The Best Perks To Retain Working Women? It’s What You DON’T Do That Matters Most.

State Library Victoria Collection. 1942 ca.

By Heidi Roizen

What’s the best company perk to retain female talent? Nothing.

You heard me right. Let me explain.

Yes, you can pay to freeze my eggs, but I can pay for that myself if you just pay me more. And that sentence can be universally applied to anything for which money creates the perk – free food, leased cars, free hotel rooms, and expensive benefits. It’s all ‘just money’ and if you pay me more I’ll buy my own stuff, thank you.

You can also give me onsite daycare, parking closer to the office when I’m pregnant, and flextime when I need to be at the first day of preschool. These are indeed important, because work is super important to me, but so is my family and my health. But that should be true whether I am a woman or a man, so this is not specific to women – except the pregnancy parking spots!

Both Bill Gates and  Warren Buffett  have publicly said that if you are not giving women equal shots at opportunity, you are missing out on 50% of the talent pool. To that I’d add: it may not be the things you do to/for me, but the things you don’t do, that make the biggest difference to my ability to contribute and to succeed. Here are a few examples:

1. Don’t use happy hour to bond with your employees.

I love a good nip at the end of the day as much as the next guy, but if for example you are my 40-year-old married male boss and I am your 26-year-old single female junior employee, this might look or feel wrong to other members of your or my constituency. Sorry, I am sure some of you are gasping at my political incorrectness at this moment. But in my experience it is true. So use your judgment – sometimes this is okay to do (even with a woman!) but sometimes it is best to use a different time of day and venue.

2. Don’t continue the conversation in the men’s room.

You may be rolling your eyes right now, but I have experienced this a number of times. We are in a heated or difficult meeting. We call a five-minute break and everyone goes to the loo. I am often in there alone with no one to talk to while a handful of men go into the men’s room and continue the conversation. I am literally culturally barred from joining them. And every once in a while, something important gets decided in the bathroom. So either come right out or let me in.

Photo courtesy of Leland Francisco via Flickr

Photo courtesy of Leland Francisco via Flickr

3. Don’t create bonding events exclusively around guy things.

  I don’t play on sports teams, I don’t drink whisky, I don’t particularly like poker, and I sure don’t want to go to a strip club. If your employee bonding events are around activities that are unfamiliar or disturbing to me, I am going to miss out. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t sometimes engage in these activities, but recognize that you will disenfranchise part of your employee base. I’ll make you a deal – in return, I won’t force you to have group mani-pedis nor will I require you go to Color Me Mine or PaintNite. You’re welcome.

4. Don’t presume that the fact that I am different from you makes me worse at the job.

I first wrote “don’t think of me as different” but then I realized I  am  different. Women are naturally different from men in many ways, but don’t extrapolate these differences into an assumption that they somehow make us inherently less able to do our jobs. This is the hardest to combat and the most insidious. If you’ve ever seen a female name at the top of a resume for a technical job and some little voice in your head said “can’t be as good,” you are guilty. If you’ve ever even slightly flinched when a female airline pilot enters the cockpit before takeoff…umm, guilty. And you know what is completely awful? I have done these things myself. Even as a woman, I’ve had to catch myself as my brain compared people against many years of learned stereotypes and have had to actively learn to hit the stop button. You need to do that too.

Heidi Roizen  is Operating Partner at DFJ. She has spent her life immersed in the Silicon Valley ecosystem as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture capitalist, educator and member of the boards of directors of private and public companies, trade associations and nonprofit institutions.After receiving her undergraduate and MBA degrees from Stanford University, Heidi co-founded T/Maker Company (an early personal computer software company) in 1983, where she served as CEO from inception through its acquisition by Deluxe Corporation in 1994. In 1996, Heidi joined Apple as Vice President of Worldwide Developer Relations. From there, Heidi entered the venture capital world, serving as a Managing Director of Mobius Venture Capital from 1999 to 2007.  For more visit   www.heidiroizen.com