Being a woman is hard enough. Being a woman running a business for women is even harder. Because running a woman-forward business usually comes with fighting for basic human rights, women-led companies often end up heralding progressive values out of sheer necessity. Unfortunately, the hard, sexist truth is that under the umbrella of a “progressive company,” women-run businesses are more vulnerable to accusations of hypocrisy. Hey, it’s hard out here changing the world!
While progressive values may give a business an edge when they’re first making a splash in the market, it’s imperative that during periods of rapid growth that the well-being of their employees is not overlooked. Here are a few things women-run companies (or really, any progressive company) can keep in mind when transitioning from a smaller business model to a larger one.
Give employees a voice when determining company policy
It’s an awful cliche that women tend to do things “by committee” or slow progress because “everyone has to be heard.” We’ll save debating the merits of a horizontal business model for another day, but there is absolutely value in letting employees voice their concerns. Is your HR department shopping around for a new benefits program? Thinking about your options for family leave? Let employees know, and give them a chance to submit anonymous input, or take them out to lunch for a check-in. Outside of performing lateral research, giving employees a voice in decision-making is the simplest, most practical way of finding what’s going to work best. Ideally, if you have already attracted a specialized talent pool that fits your company culture, then when the time comes for second and third iterations of company policy, asking your very capable, value-sharing talent pool is a no-brainer. It’s also a barometer for internal company health--if the people you’ve trained to share your vision are leaning in a different direction, then maybe it’s time to realign before internal growth gets out of hand.
Make sure HR policy reflects external marketing values
As we saw a couple years ago with Miki Agrawal, founder and former CEO of Thinx, even the most progressive and provocative of innovators can still fall prey to bad/hypocritical workplace policy. While her ad campaigns struck a chord with women (or rather, owners of female bodies), Miki was eventually outed for workplace harassment and unreasonable working conditions and eventually deposed of her position as CEO. Her marketing was all about liberating the female body, but her internal actions proved otherwise and caused a major scandal ending with her losing her position. These are situations that progressive start-ups cannot afford, especially when still operating in the red. The fatal flaw of Thinx’s early days was that Agrawal didn’t install formal HR policies or personnel to keep tabs on workplace health, not to mention compliance.
So what have we learned from the Agrawal debacle? You’ve got to practice what you preach: investing in a good HR department is imperative to keeping employer and employee accountable, especially when your company hinges on its public faces modeling its external marketing values.
Screen candidates for former misconduct
In order to proactively prevent bad hires from entering the workplace to begin with, women-owned, women-forward businesses could take a page out of Kamala Harris’ campaign hiring processes, as described by this HuffPost article. With the rise and ongoing conversation happening around the #metoo movement, Harris’ campaign began incorporating questions about workplace misconduct, especially sexual harassment into their reference checks and employer-validation calls. While this may sound aggressive, it seems only natural that an HR department--who is tasked with proactively preventing bad hires--should be asking for more than a brief description of character flaws or general workplace friction. Technically speaking, it is possible for an HR worker to manually screen, but that also comes with its own set of challenges, as we’ve explained in the past. Alternatively, social media screening services would be more than happy to take the extra work off your hands--it’s just a matter of preference.
HR policy can be the lynchpin in taking a growing company to the next level. While growth is exhilarating, it’s important that you’re not leaving workplace happiness in the dust while you’re at it.