As the CEO and Co-Founder of Fairygodboss, Georgene Huang runs a marketplace where professional women looking for jobs, career advice and the inside scoop on companies meet employers who believe in gender equality.
As fate would have it, Georgene was two months pregnant with her second child when she was fired from an executive position at Dow Jones. While looking for a work environment that promoted women and offered decent maternity leave policies, Georgene found herself in a difficult situation as a job seeker. However, she feared that asking questions about job aspects during interviews seemed like an invitation for rejection. When Georgene realized that existing career platforms didn’t address the specific concerns and questions that women have, she and Fairygodboss Co-founder Romy Newman, built their own platform. Since then, the founders of Fairygodboss have raised over $10 million in funding and developed a powerful site where women can learn about each other’s work experiences in a confidential space.
Her Agenda recently spoke with Georgene about the art of venture funding, the secret to confidence, and the truth about mentorship.
Her Agenda: I know that Fairygodboss is a platform to merge the gap between women and the workplace and make everything transparent. Considering the Great Resignation that’s been going on for the past 2 years, how has your role as CEO of the platform pivoted to help women adapt to this new climate?
Georgene Huang: Our platform helps people achieve their career goals, and sometimes that’s a new job. And, sometimes, it’s just advice to advance in their current job. But, there are a lot more remote positions and hybrid work options than there were prior to the pandemic. There’s a statistic that I saw last week that said 20% of professional roles are now remote, and that’s about double than it was a year ago. We make sure that we list jobs on our site so that you can find remote opportunities when they exist. We work with so many employers and talk with them about how remote opportunities can help with their diversity planning and goals for the coming year.
Her Agenda: I recall reading a Forbes article from 2019 on how Fairygodboss raised $10 million in venture funding. This is very unique, especially for female founders, so I want to ask if you can walk us through how you did so?
Georgene Huang: That whole process is an art, not a science, meaning there’s no formula that you can apply nor a set of tactics that will work every single time for everybody. Everyone’s business is different. When you are looking for venture funding, you have to convince somebody that your idea is going to give them the type of return that they need to see. In the venture industry, particularly for early stage companies, that return needs to be somewhere between 10 and 100 times their money back. There’s a lot of bravado in being able to say that to yourself and convince someone else that you can make that happen.
One of the reasons why women and people of color have trouble is that it’s fundamentally a relationship game to even find the people who are the investors. And, if you come with that professional or personal network, you have a head start. After that, you need to have this outrageous confidence in yourself and belief that what you’re building has the potential to return that amount of value to your investor. It’s also partially the perception of the people listening to your pitch and there are all kinds of biases.
Her Agenda: You wrote a really good article for Fast Company on why people don’t need mentors and you mentioned that you’ve never had a traditional one. At what point in your career did you realize that no one could do for you what you could do for yourself?
Georgene Huang: It’s always good to get advice, but what I meant by that article is that there is a fundamental imbalance between the number of people who need advice and the availability to find the people who have the specific advice that you need. You don’t have to beat yourself up for not finding somebody. You can get a portfolio of conversations going that gives you insight to piece together if there’s not somebody who can take you under their wing. Anyone can give you useful advice, but advice can also be very dangerous to give because it’s out of context or the goal has changed. I found that a lot of times, I was getting advice from people who came up in the world a different way, or messages really don’t apply now with the digital landscape.
I found that a lot of times, I was getting advice from people who came up in the world a different way, or messages really don't apply now with the digital landscape.Georgene Huang, CEO, Fairygodboss
Her Agenda: One of your missions is to improve the workplace for women, which is great! What do you think is the first thing a woman should do when she accepts a new role?
Georgene Huang: There are multiple things, but number one, is to realize that a job is an alignment of expectations. What I’ve seen often happen in a new role is a misunderstanding between what your manager’s expectations are and what you think they should be. That’s about making sure you are clear about goals, objectives, work styles, and communication styles. I once had someone start a new job with me and said, ‘this is how I like to communicate, how would you like to communicate.’ And, she was referring to if I would rather receive a phone call, text message, email, or Slack message. That can be a very big deal in terms of day to day interactions and you want to make things work for the people around you in a new job.
Her Agenda: I watched a video you did called, 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me, and one of the things you said was, ‘You are never going to have another vacation that’s completely worry-free.’ If you can’t relax during a vacation, what do you do to make time for yourself?
Georgene Huang: You just have to decide that there are going to be moments that can’t be extended, where you are just going to shut off. Whether that’s your device or phone, just don’t look at it. I know that in certain communities and religions, there are days of rest. During those days, you just don’t do certain things. Whether it’s a day, an hour, or a set of hours, I think that’s a good way to create those boundaries. It doesn’t mean that you shut off for a week, but you may just leave for an hour or two, or I will tell people to only call during an emergency.
Her Agenda: How has your confidence changed from working for someone else to working for yourself?
Georgene Huang: I think that confidence is a little bit like fitness, in the sense that the more you practice, the better you are going to be. I’m sure that there are different levels, just like athleticism, that people are born with, but a lot of it you aren’t born with. I’m not sure if it has so much to do with starting a business, but anything that you overcome ends up building your confidence because it’s another thing that you’ve seen and done.
Her Agenda: As a CEO, what would you say is one of the highlights of your job?
Georgene Huang: One of the best things is that no two days are the same. I think it’s actually the best part of being an entrepreneur because you decide what you are going to do and if you are trying to move things forward, oftentimes it means that you have to change stuff to become better. There’s no list of things you are supposed to do today that’s always the same. The only part of it that you can describe as the same, is that you can’t do it on your own, so you have to find the best people that you can and make them better every day. But, what that looks like every day is different and it’s also different for each person.
[Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]