The Women@Work column appears weekly in The Globe and Mail.
When a recruiter contacted me over a year ago about a role at a prestigious media company, with an impressive job title and above average paycheque, I felt obligated to explore the opportunity. The process took several, exhausting weeks and multiple interviews, once on a weekend and another time on a statutory holiday. On one occasion, I was expected to wait for nearly five hours for a phone interview with a top executive. The experience prompted me to realize how strongly I value respect and consideration. When the time came to meet their corporate cultural ambassador, I asked myself how many years could I tolerate this pain in order to add this gem to my resume?
As a society, we sometimes extol the virtues of soul destroying corporate culture. Think The Devil Wears Prada – the glamour of working for Meryl’s Streep’s character appeared to outweigh the masochistic work environment . Even in the first few pages of Greg Smith’s Why I left Goldman Sachs, he writes admiringly of the hazing-style meetings that often left interns in tears.
While a flashy job title with a lucrative paycheck can serve as a siren’s all to many, especially in a challenging economy, there are good reasons to resist temptation and focus on a company’s culture.
In fact, Laura Henderson, one of the co-authors of How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know suggests that corporate culture should trump title and pay. The book profiles 15 highly successful women, including Susan Helstab, executive vice president of marketing at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts and found that women look for a workplace that appreciates what they bring to the role and demonstrates compatible values.
“Jobs can change. You can get a promotion, you can get moved to another section but the culture will not change. It will be consistent in one where there is a fit or there isn’t,” observed Ms. Henderson.
Generally speaking, what Ms. Henderson and her co-author gleaned from their extensive interviews and research suggested that women want to work for a company that “just feels right.” What that translates to, according to Ms. Henderson, is a work environment that honors “all the other parts of your life so you don’t need to pretend they don’t exist.”
“It’s just a company that you’re proud to say you work for,” she added.
Increasingly, the issue of finding a company that fits your values ranks high for many candidates. Anushka Grant, a senior manager in Client Service Quality at Deloitte finds that the question of corporate culture now frequently arises in their recruitment process.
“Just two weeks ago, I was interviewing a candidate and one of her first questions in her first interview with us: How does the firm support work life balance? What specific programs exist?” recounted Ms. Grant, who has had three children since starting at the firm.
“When I finished my undergraduate degree over a decade ago, few people were comfortable asking some of these questions,” she added.
In a nod to the firm’s culture, Ms. Grant co-founded a program called Career Moms to support women from pre-pregnancy to their return to work. Since then, a Deloitte Dads group has also come to life.
“While title is important, I would argue that corporate culture is more important when deciding on your career path,” said Ms. Grant.
For some firms, culture trumps everything. For example, online shoe retailer Zappos offers new hires $2000 to leave during the course of their training. They want to ensure their staff stay at the company for more than just a paycheck. The approach sounds outlandish but rests on sound business logic since healthy corporate culture not only encourages talent retention, it impacts the bottom line.
In the book, Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage, the authors — McKinsey directors Scott Keller and Colin Price — find that the top quartile of healthy companies are 2.2 times more likely to have an above average EBITDA than the lowest quartile of unhealthy companies.
“Culture is being seen as a key differentiator in the market for attracting and retaining top talent as well as beating your competition,” said Bonnie Flatt, the founder of Flatt & Associates, an executive coaching and leadership development firm.
Calling herself a “cultural yoda”, Ms. Flatt illustrates that a current client in the service sector is working on moving their culture from one where information was not shared freely and many did not challenge instructions. While their new focus emphasizes the sharing of knowledge, they also want employees to connect with the firm’s purpose. Those succeeding in that goal are not differentiated by gender.
“I don’t think culture is more important to men or women,” asserted Ms. Flatt. “We as human beings want to work in cultures that support and nurture us, liberate our human spirit and create the space for us to do great work individually and collectively,” she added.