As a woman looking around at career options, please consider applying for a job with a big corporation. I know these companies often don’t seem female-friendly or the “greedy big business” image of them is unappealing to a lot of women who often want to do good for society and don’t feel like this is the right path.
Women also hear about sexism and harassment at these conglomerates, don’t want to deal with it, and understandably, seek other options. We may decide to start our own companies or find fulfilling careers in female majority fields like teaching, nursing, or social services.
But there are some very important reasons to make a different choice and check out the large companies.
Clutching my environmental degree at graduation, I dreamed of conserving the natural resources of the world. I pictured myself as a national park ranger, out on my beat. Or as a beloved teacher, inspiring my students. Or at nonprofit organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund or government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency. Those were possibilities, but the pay was low and the career trajectory limited compared to what I heard companies offered.
As I investigated options, I found opportunities existed in large companies to help our planet. I realized that working from the inside of corporations — sitting at the table and deliberating and deciding what products a company was going to develop and produce in the first place — would make a big impact. I could be that organization’s conscience. I accepted a position with a Fortune 500 chemical corporation as its first female field research biologist.
Here’s what I learned over the next few decades:
You Can Have a Fantastic Career
In my tenure at various Fortune 500 companies, I visited every state in the United States on business, including Hawaii and Alaska. I worked in dozens of countries around the world — often fascinating, less frequented destinations like Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, and Colombia — and my job introduced me to local business people, government officials, and colleagues who helped build my global network.
It’s completely different than going to these places on a pleasure trip. Wearing the badge of a big corporation gives you a ticket to funding, agencies, boards of directors, and opportunities that are absent if you’re with a small, unknown business or just representing yourself. You see behind the scenes, understand how national politics work, and visit sites only the residents know about.
I sat in the chair of the President of Angola, dined with Nigerian Government Ministers, and spoke as the keynote at international conferences in Norway and Venezuela. I contributed to patenting an environmentally safe herbicide for the world rice market, saving the California condors, improving farming techniques in Japan and Thailand, restoring mangrove forests in Nigeria, helping the Sumatran elephants in Indonesia, re-training former Russian biological warfare scientists to turn their skills towards soil bioremediation, and cleaning up contaminated properties across the globe.
If you are part of a large operation that has substantial influence in the world, you can leverage that clout to enable great things to happen. You can make a very satisfying, world-wide difference.
The Financial Situation is Very Good
Salaries with big corporations are usually above-average. You are allowed annual reviews where you have a chance each year, if you perform, to receive a raise or possible promotion. Bonuses that may not exist in smaller operations are offered as incentives. Stock options are a gift many people don’t fully understand as money in the bank for your future.
Benefits such as excellent medical, dental, and mental health care are regular fare. You often have access to child-care benefits if you travel, a free gym and exercise classes, and passes and allowances to cover your commute. Time off for volunteering and matching funds for donations to your favorite non-profits are standard.
For self-improvement, you have access to professional development and training opportunities — and tuition reimbursement if you want to go back to school. For your future, most large companies still have some kind of pension and matching retirement savings.
We Need Women in These Companies
If you are like me and many other women, you want to “give back” to society somehow. We are often drawn to careers with a purpose, something we are passionate about. You can have a huge contribution to our society by joining and staying in the corporate world to help change the culture.
Male-controlled corporate America is continuing without us, and that is where the power still sits — politically, economically, globally. And we can’t keep giving the power to men — we hand it over to them if we don’t participate.
We could all shun these institutions, but the male-operated companies would still rule. They’ve been around longer, and the men have it down. They control major, influential segments of our society, like energy, technology, manufacturing, and film-making.
Women Add So Much to Corporations
Women lower the ego level in the room, propose alternative ideas, bring a different perspective, understand the female market, demand fairer practices, and create financial benefits. Multiple studies from renowned research institutions and universities find a strong correlation between the presence of female leaders and a firm’s increase in profitability, corporate performance, sustainability, and earnings that outpace their industry’s.
A significant part of growth in worker productivity in the United States between 1960 and 2008 resulted from the removal of barriers to women. In a twelve-year study that wrapped up in 2014, the 80 women who led Fortune 1000 companies during that period delivered shareholder returns that were three times the S&P 500 index. (Source: Pat Wechsler, “Woman-Led Companies Perform Three Times Better Than the S&P 500,” Fortune, March 3, 2015.)
Women Bring Balance
The whole room, team, or meeting is off-kilter if no women are present. If we are there, we can raise viewpoints that might not be evident in a room full of masculine energy. We can encourage another woman, if she is there, to verbalize her thoughts — there is strength in any number over one.
We can find and build allies among men who are sympathetic to our cause, so it’s not just women alone. We can advocate for sustainability, values, wellbeing, collaboration, empathy, vision, innovation, and fairness. We can influence and change strategies, policies, and systems.
By observing some of the mediocre bosses — who are statistically likely to be male at large companies — we can switch things up and become great bosses to others in the future — those who know that if we treat people well, we get more out of them. If we encourage others’ opinions and reward them when they contribute, we’ll build a strong team that produces solid results because it’s included all the perspectives and twists and turns.
Build Organizations Where Women Love to Work
I hope you’ll consider it. I am giving this advice to all of you women who are vacillating about avoiding or quitting the world of large corporations: If you can do it, join up and stick it out. You can thrive personally and become a champion for kinder, gentler organizations where women love to work.
About the Author
Lucinda Jackson is the author of Just a Girl: Growing Up Female and Ambitious (Available October 8, 2019). She is a PhD scientist and former corporate executive who worked for four Fortune 500 companies for over 40 years.