Lean In to Crying at Work

When the president of CBS News fired correspondent Mika Brzezinski a decade ago, she cried. And she regrets it. “There was no place for those tears in that moment,” she told the Huffington Post two years ago. “If anything, when you cry, you give away power.”

Of the 15 other high-profile women the news site interviewed about crying at work, the majority expressed negative views of some sort. Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, put it most bluntly: “Tears belong within the family.”

Video: Should You Cry at Work?

The widespread cultural disparagement of the work-cry is strange, though, since there’s nothing inherently bad about crying. In past centuries, even the public weeping of grown men was celebrated. Far from surrendering power, these moist-eyed gents were showing deep respect. As Sandra Newman wrote in Aeon, even members of Parliament cried so hard they could barely speak. “In 1628, the English politician Thomas Alured describes the reaction in the House of Commons to a letter from the king threatening the dissolution of Parliament: ‘Sir Robert Phillips spake, and mingled his words with weeping … St. Edward Coke was forced to sit down when he began to speak, through the abundance of tears.’”

In the office, crying is simply another unexpected emotional cue, like a guffaw or a jump for joy. But unlike those, it’s negative, so it snaps people to attention.

The ignominy of the office cry is still more of an issue for women than for men, because women cry more than men do. In her survey of 700 people, Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, found that in the past year, 41 percent of women admitted to crying at work, but only 9 percent of men did.

Part of the explanation is hormonal: Men generate more testosterone, which inhibits crying, while women produce more prolactin, which seems to promote it. Anatomy also plays a role. Men have larger tear ducts than women, so more of their tears can well in their eyes without spilling out onto their cheeks.

Women might also react differently to tear-jerking situations, on average. It’s not usually sadness, per se, that makes people cry. Instead, it’s “helplessness, hopelessness, and the lack of adequate behavioral responses to a problem situation,” as Ad Vingerhoets, a psychologist at Tilburg University and a leading crying researcher, writes.

When women encounter these “problem situations” and react with overt anger, they are often punished for it. In studies, angry men are thought to deserve more status, a higher salary, and are considered better at their jobs than angry women. Women also tend to internalize their emotions—direct them inward—while men externalize them, or project them out, according to Aprajita Mohanty, an assistant professor of psychology at Stony Brook university.

Because of that, women might be more likely to react to emotionally frustrating situations with a kind of helpless anger, Vingerhoets said. “They start crying,” he said. While “men tend to react with swearing and anger.”

The sum of all this research suggests that for a woman whose, say, project gets canceled, her reaction is more likely to be, “Okay, I’ll stress-cry a bit and move on with life,” than it is to be ranting and screaming. But the research says, careful with that. Even though women might feel more socially and biologically predisposed to cry, several studies suggest they are nonetheless perceived negatively for crying at work—and in fact, more negatively than men are.

For a study that’s currently under review, Kimberly Elsbach, a professor of management at the University of California, Davis, recruited 65 people from a “Women in Business” conference through a professional M.B.A. program and asked them about times they had cried at work or had seen someone else doing so. She found people thought it was more acceptable to cry about personal tragedies, like a death in the family, than more routine things, like breakups. Crying was more acceptable when it was done in someone’s office than in public, and when it was over quickly. In cases like those, crying could even foster bonds between colleagues.

Most people told Elsbach they didn’t want to cry, and they would do anything to make themselves stop. (A common tactic was pinching oneself to stanch the tears. It didn’t really work.)

Criers were evaluated negatively for tearing up during a meeting or a performance review. People looked with contempt on colleagues driven to sobs over work stress or disagreements. In the words of one man:

The most damaging time to cry, I would say, is when people can’t handle the pressure from a job or workplace or the stress. As far as from a management position, if you see people crying because they can’t handle the situation or stress of what they’re going through in the workplace, you’re going to think, ‘Well, why should we promote them? They can’t handle what they’re doing now.

Elsbach was surprised, given the involuntary nature of crying, that crying in the office was so often seen as manipulative.

“To a person,” Elsbach said, “the criers said they couldn’t control it. But many of the perceivers thought the crying was done intentionally: ‘She’s behind on her work and she’s trying to get somebody to help.’”

Overall, Elsbach gathered 110 stories, 100 of women crying and 10 of men, so there weren’t enough to show statistically significant gender disparities.

She did, however, take note of a few differences. Men, she says, were uniformly perceived more positively than women. The “baseline” view of women, she said, was “women are emotional and lack control.” Crying only confirmed that stereotype.

Men, meanwhile, were already thought to be strong and unemotional. When they cry, people tend to think, “something horrible must have happened” or “somebody made them cry,” Elsbach said. Similarly, in her study, “the negative attributions were not pinned on them as much.” Men were also the only ones to reap benefits from crying—things like, “it made me feel closer to him” or “it humanized him.”

Earlier studies showed that women’s tears were viewed more positively than men’s, but that seems to be changing. A 1991 study found that men who cried during an emotional movie were liked better than those who didn’t, while women who cried were liked less.

For their 2007 book chapter, “The Perception of Crying in Women and Men,” the psychologists Leah Warner and Stephanie Shields had 284 college students read short stories about breakups and a parent’s divorce. In each story, the researchers changed the gender of the main character, whether the person felt angry or sad, and whether the protagonist began to fully cry or simply teared up.

Men who teared up were viewed more positively than any of the other groups—either gender of full-on criers or women who teared up. (It made little difference whether the women cried or teared up). Male criers who were described as “sad” were also viewed most positively of the bunch, though there was little gender difference for the angry criers. The subjects also thought the women’s tears were less genuine.

The findings seem to bolster Shields’ earlier theory that there’s a certain kind of “manly emotion” that actually boosts a man’s status. The man who cries in a controlled, thoughtful way, and for a good reason—think Russell Crowe in Gladiator, she writes—is a real man with a soft side. Women get no such benefit. When I told my colleague Julie about these studies, she let out a sigh and said she wasn’t surprised. “Everything men do is good,” she said.

Thus, crying joins the list of things—makeup, raising kids full-time—that people look down on simply because women do them more. That might sound far-fetched, but we see variations of this phenomenon across scientific disciplines. One explanation for the gender-wage gap, for example, is that female-dominated professions pay less because there are more women in them. Certain vocal tics that are associated with young women, like upspeak and vocal fry, are appraised negatively in mock job interviews. Tampons are taxed as “non-necessities” because only women have periods.

The only solution, it appears, is to normalize office crying for everyone. Not unlike other unpleasant things, crying happens. Men shouldn’t reap the unfair advantage of a mid-meeting misting, and women shouldn’t worry that on top of their own embarrassment, they’re being judged as manipulative and incompetent. It’s 2016, and American workers are trembling under the weight of all their stress. Enough with the sniffling behind bathroom stalls or pretending it’s allergy season. If we can’t stop judging our colleagues when they cry at work, at the very least we should stop judging ourselves.

Why Tech Is the Leading Industry on Parental Leave

On Tuesday, the online retailer Etsy became the latest tech company to offer an extremely generous (at least by U.S. standards) parental-leave policy. Starting this April, new mothers and fathers at the company will be able to take 26 weeks of paid leave (eight weeks immediately following birth and 18 more that can be spread out over two years). Previously, the company gave its U.S. employees 12 weeks of maternity leave or five weeks of paternity leave.

“Speaking as a parent myself, and as a CEO, parental leave was really important to me personally,” said Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO. “I think family leave has been more and more on people’s minds.” One explanation for why paid-leave policies are so rare is that most executives are men, who don’t get the brunt of childcare duties and thus don’t personally feel the need for such policies. But this may be changing, as tech founders from a younger generation start becoming parents themselves.

Last year, Netflix announced that new mothers and fathers in its ranks would be free to take as much time off as they’d like during the first year of their child’s life. Etsy says it believes that unlimited leave, though generous, leaves too much up to cultural norms and managers’ expectations when new parents are considering how much time to take off. “I think our concern has been just that without that guidance employees can actually feel unsure about the signals that are sent by their choice of how much time to take off,” says Juliet Gorman, Etsy’s director of culture and employee engagement.

But even generous leaves that are well-defined can still pose practical problems at work, which Etsy accounts for. Gorman says that in addition to having a budget to hire temps when employees are taking paid leave, Etsy’s engineers regularly undergo cross-training, which lets them work on different projects. Dickerson says the company is already focused on strong back-ups—having a number-two that can take over during illnesses or vacations—which puts the company in a good position to handle the absences of new parents taking leave.

The policy at Etsy, which is based in Brooklyn and has around 800 employees, is competitive with several larger Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The U.S. tech sector has been leading the way in offering paid leave for new parents. But why has it been so much more focused on this benefit than other industries?

One possible explanation is that this is just an extension of luxe tech-employee perks—laundry service, travel stipends, haircuts, etc.—into parent territory as Millennial workers start to have kids, but there are a number of other potential reasons too.

For one thing, it’s a way for companies to compete for talent. “It’s an incredibly competitive employee market,” says Katie Bethell, the founder and director of PL+US, a grassroots organization fighting for paid leave in the U.S. Bethell says that highly skilled tech workers have serious leverage, as companies in the sector are keen to retain their workers. “There’s a little bit of perfect storm here where the sought-after employees and the people at the top of these organizations are all realizing at the same time that having a baby is really really hard,” Bethell says.

Further, as tech companies become international entities, they have to catch up with other countries’ policies. The U.S. is the only OECD country that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. So for American companies recruiting skilled tech workers abroad for overseas offices, it’s not only a matter of legality to offer paid leave for its workers in other countries—it’s about matching those policies for its U.S. workers.

Dickerson and Gorman at Etsy echo these sentiments. Gorman explains that 26 weeks of paid leave will be a global standard at Etsy, which will either meet or exceed the cultural norms of every country where the company does business. “The success of your company really depends on the engagement of your employees,” says Dickerson, the CEO. “For me it’s a really practical matter, if you want to bring the best people to your company, and have the most-engaged employees, and have the families of the people in your company behind them and supporting them to help make the company successful.”

But advocates for paid leave, such as Bethell, say that generous policies from a small number of rich companies are no substitute for a government policy that would help all working parents. “It’s great that these companies are taking the lead in doing this and showing that it’s possible and beneficial, but if we want everyone to have paid family and medical leave we need to have a national insurance program,” says Bethell, referring to government-funded universal programs. “Otherwise, there will always be people who are left out either because their companies refuse to have these policies, or they’re at places that are small enough that they don’t have enough space to socialize that cost.”

When Leaving Is the Only Option

A few pages into Maureen Sherry’s new novel, Opening Belle, chronicling a successful female managing director’s time at a large Wall Street bank, I had a feeling I knew where things were heading. Spoiler alert: After simultaneously enjoying and enduring her work at the company, amid sky-high bonuses and rampant sexism, she would leave. And she’d go on to start her own firm.

Part of the giveaway comes from the knowledge that the book is heavily autobiographical, and that Sherry herself worked as a managing director at Bear Stearns for 11 years before resigning to get her MFA. But the main reason this ending was so obvious is that it has become the default conclusion for women grappling with overtly sexist organizations, both in literature and in life.

At the close of the novel, Sherry’s main character cites Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article as one of the points of inspiration behind her choice, focusing on the theme that women can achieve an optimal work-life balance when they are the ones determining their own work environment and culture.

“She wants the fight,” said Amanda. “She hasn’t figured out the only truly successful women on Wall Street are at the small firms, where we can hold onto control.”

Sherry’s book follows The Partner Track, a 2013 novel by Helen Wan that documented the experience of an Asian American woman overcoming racial and gender biases in a cutthroat corporate law firm. That book’s narrative arc treaded much of the same ground as Opening Belle, and ultimately landed in the exact same place: After years of exemplary work, Ingrid Yung, the protagonist, becomes so fed up with her company’s attitudes toward diversity that she opens her own shop and takes her best clients with her.

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These characters’ choices are framed as bold, empowering, and optimistic decisions—opportunities for women to excel professionally and make a unique mark on their industries while thriving in work environments that they build themselves. Yet for the reader, they can also feel otherwise, provoking emotions of both sadness and anger; it’s a shame that these industries are so inhospitable to women that their best, and ultimately, only choice is to leave. In the end, though these characters “succeed,” they really didn’t have much of a choice at all.

In a New York Times piece published shortly before her novel’s release, Sherry highlighted the inevitability of women ultimately departing from her former firm. She brought up the experience of a woman whom she recruited and who later sued the company as an emblematic example of why the problem persists.

My candidate took the job, and while she was passionate about her work, she was uncomfortable with the raucous trading floor environment, and lasted only five years. While none of us were able to see the details of her sealed complaint, I can easily imagine what it might contain. Many women have shared their stories with me, and they go far beyond exclusion from meetings and golf courses. There was the young banker who was groped publicly to settle a bet about whether her breasts were real, and the senior deal makers who found out their pay was a fraction of their male counterparts’.

Whatever her experience, her case went to arbitration. She signed a nondisclosure agreement and took a settlement check.

Banking and law are not the only industries in which this phenomenon has been observed. Across fields in which pervasive sexism has been repeatedly documented—in venture capital, Hollywood, and tech—many women choose to leave top positions at industry behemoths to start their own companies, one of the only ways they feel that they can both control the mission of their work and the day-to-day climate and schedule that they operate in. These reasons are consistent with those that many individuals, regardless of gender, have cited for striking out on their own. Women leaders who have gone this route, are, of course, not all motivated to do so because of problems with their existing environments, but many are.

As Bonnie Crater, the CEO of Full Circle CRM and a former senior vice president at Salesforce, Netscape, and Genesys, told Fast Company about her experience in venture capital, “I believe that there’s a dynamic inside these firms that makes women not want to stay … I think the dynamic is subtle, that it’s often hard to put your finger on, but I believe that there’s a lot of really confident women who were VCs and have left venture because the environment they worked in is not optimized to make it easy for them to function.” Ellen Pao voiced several of these concerns in her lawsuit against former employer, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in which she alleged that she had been passed over for a promotion on the basis of gender and then punished for speaking out about it. Other problems she cited, including a men-only ski trip and the sexual advances men made toward female colleagues, echo the alienating practices that Sherry highlights about banking.

In the tech industry, a similar pattern exists. In an Los Angeles Times article, programmer Garann Means explains the reasons for her departure from the industry after 13 years, “I didn’t know how to move forward. There was a lot I had to put up with in the culture of tech. It just didn’t seem worth it.” That same piece cites a 2008 study by the Harvard Business Review that found up to 50 percent of women in science, engineering, and technology will leave their positions because of hostile work environments.

The number of women parting from established companies to open their own firms in banking, law, venture capital, tech, and show business is growing for a number of reasons. Jennifer Fonstad, who was previously a managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, launched a new venture-capital firm, Aspect Ventures, with Theresia Gouw, a former managing partner at Accel, in 2014. Fonstad notes in a CNET article, “There’s been a significant inflow of newly wealthy women who are investing for themselves, becoming angels or forming microfunds with less than $4 million. It’s just more gratifying to work for themselves.” Other funds run wholly or in part by women include Golden Seeds, Cowboy Ventures, and Broadway Angels.

In Hollywood, too, powerful stars such as Reese Witherspoon (who is set to play the lead in a Warner Brothers adaptation of Opening Belle), Lena Dunham, Shonda Rhimes, and Eva Longoria are among the women who have started their own production companies in order to take creative and financial control over the types of films and television shows they create, and the choices they make in hiring people for those projects. In an interview with Variety, Witherspoon says that after sitting down with many studio executives in 2012 , “I think it was literally one studio that had a project for a female lead over 30.” She launched her company Pacific Standard, with Australian producer Bruna Papandrea, that same year and has since earned critical recognition and box-office success with both Gone Girl and Wild. “We will be producing some films with a very clear female voice,” she said upon starting the company, “I think it’s important for women who have attained a certain amount of success in this business to give back to other female writers and filmmakers and try and help facilitate their dreams.”

In all of these cases, women are conducting business on their own terms, by circumventing the barriers present in existing systems. For some, starting their own companies is the only alternative to hitting the glass ceiling at their current jobs.

Opening Belle does a powerful job illustrating just how fruitless it can seem to try to change a longstanding sexist environment. One of the toughest questions the protagonist asks herself throughout the book is whether, as a high-ranking woman, she should push her company to adopt more equitable policies and social practices, possibly risking her position in the process.

During a meeting that the CEO of the bank calls of top women leaders, she learns the futility of even trying:

“Maybe Feagin could at least take the higher road, and not reimburse expense accounts for entertaining at strip clubs?” I suggest, in a professional voice.

BG is ready. “People are going to go whether we reimburse or not. It’s where men want to go to have a good time and it’s mostly men who run these accounts. They don’t want to go to the ballet. These are men who work hard all day, who are under pressure all the time. What’s the harm in letting off steam? There’s nothing more bonding than when we entertain our clients and when we do that, in either banking or trading, guess who bonds with our trading floor? Guess what you get to bond with? Your bank account. If some women are that sensitive, they’ll never cut it in this business and don’t belong here.”

Sherry notes that since she left investment banking, things in the industry have gotten a little better after a string of wins for women in class-action lawsuits alleging gender discrimination (though sexism continues to persist with little recourse, as companies still ask their employees to sign private-arbitration clauses). Wan also says that she’s seen more diverse classes of students and lawyers entering schools and firms. And Pao has written about how she observes sexism in Silicon Valley improving, albeit slowly, as more women stand together to call out the issues.

While many women have gone outside the dated, discriminatory models in sexist industries to excel, often via smaller, boutique firms, the influence and power of industry giants within these fields remains unparalleled. These organizations, too, desperately need to change to insure that men and women have equal opportunities to achieve success. Perhaps the external pressure from women who’ve left to start their own companies and tell their own stories, like Sherry, will play a role in making that happen.

The Crisis Facing America’s Working Daughters

For America’s working moms, there is pretty much an endless stream of resources to guide and comfort them on how to tell the boss they’re pregnant, how to find a private place to pump at work, how to negotiate flex time, how to split the chores at home, and whether or not to display pictures of their kids at the office. They can read all day and all night about the many stresses of working motherhood including pregnancy discrimination, the wage gap, the mommy wars, leaning in, and opting out.  But for America’s working daughters, there is little to help them navigate between their careers and the needs of their aging parents.

There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the majority are women. And yet there are very few support programs, formal or informal, in place to support these family caregivers, many of whom are struggling at work and at home. Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether in order to make time for their caregiving duties. As a result, they suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits. In fact, a study from MetLife and the National Alliance for Caregiving calculated women lose an average $324,044 in compensation due to caregiving.

This impact to a woman’s career is significant. Caregiving tends to hit women in their mid-40s, just around the time their earning potential starts to wane and dangerously close to the age when they may not be able to reenter the workforce if they leave. According to a recent New York Times article, the job market is not promising for women 50 and older.

These same women are expected to live well into their mid-80s, and outlive (by about two years) the average man. How will they afford their own care later in life if they can’t save for it at midlife while they are caring for someone else?

By no means is the United States the model for how to treat working mothers. America is, after all, the only developed country that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave. But at least there is a national dialogue about the need for affordable childcare and paid parental leave. Elder caregivers are all but absent from the conversation. Sure, paid family leave is starting to be framed as both a childcare and eldercare issue, but many policies only address the working parent, not the worker with parents. Just recently, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, signed an order giving city employees six weeks of fully paid leave but only for the birth or adoption of a child—not for taking care of sick family members. And yet new research from Northwestern Mutual reveals the majority of Americans feel caring for two elderly adults would be more difficult than caring for two toddlers.

Daughterhood.org, a website for caregivers, says, “Caring for an aging parent is a much more significant life passage than we give it credit for being. When you are caring for a child, it doesn’t threaten your identity. Because that’s what parents do. But when you are a daughter, you are cared for. You turn to your parents for refuge. When they seek refuge from you it shakes your identity.”

Another source of a working daughter’s stress stems from the fact that eldercare is not a problem that can be solved with money. “That’s a part of what makes it so much different and harder than raising a child,” says Tumlinson. “As a society we are organized reasonably well to support parents. If you have enough money you can get high-quality day care. There are schools that educate your child for a better part of the day. But even if you have the money to pay for a caregiver, even when they are the Mary Poppins for the elderly, it doesn’t mean your parents want them. Eldercare requires a high amount of emotional engagement that only a family member can provide. It’s not a situation where economically advantaged women are spared. I know lots of very accomplished women with lots of degrees who have dropped out.”

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This was the case for the social-media consultant Shelley Boyle, whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nine months ago and refuses a professional caregiver even though her doctors want her to receive support everyday. So Boyle, who owns her own business, was until recently visiting her mother daily and calling her four to five times.

“It’s absolutely been a strain on my job and my company,” said Boyle. “I had to drop a couple of clients to make time for my mom and therefore I had a change in my income. My expenses are increasing but right now that’s my choice. I wonder, where is this disease going? What is the next stage?”

“My life all of a sudden feels limited,” she says. “Here I was forging a career and building a life and now I have to spend 20 to 30 hours on top of my full time job to take care of her.”

With that kind of time commitment, eldercare is a challenge even for women who have support at work. Miriam Diwan was on the fast track at a big private equity firm when her mother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Management, Diwan says, was supportive. “My managing director kept telling me my mom was my number one priority,” she says.  That helped alleviate some short-term pressure at work, but ultimately Diwan resigned from the firm. She and her mother relocated to Los Angeles to be near doctors at UCLA and Diwan chose to move to a company with a more flexible schedule than her first firm afforded. “It’s really tough when it’s up or out,” says Miriam. “In a high-stress career you have to make the career your life. But to be the primary caregiver takes up a lot of time.”

And therein lies the problem that affects not only working daughters, but also their employers. Every day 10,000 people turn 65 in this country and the AARP predicts that by 2030, the United States will need between 5.7 and 6.6 million caregivers to support the sick and aging. Unpaid, family caregivers will be called upon to meet that demand. What will the economic impact be if America can’t keep caregivers like Boyle and Diwan at work? The same MetLife and National Alliance for Caregiving study calculated the cost to businesses to replace women caregivers who quit their jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities at an estimated $3.3 billion. And how will society  pay for the care that these women, with their compromised pensions, retirement funds, and savings accounts, will inevitably need? As Boyle says, “The biggest issue is I am now living hand-to-mouth. I am just getting by and I am not able to put money away for a rainy day. A lot of the stress is thinking about when my mom dies, what will my life look like?”

American’s conversation about the competing demands of work and family needs to take working daughters into account. The focus must not just be on the need for maternity leave or even parental leave, but family leave—and other accommodations such as flex time, mentoring, and reentry-assistance programs—that will enable workers to care for their aging parents without their lives falling apart.

A Site Where Women Can Review Their Employers’ Female-Friendliness

Corporate websites can do a good job indicating the way companies want themselves to be seen, but it can be tough to get trustworthy firsthand information about their workplace culture. Glassdoor has patched up a good portion of this information gap, but there’s still a shortfall of intel for women who are curious about how female-friendly a prospective employer is.

Providing that intel is the goal of Fairygodboss, a site that has been called “Yelp for maternity leave benefits.” On it, women write anonymous reviews of their employers, sharing information about whether the company has a generous maternity-leave policy or values work-life balance. It’s becoming a valuable resource for lots of women, especially those who are mothers or plan to be.

The idea for Fairygodboss occurred to one of its founders, Georgene Huang, when she was job hunting a few years ago while two months pregnant. Huang was looking for companies that were friendly to women and wouldn’t “mommy-track” her career, but she found little in the way of helpful information online. Huang, along with her former colleague Romy Newman, started Fairygodboss in March of last year, and since then the site has collected over 19,000 reviews on over 7,000 employers. The majority of the site’s reviewers are American workers, and, site-wide, the median age range is 25 to 34 and the median salary range is $80,000 to $100,000 a year.

Recently, Huang and Newman analyzed the site’s reviews in order to identify the top five factors that correlated with women’s satisfaction in the workplace. Some of the results were not exactly surprising, but it’s useful to have some numbers demonstrating the impact of family-friendly policies. Fairygodboss’s dataset, which used a five-point scale to measure job satisfaction, indicated that women were overwhelmingly dissatisfied with workplaces that had long and inflexible hours. On the other end of the spectrum, women with jobs that promoted work-life balance generally reported high levels of satisfaction.

Newman, one of the co-founders of Fairygodboss, notes that the longer maternity leave a female employee took, the more satisfied she was with her job—a finding Newman said she hadn’t seen recorded before. “It’s particularly interesting because so many companies are considering expanding [maternity-leave benefits] past 12 weeks,” she says.

The percentage of women who rate their job satisfaction as a 1 on a 5-point scale increases as the duration of their leave decreases. Meanwhile, the percentage who rate their job satisfaction at 5 goes up as leave duration increases.

Another conclusion from Fairygodboss’s data was that women who reported that female employees were treated equally were much more satisfied at work. So were women who said that management teams weren’t composed mostly of men. Newman explains that this is probably about the perception of fairness and opportunity: If there aren’t women in management, it’s harder for junior workers to imagine getting promoted or having a long and prosperous career at a particular company.

“Women often leave organizations because of negative work-climate issues like a lack of advancement opportunities or excessive hours,” says Marianne Cooper, a sociologist at Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Studies and a member of the site’s advisory board. “What Fairygodboss found is in line with research showing that women are drawn to and stay with companies that provide them with growth opportunities and family-friendly environments. Companies with gender-balanced management teams and cultures that support flexible work send a strong signal to women that they are welcome.”

“There’s a lot of debate over whether gender-diversity programs or considerations are really worth pursuing,” says Newman. “Does it really return to your bottom line? And I think what that statistic says is yes.”