The Problem With Fortune's Best Workplaces For Women List

Photo by Ingalls Photo.
This morning, Fortune announced its first-ever list of the 100 best places for women to work. The top spot goes to a small wealth management firm TrueWealth, in Atlanta, GA, where 67% of the company's management positions are held by women. TrueWealth offers amazing perks: 84 days of paid maternity leave, flexible schedules, and telecommuting options — and Fortune argues it's one place where working mothers can truly have it all.

The number-two company has some awesome perks, as well. At Squaremouth, everyone gets to take their birthday off and they get a $200 beer bonus. When it comes to family leave, though, the Florida-based tech startup isn't so generous: Employees only get 40 days of job-protected leave. But hey, there are free snacks!

More than 135,000 women at 637 companies answered a 58-question survey from Great Place to Work, with topics ranging from the "fairness of their company’s promotions, who has access to information and leadership, the level of support for employees’ personal lives, and the degree of inclusiveness and connection they feel with colleagues." In their commentary on the list, Sarah Kulin-Lewis and Peter Barnes, vice president and senior editor, and consulting editor, respectively, at Great Place To Work, note, "the biggest strengths shared by these leading companies are also some of the most basic: rewarding work, a level playing field, and inclusive decision-making."

But rewarding work and inclusive decision-making aren't just something women look for in the workplace — it's something everyone wants. How is it that these characteristics are considered when choosing the best companies for women? Fairness is certainly a big issue, but so is flexibility and family leave, which don't even get a mention in Kulin-Lewis and Barnes' introduction.

Despite a request to Fortune, Refinery29 wasn't able to obtain the list of survey questions, so we can't confirm how benefits like parental leave were reviewed. But with more and more companies expanding their leave policies in hopes of retaining top female talent, it's interesting that it wasn't a bigger issue on this list. Providing less than two months of job-protected parental leave certainly doesn't seem like a very pro-women perk.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems is that women who are not of child-bearing age may not count family leave as an important benefit. They aren't asking about these perks before they need them — or considering that paid family leave doesn't have to apply to just new mothers, but also employees who are caring for elderly parents or a sick spouse.

Female managers, excellent health care plans, and mentorship programs are all crucial, but they aren't the only things that make a viable workplace for women. We can't fix this toxic work world (as Anne-Marie Slaughter calls it) if we don't recognize what's causing the problem. Next year, let's hope Fortune and Great Place to Work expands its criteria and considers how important family leave is to women of all ages. That's what women want from their employer, not free breakfast a few days a week.
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