For many years, business publications and research organizations have put out “best employer” lists, ranking organizations based on their employees’ reported job satisfaction, the quantity and quality of their benefits, learning opportunities, and other selling points of the employee experience. These lists offer employers an opportunity to earn some good press and burnish their employer brand, and can be particularly valuable in helping lesser-known companies get their names out there and compete for talent with their higher-profile peers. These lists are typically opt-in: Employers that have good stories to tell submit their information, the top ten or 20 of them get a brand boost, and the rest don’t need to tell anyone they didn’t make the cut.
With more information about organizations’ talent policies becoming publicly available, these lists have evolved to draw on new sources of information and to focus on issues of increasing importance to employees today, like diversity and inclusion or corporate social responsibility. Glassdoor, for example, puts out an annual list of best places to work based on employee ratings and reviews, while Forbes and the activist investment firm Just Capital have begun publishing a “Just 100” ranking of the most socially responsible publicly-traded companies in the US and Bloomberg’s Gender Equality Index highlights companies that are investing in gender equality. The proliferation of best-of lists, however, has led to diminishing returns in their reputational value: Our research at Gartner has found that only 7 percent of candidates say being on one of these lists was an important factor for them in deciding whether to accept an offer from an employer.
The Lists Organizations Don’t Want to Be On
At the same time as the value of a spot on the nice list is waning, a growing trove of publicly available data has led to the emergence of new lists on which employers didn’t ask to be included. Some of these are extensive indices that identify both the best and the worst, like FertilityIQ’s Family Builder Workplace Index, which ranks employers based on the generosity of their fertility benefits. In some rankings, even the best-scoring companies are not great: Equileap recently published a special report on gender equality in the S&P 100, in which the highest grade was a B+. Furthermore, investors, governments, and media outlets have begun to compile what we might call “naughty lists” of companies that are not living up to expectations in terms of fairness, inclusion, transparency, or social responsibility — and you really don’t want to see your organization’s name on one of those.
These naughty lists tend to focus on gender pay equity, executive compensation, handling of sexual harassment claims, and the experiences of diverse employees. One recent, prominent example was a BuzzFeed report in November that pressed leading US tech companies on whether they required employees to resolve sexual harassment claims in private arbitration and called out those that did have such policies or declined to answer (Ironically, the reporters also discovered that BuzzFeed had a mandatory arbitration policy itself). The publication of this report prompted several companies to announce changes in their policies.
A member of Parliament in the UK is pushing for employers to be more proactive in clarifying their parental leave policies to their current and prospective employees, introducing a bill that would require many organizations to publish their policies online, the BBC reported on Wednesday:
Jo Swinson, a Lib Dem MP, said this was “a simple and practically effortless change” that would improve transparency and encourage more competition on pay. It would help firms “better attract and retain talent”, she added. Human resources trade body the CIPD said publication could help tackle discrimination.
Ms Swinson said more than 54,000 women a year lose their jobs because of pregnancy and maternity discrimination, while fathers were worried about taking shared parental leave because of the negative effect on their careers. … The MP has tabled a bill in the Commons that would require firms with more than 250 employees to publish those policies. Prospective employees would have a clearer idea of parental leave policies without having to ask at interview, she said.
In arguing for her bill, Swinson noted that “the very act of asking” about parental leave “suggests to the employer that the candidate may be considering having a child.” A recent survey of UK employers found that most expected women candidates to disclose if they were pregnant or planning to become pregnant, and many managers would decline to hire a woman of childbearing age on that basis. Publishing these policies would enable candidates and employees to find out about them without having to reveal their intent to have children to a manager who might penalize them for it.
There is really no good reason for employers not to advertise their parental leave policies, as these and other family benefits are highly attractive to many candidates—particularly, but by no means exclusively, women. Our research at CEB, now Gartner, has found that the availability of parental leave has a significant positive impact on employees’ perceptions of their overall benefits package. A lack of family-friendly policies is often a key factor in driving women out of the workforce. (CEB Total Rewards Leadership Council members can view our data on parental leave and rewards perceptions here.)
Ever since Recruit Holdings, the Japanese HR conglomerate that owns Indeed, announced last month that it was acquiring Glassdoor, speculation has run rampant that the parent company would inevitably combine the two properties into an even larger online recruiting behemoth, perhaps as a defensive move against Google’s new job search feature. Matt Charney at Recruiting Daily, in his massive, four part “Requiem for Glassdoor,” concludes that even with their powers combined, Indeed and Glassdoor have no hope of competing with the search engine where 80 percent of job searches begin. With so much control over the front end of the funnel, Google has the power to render its competitors in the job search aggregation market virtually invisible to most users. No matter how much traffic Indeed buys, Charney reasons, “that traffic will ultimately be controlled (and priced) by … Google.”
Still, other observers see the Glassdoor acquisition through a different lens, viewing the site’s impact not so much in terms of volume but rather in how it has mainstreamed transparency and accountability on the part of employers in their interactions with candidates. That’s how the Washington Post’s Jena McGregor described it in her column after the news of the acquisition broke:
Analysts say the $1.2 billion pricetag for Glassdoor reflects a company that sits at the nexus of a number of trends: A tight labor market where many workers have their pick of jobs and employers have to work harder to attract them. A growing demand by recruiters and H.R. departments in an era of big data to back up their decisions with metrics. And a technological and cultural zeitgeist where an appetite for transparency and accountability have only grown
These trends were illustrated in a report Indeed issued just a week after the announcement: How Radical Transparency Is Transforming Job Search and Talent Attraction, based on a survey of 500 US jobseekers, highlighted findings like these: 95 percent of candidates said insight into a prospective employer’s reputation would be somewhat or extremely important in their decision making. Among Millennials, 71 percent said transparency was extremely important, while 84 percent of Millennials aged 25 to 34 said they would automatically distrust a company on which they could find no information (even among Baby Boomers, 55 percent agreed that transparency was crucial). No reviews, Indeed found, are even more harmful to an employer’s reputation than bad reviews, since candidates are at least willing to consider an employer’s response to a bad review.
The growth of online pay information sources like Glassdoor is also a central theme in our upcoming work on pay transparency at CEB, now Gartner.
Uber announced on Tuesday that it would no longer require employees, drivers, or customers who experience sexual harassment on the job or while using the ride-sharing service to adjudicate their claims in arbitration proceedings. Coming in response to pressure from former employees and customers, the change will allow alleged victims of sexual harassment in the US to pursue claims against the company in court. Uber will also no longer bind accusers to confidentiality requirements as a condition of receiving a settlement on the company, though it will continue to keep financial details of such settlements confidential.
In a blog post, Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West said the company would also publish a public safety transparency report including data on sexual assaults and other incidents that take place on its platform.
Hours after Uber’s announcement, Lyft also announced that it was waiving its standard arbitration agreement for sexual assault claims and would no longer impose confidentiality requirements on alleged victims of sex crimes, Recode’s Johana Bhuiyan reported later on Tuesday. Lyft also intends to release a safety report on sexual assault complaints it receives on its platform; Lyft COO Jon McNeil wrote on Twitter later Tuesday afternoon that his company would be happy to work together with Uber on this reporting project.
West said Uber had made its decision in the interest of transparency, but also acknowledged the risk the company was taking in being more open about these allegations (albeit a risk mitigated to some extent by the participation of its chief competitor):
Since last year, the #MeToo movement has blown a hole in the shroud of secrecy that has long surrounded the scourge of sexual harassment at companies of all forms, sizes, and industries, both in the US and around the world. Yet just as the public consciousness of this issue is growing, more sexual harassment complaints are being handled behind closed doors than in the past. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and equivalent state agencies received 41 percent fewer complaints in 2017 than they did in 1997, Bloomberg’s Jeff Green points out—not because fewer employees are getting harassed, but rather because companies have become much more likely to handle these matters internally:
Ninety-five percent of companies now have an in-house complaint process, the Society for Human Resource Management said in a January report. Eighty-two percent have an investigation protocol in place. …
At the company level, HR departments don’t always know the extent of their own problems. The same SHRM report found a wide disconnect between what HR sees and what employees are saying. Three out of four non-manager employees who experienced harassment said they did not report it. At the same time, 57 percent of human resource professionals said that unreported sexual harassment occurs “to a small extent.”
Screencap of Dear Tech People's Rankings
“Most of us agree that tech could be a little more diverse,” says the homepage of Dear Tech People, a project that uses diversity data scraped from LinkedIn to provide approximate diversity figures for a specially selected group of 100 American technology and online media companies. The initiative, launched by three graduates of the University of Pennsylvania, seeks to help improve the visibility of the industry’s diversity problem. The site ranks companies based on the combined gender and racial diversity of their workforce, leadership, and technical staff.
While several high-profile tech companies have publicly released their diversity data on an annual basis over the past few years, Dear Tech People helps provide greater transparency by charting diversity across a broader segment of the industry.
“Our belief is that while the LinkedIn data isn’t perfect, it’s the best data available, and some data transparency is infinitely better than the opaque state of diversity numbers right now,” Adina Luo, one of the site’s co-founders, told Fast Company. Luo and her two other co-founders all have full-time jobs and are working on this initiative on the side. For companies that self-report their diversity figures, Dear Tech People offers verified partnerships, which allow them to signal to candidates that they are committed to diversity. The site also advertises a pipeline analytics tool and benchmarking reports to help companies improve and check their progress toward their diversity and inclusion goals.
Blind, the anonymous workplace community app that bills itself as a “real-time Glassdoor” and has taken the tech sector by storm, is releasing a desktop version of its native mobile app this month, Joel Cheesman reported last week, citing an app update. The application, which claims hundreds of thousands of verified users including over 30,000 Microsoft employees and 16,000 at Amazon, allows users to chat, share information, and gossip anonymously with other people at their company, about their company.
Blind started out in South Korea in 2014 and came to Silicon Valley in 2015, where it has ignited a controversy over what anonymous forums mean for both employees and employers: Like Glassdoor, Blind is a place where employees can share information (not necessarily accurate) and express opinions (not necessarily positive) without what they say getting back to their employer, but also without that employer having much opportunity to present their side of the story. It has also raised questions about data privacy and security, though Blind assures users that it takes pains to encrypt and discard user data, so that nothing they write there can ever be traced back to them through digital fingerprints, and so that no personal data will be exposed in the event of a breach.
In any case, with the desktop move, Cheesman predicts Blind “will certainly introduce the app to a lot of people who hadn’t heard of it before.” That’s obviously the idea, anyway, as a fast-growing company like Blind naturally wants to expand its user base. Cheesman is skeptical, however, that Blind’s anonymous forum will survive: