Being an Entrepreneur, with Georgene Huang
Episode 7: Being an Entrepreneur, with Georgene Huang
Georgene Huang, co-founder of Fairygodbooss, is on a mission to change workplace culture. She talks to us about her journey as an entrepreneur, the inspiration behind her company, and some the findings about the importance of workplace culture, family-friendly policies and more.
00:13 Sallie Krawcheck: Hi everyone and welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. This is Sallie Krawcheck, the Chair of Ellevate Network joined by my pal, my partner in crime, Kristy Wallace, who's the President of the network. Hi Kristy.
00:24 Kristy Wallace: Hi Sallie. You're looking very nice today, Sallie.
00:27 SK: You look awesome.
00:29 KW: I'm looking at you over the microphone, and I like what I see.
00:33 SK: Thank you.
00:35 SK: Alright, Kristy, enough of that. Who are you talking to today?
00:39 KW: Today, I'm talking to Georgene Huang who is the CEO and Co-Founder of a great site called Fairygodboss.
00:46 SK: Which I love.
00:48 KW: Yes, it's actually something very near and dear to my heart. As you know, I started out with a company called vault.com which we did a lot of employee reviews, and surveys, and insights, into what it's like to work at top companies. Fairygodboss does a great spin on it cause they really focus on companies that are great for working women, and particularly working moms. And Georgene's fantastic. She's gonna talk to us a lot today about entrepreneurship and workplace policies.
01:16 SK: I thought you were gonna talk about when you were working here, and you became pregnant.
01:21 KW: Oh yes.
01:22 SK: Remember that? [chuckle]
01:23 KW: Yeah, sure. I was just telling someone that story. That very soon after joining the network, I found out I was pregnant with number three.
01:32 SK: Which, as I recall, was an unexpected, delightful surprise.
01:36 KW: It was. Yes.
01:37 SK: And how many people did we have at the network at the time that were pregnant here in headquarters. I think we had three.
01:42 KW: It was three. Roughly half of the staff was pregnant. [laughter]
01:47 SK: I was scared to drink the water. I wondered what was in the water at one point.
01:51 KW: I know. It was a fun time here.
01:53 SK: It was great.
01:55 KW: It just so happened it staggered. As soon as someone came back from maternity leave, someone else went out.
02:00 SK: I know. But that was, as a small business, "Oh, someone's pregnant. What's the maternity policy? And what's the paternity policy as well?"
02:09 KW: Absolutely.
02:10 SK: Yeah, I wanna share a couple of statistics with our listeners. As you all know, who listen to this, that we poll our Ellevate Network members every week and ask them different questions, typically about women and business. Fairygodboss gives us information about company policies, particularly for women. A handful of weeks ago, we asked the Ellevate Network members, "Do you feel that you have a say in your company's policies and culture as it pertains to women and working families?" What do you think the number one answer was, Kristy?
02:42 KW: No, way.
02:44 SK: Well you're actually looking at it.
02:45 KW: I am looking at the answer.
02:46 SK: No way. 29% said, "No way." Equally discouraging, 23% said, "I don't think so." 20% said, "Somewhat." And then 14%, "Absolutely." And 12%, "Yes, it's my company." The second question that we've asked the Ellevate Network members is, "Would a company's maternity leave policy affect your decision to work for them?" 56% of the women said, "Yes." 26%, this is interesting, said "Depends on if it would affect me directly." And only 18% said, "No." That's interesting.
03:25 KW: You know what? I get that. Because before, for me personally before I even thought about having kids, things like health care and maternity leave weren't relevant to me at that time, so they didn't seem as important. Now, I understand how important it is.
03:44 SK: It's interesting. This 26%, "Depends on if it would affect me directly." Huh! You know, I might play around with the idea that the maternity policy... First of all, there may be sisterly solidarity there. But also, the maternity policy might be a representation of how women are respected, how they think about broader family policies and employee policies. They could be sort of the canary in the coal mine.
04:17 KW: It speaks louder than just the black and white, the policy.
04:21 SK: Just that one simple thing. Now you know what we should ask is, "Would a company's paternal leave policy affect your decision to work for them?" Because I think that can really show progressiveness or not yet there.
04:33 KW: The company's valuing the family unit. Lots of great stuff. Great stats from the Ellevate Network. And now, we're gonna hear from Georgene, who talks a great deal about these workplace policies, maternity leave, and about being an entrepreneur. You know what her number one piece of advice to future and fellow entrepreneurs is?
04:54 SK: Work hard.
04:55 KW: Find a great partner.
04:56 SK: Find a great partner. That's a good one too.
04:57 KW: Yes.
05:16 KW: I know you had spent many years in finance and law and management, and then you were let go, which is something that happens to a lot of women. It can be a very pivotal time. I wanna hear a little bit about that story, and then, how you made it to Fairygodboss.
05:33 Georgene Huang: Well, it turns out that it was probably one of the best things that happened to me because certainly, Fairygodboss wouldn't be around had I not been fired. I came in during a reorganization that was incredibly intense at Dow Jones. And, in the publishing industry which is going through a lot of changes, that's not surprising. The short version of the story is I came in with the CEO, worked under him, and when he was fired, I went out as did other members of the Executive Management Team. And in my case, I was two months pregnant. So, that's a pretty awkward time to be looking for a new job and I fully intended on getting a new job. When you're that senior, you have worked in a few different places. You understand how much culture and the way women are treated really matters. So I started my job search, and in the course of that job search is really where I found the inspiration for the company.
06:29 KW: And on that note, I know you've said in the past that you often took a leap of faith about employer culture and policies beforehand. And can you explain a little but about what you mean with that?
06:39 GH: Sure. I mean, I think most of us when we've interviewed, we obviously ask our friends and family if they know anyone who works there. We'll look through our LinkedIn connections. And what we're trying to find out when we do that is, what's it really like to work somewhere because you can go to a career website, you can even go to all the employee job reviews out there but it's pretty hard to know unless you can find a lot of voices, and data, and points of fact, about a place.
07:06 KW: Have you always been thinking about starting your own company or was that a path that you happened upon just due to this experience?
07:16 GH: I have had a few run ins with being entrepreneurial before. In my last role, before Dow Jones, I helped start three Bloomberg branded businesses that were start-ups. So I was at an incubator and I was one of the first people at the incubator. What we did was basically invest in early stage companies and help people, both internally and from the outside, who had ideas that were a fit for the larger corporate family get a start. And that meant, building the products, hiring the teams. So, that was kind of a start-up within a safe environment, I'd call it. But I also actually started a couple of things on the side beginning with a website in college that was just for fun. And, when I lived in London, I started a juice company on the side. So, there were things that I did in the past that kind of gave me at taste of what being a entrepreneur would be like.
08:04 KW: Tell me a little bit more about the journey for starting Fairygodboss. How long did it take you? When did you kind of have that defining moment when you're like, "Yes. I'm gonna do this." Or did that even happen?
08:17 GH: There wasn't any one moment but in the course of going to all these interviews, there was a list of questions that I wanted to ask that I simply never asked. And you could say, it wasn't because maybe I wasn't brave enough, but honestly, I think I was just pretty risk adverse about asking potentially loaded question such as, "Do people leave at 6:00 o'clock, 7:00 o'clock, 8:00 o'clock, or 10:00 o'clock at this company, on average?" Obviously, it depends on where you work and what you do, but a simple question like that, is something that I think most jobseekers wanna know but most jobseekers don't feel like they can ask. Because there's sort of a culture of, not even at a company but a culture in the American workplace of, you're always available. You're just around the clock sort of committed to your work. And so, that's not a issue or question that's unique just to women, but I found that when I told my friends about it that many women in my life felt that this was also a very important question for them about where they worked. And in the course of having these conversations with my friends about, "Well, why can't we asked that question?" A bunch of other questions, I mean obviously I didn't feel like I could ask how maternity leave, came up.
09:33 GH: So, all of these questions kind of inspired me to put together, at the beginning it was just a survey, a survey of questions that I wanted to ask but didn't feel like I could ask. And, I sent that survey around to my friends and acquaintances, and asked them, "Do you feel like you can ask these questions? Do you think you can get answers to these questions anywhere?" And when the answers came back pretty uniformly, "Yes, we have these questions and no, we can't find the answers to them." That's when I decided, you know what, I'm just gonna build a website, a very minimally viable product to just see if people will contribute what they know. And so that's really what Fairygodboss is. It's just women contributing what they know about their employers to sort of let other people get answers to hard to find questions.
10:21 KW: I personally can relate to that. You feel, at least I did, when in my most recent job search where yes, I wanted to know what were the hours because that is something you wanna know when you're starting a job. But I felt that if you ask that question, it comes off as if you're someone who doesn't wanna work hard because you're asking what the hours are versus you're just somebody who has... You're a potential employee who should know this information. And so, I do feel there's a stigma around asking the quality of life questions that we, as the jobseeker feel that, that's inappropriate to ask or it's gonna put us in a negative light. Is that... It sounds like you experienced something.
11:12 GH: I think that there absolutely is stigma and sometimes it may even be in our own heads. We don't know that the person who's interviewing us really is even judging us negatively for asking. Maybe they're even looking at it as a positive thing 'cause they're thinking, "Okay this candidate's realistic. They're really trying to figure out whether they're a fit." When we talk to employers about what we do, they get that. They get that. They don't wanna trap someone on a false premise that somehow they really are so flexible when in fact, they're extremely client-oriented as a business and really you do have to be on the road 80% of the time. I'm just making this up as an example. But if they hire women that go into those roles, they invest in them, they train in them and then they leave because they just didn't know what they were getting into, that's not really great for the woman or the employer so it's not just for the benefit of female employees to know this. It's the benefit of just everyone.
12:06 KW: Sure. Sure, the fit... There's a lot of that is hard to incorporate in a job description.
12:12 GH: Yeah.
12:13 KW: And so it's through those interviews and those exchanges that you really understand.
12:17 GH: It's hard to capture in a career website which everyone has. And some companies have a lot of resources at their disposal but it's really interesting that... I mean we're signing up employer partners right now. It's interesting that with all the resources they still... It's just kind of... I think it's difficult to speak to all the different kinds of people and the departments and the experiences. And it's also hard to do that when you have people in branding, and recruitment, and diversity, and the marketing people all looking at, "What are we gonna put on the page?" And it ends up being something that's a little bit...
12:50 KW: Less genuine.
12:50 GH: Yeah. It's hard to get... It's hard to seem really authentic when you have that many hands and branding involved.
12:57 KW: So, as an entrepreneur, and you started Fairygodboss about a, just had your one year anniversary, so congratulations. What are some of the lessons you learned in the past year?
13:07 GH: I think it is very hard to be an entrepreneur. So you should know what you're getting into. I think there's a lot of, I don't wanna... Someone calls it, someone I know calls it entrepreneur porn where you read about these like amazing seemingly from zero to like rocket ship success companies. And it's inspiring a whole generation of people who rightly want a different way of life and who are inspired by young people making a difference or change or pursuing their passions. I think that's all great. I just, I mean I don't mind sharing. I'm 36 years old and I didn't go into this thinking about it that way. I knew it was gonna be really hard and so I tell myself on the bad days, "This is really hard. You knew it was gonna be really hard so just keep grinding through. Tomorrow will be another day and it may be a little bit better."
14:01 KW: Have you surprised yourself in any way?
14:04 GH: I've learned that this is probably what I'm meant to do, in a sense that I am probably happier and more engaged and I work harder at this than anything I've ever worked at. And I've worked at jobs where I was at the office until like midnight regularly in my 20s. So, that says a lot, like I like this more than anything. And I'm not getting paid right now so I think it's probably the right thing for me.
14:29 KW: It's a good challenge and you're doing it for yourself and from something you believe in. Which I think is really important to work hard for something where you feel like you're having an impact.
14:41 GH: Yeah. And it's incredibly gratifying when women reach out to us. A woman did today and she was like, "How can I be an ambassador?" And I was like, "We don't have an ambassador program yet but we will come and think about this issue." How can women who are really passionate about this on a individual basis make a difference? We heard from a woman who was telling us that she was able to help change her company's parental leave policies because she showed her manager and her HR reps what the parental leave was at one of their competitors that they try to keep up with in terms of talent. And we crowdsource that kind of data and she was able to make the case and it happened which is amazing. And that's not the only story of that kind we've heard in the last few months that's made us... It helps that there's a groundswell of support and change in this area but it's been really great and gratifying. And that kind of meaning is, it's really rewarding. It's not a financial reward but it's very rewarding.
15:41 KW: And is that the impact you want to have through Fairygodboss is having an impact on policies, and culture, and is that why you started? Is this the outcome you hoped for?
15:54 GH: Yeah. Our mission is to improve the workplace for women. And that is through policies. I think there's some policies that clearly are more supportive of women than others, and I think there's also cultures that are clearly more supportive of women than others. It's hard to generalize about all women. But we have some data that shows for example, that job satisfaction goes up with certain kinds of policies and job satisfaction is related to certain kinds of cultural things.
16:26 KW: So, which type? I would love to hear more about that. Which type of policies?
16:31 GH: Yeah. So for example, to every woman on our site, we ask a question a really simple one, "Do you think women and men are treated equally at this employer?" And if you say no, you have to explain whether it's due to pay, whether it's due to promotion practices, whether it's due to hiring practices, or something else. And what we're trying to suss out there is, if there's a problem, we wanna A help the employer understand especially at a big place. What are women saying are the problems? And if there's not a problem, great. You're doing the right thing. So, that's an example of something we can correlate with job satisfaction which is another thing we ask. So, if there's... What we found essentially is that women are more satisfied at places, unsurprisingly, where they think that they are treated equally to men. And it's just overwhelmingly the case. So, you could even be paid not that well, or you could have all kinds of different job titles, those are two other things that we ask.
17:33 GH: But job satisfaction and gender equality, which is just fundamental fairness I guess, you could look at it that way, is absolutely correlated to job satisfaction. Another thing that's correlated with women's job satisfaction is the length of maternity leave that they took at that employer. So, when women take longer paid maternity leaves, they also report higher job satisfaction. This is also irrespective of what income levels, or what departments, and what industries that they work in. So those are two clear-cut examples, I think, if you're an employer thinking about, well, how can I retain women, how can I make sure they're happy here? You can look at whether people think that they're being treated equally to men. And you can also look at your parental leave policies.
18:18 KW: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
18:21 GH: I would say that since it's very hard, you have to make sure you find a great partner. And that doesn't necessarily mean you have to have a co-founder. But my co-founder, for example, Romy, is a very strong professional in her own right, but she's very different from me. And I would say that that's one of the best things about our partnership, is that we are a little yin and yang in our differences. And that can really be important when you're trying to bounce ideas off someone or make a really difficult decision where you need balance.
18:55 KW: Well, thank you so much for joining us.
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