Economy

New Site Aims To Create Maternity Transparency

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At two months pregnant and the mom of a one-year-old, Georgene Huang found herself looking for a job after a management shakeup at her employer, Dow Jones. She knew that she’d be needing to take maternity leave shortly after starting any new position and would also need a work culture that would support her leaving the office in time to pick her kids up.

But when she searched the internet, she couldn’t find any information on what employers might fit the bill. So instead of finding a new job, she decided to reach out to her former Dow Jones coworker Romy Newman and launch her own project to address this very problem: Fairy Godboss.

The website has been up and running since March, and it aims to be a place where women can come to leave reviews of their companies, browse through both a researched and crowdsourced database of company policies, and connect with each other about their experiences.

Huang and Newman did some research before launching and were surprised at what little information is publicly available. “We went through the websites of top Fortune 100 companies, and of them only five actually listed what their maternity leave policy is,” Newman said. “In some cases, they extensively list other benefits — health care coverage, copays, everything else — and then they just say we have maternity benefits but don’t say what they are.” They also conducted a survey, finding that 80 percent of women said they didn’t know their company’s maternity leave before they started working there and about a third were disappointed when they learned what it actually was.

“We thought, ‘Let’s create transparency around this and give a place where women have an opportunity to go and find out what maternity leave is at a company where they might work,'” Newman said. “We think that women want to have a better experience in the workplace, and we think employers want to give them a better experience…but there hasn’t been a clear and transparent dialogue. We want the site to be a place where that conversation can happen.”

The core of the site is the company reviews from women, which ask women to attest to where they work and verify their email addresses before they can post anonymously. Users can also message others about their employers to ask questions and can leave anonymous confessions about both positive and negative experiences. But the founders are committed to making it a positive environment. “We don’t want to be a place where women go and complain,” Newman said.

The site isn’t just geared toward higher-income women in white collar-jobs, either. It’s getting responses from baristas, retail employees, and nurses, as well as partners at consulting firms and senior directors at investment banks. “We’ve seen a whole range,” she said. It passed the 4,000-review mark a few months ago.

“There are so many taboos, especially around the balancing of a family and balancing a job for women,” she said. “Women are afraid to show that they wouldn’t be giving as much as anyone else…they don’t want to be suddenly mommy-tracked.”

The site’s next plan is to rope in employers, giving them a platform to share their benefits information. “Employers have the very best intentions, but it’s hard for them to always know and see what’s going on in their ranks,” Newman said. The site can help bridge that gap.

It’s not the only project trying to fill that information gap. A number of other sites have recently launched to crowdsource and research companies’ benefits and atmospheres so that employees — women and men alike — aren’t so in the dark as they try to get hired.

They’re all responding to a fundamental fact of life in the American workplace: the U.S. doesn’t require employers to offer paid family leave, just 12 percent of employees get it, and other benefits fall behind what’s on offer in developed countries. Yet women are often penalized at work when they become mothers. So asking about benefits can be tricky — necessitating some other source of information. Websites like Fairy Godboss have now stepped up to be that source.