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As young women going out into the workforce, we shouldn’t have to say things like, “Hey girl, I know you had an interview with _____ company, but you should know the manager is a sexist asshat.”
But we do, don’t we?
Sexual harassment isn’t the victim’s fault. And yet when it comes to choosing a workplace, it can feel like a “let the buyer beware” employment landscape. So while we need to keep chipping away at misogynistic attitudes and systems, we also got to get paid. And that means learning to recognize sexist signs.
While you can never guarantee that a workplace will be safe (and say it with me—it’s not your fault!), we decided to ask some working women and legal experts about how women can vet potential workplaces.
1. Ask people who work there
Even before you apply for a position, you’re going to want to ask about a potential employer’s reputation.
Mary Rowe, an adjunct professor of work and organization studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management said, “There is no substitute for being able to talk with women and men at the proposed workplace, and being able to interview with the specific people to whom you would be reporting—and ideally even with members of any team you would be joining. See if you like and respect them. Are they respectful toward you?”
This could be as easy as asking potential colleagues to coffee. We are all social media detectives, so find out who works there, and politely grill them over some overpriced lattes.
2. Look closely at the website
When it comes to finding a feminist employer (or even just a non-creepy one), the proof is often in the policies.
“Read the website about all policies and procedures for topics of concern to you,” Rowe said. This is where you can really dive in about what you are concerned about, such as their social media policy, enforceable sexual harassment protocols, and dress code. Check out if they have a human resources department (in theory, HR reps will help resolve employee disputes) or a policy about how they handle conflicts between staff members.
This sounds simple, but it can be a lot of homework. Just remember that this is a step in your career, not a research paper. You want to know as much as you can going in. The more you know, the better (and the better the company is if it is transparent.)
3. Research: Are there female employees – and do they stay?
Sounds basic, but you should know if there are any women who work there. And if there are, do they seem happy?
To find out, you can check out the company staff lists or take your search to third party platforms. Georgene Huang, co-founder of the website Fairygodboss, which allows women to submit anonymous reviews of their employers, says you can use sites like hers to dig up intel on an employer’s job reviews, maternity leave policy, and salary. Other sites to check out include Glassdoor, Great Place To Work, Indeed, Vault, kununu, and TheJobCrowd.
Huang says one factor she deems a red flag is if there is not a female mentor opportunity available at a company. “For example, look at the leadership team of the company,” she said. “If you’re interested in a company that values gender diversity and promotes women but the entire leadership team is composed of men, then it may not be a good fit for you.”
4. Once you’re there, check out the physical space
Anne Lawton, a professor of law at Michigan State University, suggests young women look around the office when they walk in for ideas of the work culture.
“I remember one time [at a job] the copy center had calendars with [scantily clad] girls…hung up,” she said. While it wasn’t necessarily a tell-tale sign that the place would treat women employees unequally, the idea of a coworker’s eyes going back and forth between a female employee and Ms. May’s toned stomach didn’t exactly scream “equal opportunity professionalism.”
Other features to eye: Are the female or gender neutral bathrooms in an easily (or at least equitably) accessible space? Is there a designated breast feeding or pumping area, as required by law (even if you’re not breastfeeding, this is a sign of gender compliance)? Work spaces that are physically built to accommodate women aren’t always harassment-free, but it’s a good sign that a company considers employee needs.
5. Trust your gut
Everyone has different levels of what they deem as comfortable, so even if other employees at the place you’re eyeing seem cool with the work culture, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily OK. Remember, sexual harassment is defined by the person who feels uncomfortable, not the intentions of the harasser.
Lawton says it’s important to check in with your own sense of safety. Throughout her career, she says she often ignored if people made comments about her appearance. But when someone touched her, she took action. “I did not ignore when some man was touching me and physically assaulting me,” she said. “Know what your limits are. This is up to you.”
So if you can hear your feminist fairy godmother in the back of your head questioning why you’re even at the job interview — leave.