The XX Factor

The Two Factors that Most Determine Women’s Happiness at Work

Artist’s rendering of a workplace with gender equity and strong family leave policies.


Breaking news: Women report higher job satisfaction at workplaces that are friendly toward women. That’s what Fairygodboss, the website that aggregates people of the female persuasion’s anonymous reviews of their employers, found when it analyzed its data. The factors that seem to correlate most sharply with women’s sense of professional well-being can be loosely lumped into two categories: Women appreciate pro-family policies, and women want to see other women in positions of leadership.

Fairygodboss, which launched in March 2015, has been called the “Glassdoor for women” and the “Yelp for maternity leave policies.” Its data set skews “young and affluent”: nearly 65 percent of respondents to the site’s polls are under 35, and 73 percent report earning more than $50,000 a year; the quotes highlighted in the newest report are from employees at companies such as American Express, Prudential, and Johnson & Johnson. Still, with more than 5,000 anonymous job reviews to sort through, Fairygodboss has insight into a fairly broad swathe of female experiences—and its new report shows some striking commonalities.

For one thing, women who believe their workplaces treat both genders equally are far more satisfied at work than women who report the opposite. Fairygodboss asks respondents to rank their job satisfaction on a scale of one to five, with five being the best. Eighty-two percent of the “ones” said they worked in unequal companies, while 86 percent of the “fives” gave their employers credit for fostering gender equality. And while questions remain about how much women in leadership positions actually do to advance feminist policies, Fairygodboss’s data suggests that seeing gender diversity in the upper echelons of management at least gives women a higher opinion of their employers.

The other strong predictors of job satisfaction were family-friendliness and a culture of work-life balance. The report quotes a woman at the HR service ADP who wrote, “I have been with ADP for 13 year and I have two children… ADP has allowed me to provide for my family financially, and I have not ever missed anything for my children…which makes me run through brick walls for ADP.” This sentiment turns out to be fairly representative: Eighty-three percent of contented “fives” described their employers as having “family-friendly values,” versus only 30 percent of dissatisfied “ones.”

The generosity of maternity leave policies is one of the best standalone barometers for where women will be happy to work. A striking graph shows that nearly half of the “ones” in Fairygodboss’s survey took only six weeks of leave. Over 60 percent of the “fives” took twelve weeks or more.

Of course, figuring out the factors that contribute to women’s satisfaction at work isn’t the same as devising policies to make workplaces more equitable and enable women’s success. Over at the New York Times, The Upshot has been doing some excellent reporting on this topic, aggregating experts’ best advice on how to close the gender pay gap, and digging into a worrisome new study that suggests women don’t get credit for teamwork done with men. But it’s still useful—for the feminist project, and for employers trying to hold onto female talent—to try to pin down what makes women feel that they’re thriving at work. Some of the factors underscored in the Fairygodboss study—such as policies that support the juggling act of life and work over the brute accumulation of face-time—might be the keys to making workplaces not just happier for women, but fairer, too.