You’d never go into a job interview without reading up on recent news about the company. As you scan the news, your antenna are up for the presence and prominence of women at that company: how do women represent the company’s operations? Do they seem to be in positions of power? Would you like to work with the women quoted in stories about the company?
In fact, you might even get the impression from the women quoted in the company’s news stories that it’s a terrific place for women. They’re happy, aren’t they?
Here’s why that impression might be misleading. Women are chronically under-represented in news stories about business and technology. Even when women are quoted as expert sources in a story, it’s usually in the company of men.
News decisionmakers (editor, producers, reporters and so on) are keenly aware of the fact that women are scarce in business and tech coverage, even though women are half the American workforce and nearly half of all management and professional workers. And news decisionmakers want to have stories that engage women readers, women representing a rather significant demographic.
Thus, women have an edge in getting picked to be quoted in news stories. Faced with equally qualified experts – one man and one woman – a smart news decisionmaker will think, ‘I’ll quote the woman because our coverage needs to better reflect reality – and women need to see themselves in our coverage.’ “
Smart companies know this. They prepare key women executives and experts through media training and introduce them to news decisionmakers. When these women are quoted, it not only speaks to the topic of the story itself, but also helps create the impression that the company is hospitable to talented women – after all, here’s one woman who did well enough to get quoted…right?
Don’t make assumptions about a company’s culture regarding women based on what one or a few women say in news stories. Look at the company’s overall statistics as well.
Facebook is a great example on both points. Who hasn’t heard of chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and her terrific book Lean In, which has become a movement? Facebook has been great for Sandberg and vice versa.
But what are your chances of doing well at Facebook? How do women fare overall at Facebook?
Fortunately, Facebook has set a strong example by disclosing key diversity numbers. (Many companies don’t.) At Facebook, women comprise: 31% of all employees; 15% of tech employees; 47% of non-tech employees; and 23% of senior executives.
What that means to you depends on the kind of job you want, your skills and your goals. As you size up your opportunities at a potential employer, look beyond the women that the company wants you to see and look for the numbers that provide context for your potential future there.