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Companies Where Women Thrive: Care.com

As the 11th employee of Waltham-based startup Care.com, reporting directly to CEO Sheila Marcelo, I had a front-row seat to the company’s early history and its mission to create a bias-free, progressive corporate culture where every single employee — regardless of gender, age or diversity — could thrive.

Since then, Care.com has acquired numerous smaller companies, holding offices in five major cities (including Berlin) to create the largest trusted, worldwide marketplace for working families to manage the care they need for their loved ones. Care.com now employs more than 625 people worldwide, 70 percent of whom are female (including five of 11 on the senior management team and two of seven board members).

I met recently with Donna Levin, co-founder and vice president of operations, to find out exactly what continues to make Care.com a Company Where Women Thrive:

Why is your company one of the best places for women to work?

Starting at the very top, it’s having women on our board, which is good for diversity of thought and opinion and, of course, for revenue. We have women on our management team, including three of the four founders. Sheila is a very strong role model, but also our benefits are a strong package that include maternity/paternity leave and flexibility, parity when it comes to compensation in all different forms, and a lot of different opportunities for women to take ownership and lead. It’s part of our core values and will never change.

What kinds of things does Care.com do to help women succeed in business?

Care.com launched a global program called WomenUp, which is focused on helping women at all stages of their careers, and now involves a business plan competition with a $10K prize, in partnership with companies, mentors, advisors, designed to support women through entrepreneurship. We’ve now hosted almost a dozen WomenUp events in Boston, Washington, DC, San Francisco, New York City, and Brazil, and have three events this fall in Japan and the Philippines. We’re very involved in supporting successful women and successful families. Here in Massachusetts, we’re part of Governor Patrick’s task force to find actionable things we can do to support families in the workforce. Last month, Sheila traveled to Washington and sat side-by-side with President Obama as part of the White House Summit on Working Families, providing feedback to the president on what the government can do to help families. We also are working with 100 Percent Talent: The Boston’s Women Compact, started by Mayor Menino and carried on by Mayor Walsh, which is committed to understanding the wage gap, closing it, and evaluating success. We know entrepreneurship starts young, and are working heavily with STEM educators — including working with Bentley on the Successful Women, Successful Families task force.

Do you see any differences between female and male employees?

I think the confidence gap is real and these issues have weight, but I don’t see them at Care.com. Everyone wants a successful career (and work/life balance), but one of the things we focus on here is having a vision and speaking up and providing those opportunities for leadership, on a project, team, or external events. We provide coaching and mentorship for both females and males to make sure that everyone is heard. Everyone’s opinion matters in a growing organization.

Does working in a company where women predominate make a difference?

Yes. Honestly, there’s such a focus here on supporting successful outcomes for everyone, but people do see that we don’t just talk the talk, we walk the walk. Providing opportunities for every member to get involved with activities that are happening locally, to attend different events that are bringing in amazing speakers sharing their journey and actionable tips on how to grow your career, all of these things truly make a difference. We also have a really big focus here on valuing long-term relationships with our employees; it’s ingrained in our culture.

What are the top things that other companies could learn from your experiences about hiring, employing and/or retaining women?

It starts with hiring. At the very beginning, you hire for a cultural fit. You make decisions for overall competency. You want people who have a continuous learning agenda. We recognize that we have a multi-generational workforce, and have put things in place — opportunities to work remotely, leveraging technology, other flexibility — and our workspace has always been open, allowing for that free-flowing exchange of ideas and to know what other teams are doing. We’re famous for our annual “Sheila Shuffle,” where we move people around to different desks to make sure there are no silos. Our work hours are also flexible, because everyone has different needs and everyone is productive at different times of day. We have a core set of hours, but we treat people like adults and trust them to use that freedom to use that wisely. We now offer on-site benefits like mani/pedis, organic grocery delivery, massages, dry cleaning pickup/dropoff and more to try to increase our employee’s work/life balance. The same way we measure ourselves on performance against our values, we look for feedback. Part of that survey is to gauge how engaged team members are, and that’s critical in terms of benefits. Depending on where you are in your career, health care may be most important to you, or tuition reimbursement, or flexibility.

Anything else should we know about why Care.com is a progressive workplace and one of the best places for women to thrive?

Honestly, it comes down to mission. We have a very strong mission. Everyone here is very focused on improving the lives of women and of caregivers. Not a single hand was raised by anyone in a recent team meeting when we asked who didn’t know our mission. Everyone is so laser-focused on the mission, that’s how all decisions are made. It feels great to be making a difference in the lives of so many.

Because of your mission-driven culture, making the world a better place, do you attract more millennials, 88 percent of whom said in the Bentley PreparedU study that it was a priority to work for companies that are socially responsible and ethical?

Absolutely. Everyone wants to make a difference, but in addition to hiring for culture, we also make sure that people are truly passionate about our mission. You need to have transparency, provide flexibility, but at times you also need to have that passion to truly innovate and pivot, and that passion comes from having a strong sense of purpose.

Melissa Massello is a freelance writer, former startup executive, and serial entrepreneur who is passionate about supporting women’s leadership and gender equality, both in business and at home.

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