Let’s talk about shitty companies. Rather, let’s talk about how to avoid accidentally taking a job at a shitty company. Specifically, in this post we’ll look at a few methods that you can use to help evaluate how friendly people in a potential workplace are to LGBTQ folks, people of color, and other marginalized groups.
IT’S IMPORTANT TO FEEL WELCOMED
Now it probably goes without saying, but let’s start with a quick look at why it’s important to find a workplace that will welcome you and the diversity you bring to an organization.
Let’s start with a worst case scenario. Some people at an organization might have attitudes and biases that end up negatively impacting your career. While specifically discriminating against someone based on sex, race, or other protected classes is illegal - the reality is that it can and does happen. Frequently, when this does happen it isn’t easy to prove. Unless the reason given for not giving someone a promotion is something as blatant as “I don’t think a woman could handle the time commitment required”, it can be tough to find enough proof to show that you were discriminated against. Even if you do manage to prove that there was discrimination, the entire process is currently setup to favor the employee and not the employer - basically it’s an uphill battle.
Now while blatant discrimination is something to be concerned about, something potentially more pervasive is called “covering”. Covering is a phenomenon first described and coined in 1963 by sociologist Erving Goffman. He described covering essentially as the attempt by stigmatized groups to make efforts to “keep the stigma from looming large." Essentially, to downplay elements of your identity (e.g. “gayness”, “blackness”) in order to try to prevent any cultural stigma that might be affiliated with that group. More recently a decent amount of research has been done related to covering and the impacts it has on those who cover in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, the outcome is negative and includes results like additional emotional stress and less opportunities for advancement.
HOW TO AVOID TOXIC ENVIRONMENTS
If you’re job hunting and you’re ready to start narrowing down the places you might want to work there are a few methods you can use to screen out potentially unwelcoming or even toxic environments. While these suggestions aren’t a catch-all to solve these kinds of problems, at the very least they give job-seekers information to make an more-educated choice about the jobs they apply for and where they end up working.
In addition to doing things like checking the company’s social media presence itself, you may want to review the social media feeds of people you might work with directly and others up your potential management chain. This might seem creepy at first, but it’s all public information and you deserve to know the kind of environment you might end up in before you make a commitment.
Here are a few specific suggestions based on the social media network:
You can mainly use this to identify a few folks in the organization you’re evaluating and then use that information to search for them on other social networks.
After you find a few potential coworkers on LinkedIn or via the company website, find those folks on Twitter
If you notice a lot of red baseball caps and tiki torches in your potential coworkers’ photos - it’s probably safe to say “nope, nope, nope” and cross that organization off your list
You can also review the people that your coworkers follow to get a broader picture and check for any additional red flags
Similarly, if you find these folks on Facebook with a public profile go ahead and skim over recent posts, events, or likes they’ve had to make the same evaluations.
In addition to social media, there are also entire sites dedicated to collecting anonymous feedback from current and former employees on an organization. Sites like Glassdoor let you check reviews of other employees and their experiences with the company. Always check a few pages of reviews to see the context of the negative reviews. Often, this is more useful for small to midsize companies because larger organizations have so much deviation between different teams in terms of the culture, attitudes and environment.
Talk to People
I know, sounds scary, but we we really recommend reaching out to people as part of any job application process and asking them for their honest opinion about the workplace. If there’s already someone there who belongs to a group you identify with it doesn’t hurt to specifically reach out to them and ask them a few tactful questions, such as:
What does the company do to promote inclusion? Do they require bias training or something similar?
Have you felt that you’ve been offered ample opportunities to grow and move up in your career at this company?
Are you familiar with any cases of people leaving the company because they felt unwelcome?
Bluntly asking questions like this might seem awkward at first, but getting important context like that can be very helpful to prepare you for the environment you might be a part of.
Now our final suggestion is a bit sneaky but can be surprisingly useful. While specific political affiliations are not always perfectly aligned with an individual’s opinion on diversity and inclusion they can usually clue you in. Because of this, we suggest reviewing the FEC records for individual contributions to political campaigns and PACs. It’s surprisingly easy to use this tool to search by employer, name, location and many other filters. After you find the name of a person you recognize, a peek at the recipient of the money and a quick Google search will usually help you determine the political character of your workplace.
Now this shouldn’t be the only criteria used to figure out if a workplace is right for you. There are plenty of other factors that go into making that choice. But for those who want to be feel more confident that they will feel safe, comfortable and welcomed in a new environment we think these strategies can help gather important context on the character of a workplace.
We hope that using these methods will help you feel like you’re making the right choice when deciding whether or not to work for an organization.
Of course, making a decision like this at all is a privilege - many people do not have the resources they would need in order to safely turn down a job offer (things like an emergency savings fund, a clean bill of health, etc.) Look out for more posts from Upfront, where we’ll talk about what to do if you’re already in a toxic work environment and don’t feel like you have other options.
Do you have other strategies you use to screen out employers before you apply or accept jobs with them? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below!