By Amanda Augustine, careers expert for TopCV
While the #MeToo movement has fundamentally changed how society is dealing with sexual harassment and assault, events like the Sarah Everard tragedy remind us that we still have a long way to go to making women feel safe, supported and valued — both in and out of the workplace. This is especially true within the finance industry, which hasn’t kept pace when it comes to gender equality compared to other professional fields like medicine, academia and law. Globally, women only represented 12% of CFOs in large-cap firms and 34% in mid-cap firms in 2018. Many organisations talk of being committed to diversity, equality and inclusion, but how do you know if a prospective employer is truly ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to creating a gender-inclusive work environment?
Below are some questions you can ask during your next job interview and things to look out for that will help you determine if a company truly values women and supports gender equality.
What to ask
How would you describe the company culture here?
This interview question is designed to help you determine whether the company’s values and work style align with your own. Ask this question to every person with whom you speak during the interview process and compare their responses. Do they boast of promoting work-life balance or are they emphasising a “work hard, play hard” corporate culture? Are they reminiscing about the office break room that was stocked with energy drinks and beer prior to lockdown? These little details may indicate how gender inclusive the workplace truly is.
What kinds of people are successful — and unsuccessful — here?
This is another way to get a sense of the company culture and determine what traits are most prized by senior-level staff. Try to read between the lines of your interviewers’ responses to spot any red flags. For instance, if your interviewer describes the company’s top performers as “aggressive” or keeps referring to them as “guys” or “he” instead of a gender-neutral noun, this could be an indication of a culture that is not supportive of women.
Similarly, take a closer look at the words that were chosen for the job advert and the Careers page on the company website. Use a free tool like this one to determine whether the advert is using gender-neutral, feminine or decidedly masculine language. It may be a nuance, but the words an employer chooses to attract talent can give you an idea as to whether or not the company is actively encouraging more gender inclusivity.
What sorts of leadership training programmes are offered at the organisation?
Some firms offer mentorship, training or other career-progression opportunities to help develop and promote its employees from within. If you learnt about these programmes during your company research, ask for more details during your interview — including who has access to these initiatives. If you were unable to find any information about such initiatives, it never hurts to ask whether the organisation has something in place or is in the process of creating one.
How does the company approach performance reviews and promotion decisions?
I’m not suggesting that you broach the topic of pay rises and promotions during your initial interview rounds. In fact, that’s commonly considered to be a turn-off by most employers. However, as you progress through the interview process and come closer to securing a job offer, you can probe a bit deeper into how the company approaches such evaluations and promotion decisions, including who is involved in making such decisions and what data is used to evaluate candidates.
What has the firm done to encourage an open, communicative environment for all of its employees?
Use a question like this one to gauge the organisation’s willingness to provide a safe and open environment for all employees to voice their opinions and concerns. The person interviewing you may not know the specifics on the company’s formal policy; however, they should be able and willing to speak to their personal experience at the organisation.
What to look for
Look at the company makeup
You can tell a lot about a company based on who comprises its employee directory. Take a look at the corporate website and on LinkedIn to get a better understanding of the makeup of both the team you’d be joining, as well as the executives and the board of directors (if applicable). Also, consider who is involved in the recruitment and selection process. If the only women you interact with are in human resources or administrative roles, it might be a red flag that you’re not dealing with a gender-inclusive firm.
Turn to your network for insight
Take a look at your network to determine if you know anyone who currently or previously worked at the firm before your first interview to ask for their insight. Not only will they be able to help you navigate the company’s interview process more confidently, but they can also provide you with information that will help you determine if the company is the right employer for you.
If you feel comfortable, ask your contacts about what the firm has previously done (or not done) to protect its employees from discrimination, victimisation and harassment of any kind. This could be in the form of mandatory training sessions, policies on how to report any harassment, and other programmes that encourage a diverse and inclusive corporate culture. Even if your contact doesn’t know the specifics of any initiatives, they can share their firsthand experiences whilst working at the firm.
See what others are saying about the organisation
If you don’t know anyone connected to the firm, visit company review sites such as Glassdoor or InHerSight, a platform created specifically for women by women, that can offer you a look at other employees’ experiences working for a particular organisation. While one person’s experience does not necessarily reflect an entire company’s way of operating, any comments on the treatment of women or the diversity of the workplace are valuable.
You can also turn to the opinions of experts. Great Place to Work, for instance, has created a list of top UK organisations that are leading the way in creating equal opportunities for women in their workplace. Glassdoor and workingmums also offer lists of top UK employers for working women and working mothers. If a company you’re evaluating is on one of these lists, you can be confident that it promotes gender diversity and inclusion.
Finding the right match
Remember, the interview process should be a two-way street. While you need to be prepared to answer the interviewer’s questions with confidence and authenticity, It’s equally important that you’re prepared to ask questions that will help you determine whether this company will be a good fit for you. Do your due diligence, ask probing questions during the interview process and you’re much more likely to find the right employer.