that we have internalized so much that we may not even notice.

The most common example is the dress code. Dress codes generally aim to homogenize and repress individuality, and often have little to do with the tasks people perform. So, ask yourself, are you comfortable adopting the work-attire they propose? Playing by those rules? Of course, there are some types of dress code that make sense, like retail workers wearing a specific shirt so customers can identify them, or construction workers wearing special equipment for their protection. However, many only reinforce the stereotypes we have been talking about: high-heels and make up for women, long pants for men, no t-shirts, no open-toe shoes…

Structure and power dynamics

Understanding the hierarchies, type of authority and leadership in place is important, as this not only affects the everyday working environment, but also defines the impact you will be able to have as a contributor.

This point might be a bit harder to assess from the outside, but some good tips are:

  1. Ask an insider. Find someone, via LinkedIn or other social media, that currently works there (but is not directly involved in your recruitment process) and ask them a few questions.
  2. Check out the company board. You’ll usually find this on their corporate site. Just looking at the members’ picture will not tell you much, but sometimes they include a little bio or even quotes or interviews that can tell you about their background and leadership style. You can otherwise use their names to google additional data.
  3. Look at other roles. It’s important to know that gender stereotypes don’t just impact the access women and other minorities have to the higher ranks, but can also be reflected on other roles. Who fills most of the caretaker roles? What do you see when you look at junior members? Who sits at the reception desk? If your interviewer identifies as male, does he ask a woman to serve the coffee?


Make a choice, take a stand

We are living in a time when diversity and inclusion are definitely part of the agenda. My intention with this article is to give those privileged enough to choose their job the tools to do so with a gender perspective. The idea was to invite you to ask deeper, harder-to-answer questions, analyzing things that help you make a more informed and conscious decision.

This article in no way intends to be an exhaustive checklist of requirements that your potential employer should meet. The perfect company does not exist. None of these examples is definitive on its own, but together they might help you discover if diversity and inclusion are really at the heart of a company’s culture and values, if they foster respect for the individual and their uniqueness, or if it’s all for show (or not there at all).

I believe those of us who can, should exercise our privilege and social responsibility and hold companies up to higher standards. Good luck and happy job hunting!