In celebration of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month we had a chat with some influential women who are making a real impact for inclusion in the workplace. The first is Romy Newman, CEO and founder of Fairygodboss.
Tell me about yourself and what you do…
I’m the co-founder and president of Fairygodboss, a women’s career community where users can anonymously rate their employer according to how well they treat, pay, and promote women. We also help top employers — like IBM, Dell, and Bank of America, just to name a few — promote their brand to and connect with female talent.
When I’m not growing Fairygodboss and obsessing over improving the workplace for women, I spend time with my family, and am a huge lover of yoga and more recently of SoulCycle.
What do you love about your job and what are your challenges?
I love that through my work at Fairygodboss, I really get to be at the frontlines of this movement to make the workplace a more equitable place for women. The impact that we get to make, and that we get to help employers make, is really exciting.
I think our biggest challenge is making tradeoffs. There is so much to do — and so much we want to do. It’s hard to prioritize.
Tell me more about FGB…
The Fairygodboss journey has been exhilirating from day one. Prior to founding this company, I was head of digital advertising sales at The Wall Street Journal, which is where I met my co-founder, Georgene. Due to a management shakeup, she was fired when she was two months pregnant and had to start job searching at this incredibly pivotal moment in her life. There were so many important questions she wanted to ask potential employers — like, is work-life balance a reality here? Are women treated, paid and promoted fairly? What is the maternity leave policy? — but felt she couldn’t for fear of being stigmatized. That’s really when the need for the Fairygodboss platform became apparent. Today, we’re helping a million women each month find the information they need to make empowered decisions about their lives and their careers.
Tell me about a project you are passionate about…
One thing I recently spearheaded at Fairygodboss that I’m really passionate about is Galvanize, our annual summit dedicated to helping employers make their women’s Employee Resource Groups more effective and empowering. The inaugural summit was this past November and we had representatives from more than 50 companies in attendance, not to mention incredible keynote speakers like IBM’s Amber Grewal, GE’s Beth Comstock, and PepsiCo’s Deborah Rosado Shaw. But perhaps the most invigorating thing to come out of Galvanize was all of the collaboration we saw take place between these companies. When you think about it, nearly every major company has an employee resource group for their female talent — yet there are no standard best practices shared amongst employers for making these groups as effective as possible for women. We saw a need for those conversations to be taking place and were able to facilitate them through this event, and to see the outpouring of support we received for this idea was really, really gratifying.
How do you feel FGB is making an impact for inclusion of women in tech and how has IBM been involved in this?
A large percentage of our community are women who work in the tech space, actually, and I think that speaks volumes to their need for a platform like this. The tech world, especially in Silicon Valley, has historically been such a bro-centric space; we’ve all heard the stories of sexual harassment, pay gaps, and hostility toward women by now. So for women who are seeking tech jobs to get to hear directly from other women the insider scoop on a company’s culture, I think that can provide, in some cases, career-saving value. As we have seen with the Uber and Google episodes last year – not to mention #metoo – discrimination and bad behavior will persist until women have a real voice. So we aim to create a platform that empowers women to share their experiences to help each other – anonymously!
We’re so proud that IBM has been one of our earliest and strongest supporters. IBM stands out as a company that genuinely puts its money where its mouth is in terms of a real commitment to diversity. I also have to give a shout out to Amber Grewal, who is doing brilliant things for talent acquisition.
How can someone find out more about FGB?
Great question! You could start by visiting our website, where you can register to leave a review of your employer — that’s free, anonymous, and helps drive the conversation around which companies are doing right by women, and which ones need to improve. We also have weekly newsletters that are chock full of career advice and personal narratives from working women, and you can follow us on social (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) to get more of this awesome content, as well as updates on job openings at companies our users love.
Turning to you, what has been the most memorable moment in your career?
I think one of the most memorable moments in my career was when at 24, I had an opportunity to present at a key meeting of the senior leadership at my company — because my manager was on maternity leave. That opportunity really solidified my progression and learning, and was invaluable for me. And because of it, I’m on a quest to help companies look differently at parental leave. I’d like all companies to think about offering generous gender-neutral parental leaves (like IBM does!), and then transforming them into opportunities through which other employees can take on stretch assignments or rotations in new areas.
Who has inspired you or influenced you in your life?
My mother is an incredible, and also incredibly successful, businesswoman here in New York. When I was young, she used to make me attend meetings with her and take notes and sometimes even work on her business project. Those experiences was extremely formative for me, and I think it’s also such an important lesson for parents to impart to all of their children, but especially their daughters: To be shown that example of what agency and pride in one’s work look like from an early age.
The theme of International Women’s Day this year is #PressForProgress, what does progress mean to you?
As I mentioned above, one aspect of progress I’m especially passionate about promoting is the need for better, longer paid parental leave in this country. It is paramount to achieving gender parity and also ensuring that mothers aren’t discouraged to the point of sidelining, or even leaving altogether, their careers — something that 43% of women with children are currently doing.
Right now, just 13% of private sector women in the U.S. are eligible for paid leave through their employer, and one in four mothers are back at work after just two weeks off to recover and bond with their new baby. I think that’s unacceptable — not just morally, but also fiscally. I’ve heard so many companies say they “just can’t afford” paid leave policies; yet, when companies budget for compensation at the start of the year, they actually don’t factor in savings for weeks of unpaid leave. Not only are women’s careers hurt by this lack of paid leave, but so are companies’ bottom lines due to the high rate of attrition. This is something that can and must change, and I’m so thankful that so many of our corporate partners recognize this as a priority by incorporating generous leave policies.
Finally – What is your view on how IBM is contributing to Inclusion and the support of women in tech?
IBM is contributing in many ways. First of all, your own internal practices and priorities speak strongly to your commitment to diversity of all kinds. You are rigorous about laying out tangible goals for inclusion and measuring progress. But beyond that, the work you are doing with Watson to reduce and even eliminate bias from the hiring process is notable and critically important. Watson could help make significant progress toward gender equality at IBM — and across the globe! We look forward to seeing more adoption and usage of its capabilities in this space.
Thank you for having me! Fairygodboss is so proud to count IBM as a major partner!