On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Glassdoor CEO Robert Hohman talks with Kara about how the company has evolved since its early days, when Hohman wanted to merge employer transparency with the gaming sensibilities of World of Warcraft. He discusses why the company has so many rules and regulations for moderating reviews, including what happens when an employee alleges that a manager has sexually harassed them.
“Someone said, ‘the CEO only hires blondes and they disappear into his office for hours on end and rumors fly,’” Hohman recalled on the new podcast. “It’s like, ‘Okay, are we going to allow this? Are we not going to allow it? Does it belong?’ Well, it kind of matters if you’re a woman. A blonde woman thinking of going to work here. So we allowed it and we took the heat for it.”
Plus: Why letting employees and ex-employees rate a company’s CEO was so successful; why Glassdoor nixed a planned feature to let them rate their direct managers; and why there’s a strong correlation between employees who have a bad work/life balance and CEOs with high approval ratings.
You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited transcript of Kara’s full conversation with Robert.
Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair is Robert Hohman, the co-founder and CEO of Glassdoor. It’s a website that lets employees and former employees leave anonymous reviews of their managers and companies. He previously worked at Expedia in the early days of that company, and currently sits on the board of the nonprofit Tech for America. Robert, welcome to Recode Decode.
Robert Hohman: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
It’s such great timing to have you here. There’s so much fury around companies and what they’re doing and companies and employees really talking about it.
It is an interesting time. I think it’s fair, yeah.
So let’s first of all talk about your background. I like to start in the first section talking to how people got to where they are. So give me your background. Don’t go to birth, but you know what I’m saying.
So I grew up in the Midwest. Both grandparents were farmers, so it was a very blue-collar upbringing, and I found that I loved computers around sixth grade on a TRS-80.
Absolutely fell in love with it. I just started coding and ...
I had a Trash-80.
Did you really? You owned one?
No, it was for where I worked. I was a young, young reporter and I had one. We had couplers ...
So the first computer I owned was a VIC-20, but it only had 3.2K of memory, and I needed 32K.
Okay, so you really are a geek. Move along.
Well, yeah, so I made money by baling hay in the summers. That’s what you did in that area, and so I would bale hay to buy memory for my computers.
Oh wow, that’s a first.
Well, it worked out. I learned hard work, and I learned ...
Something you wanted.
Yeah, for something I wanted and something that I was deeply passionate about, too.
Right, right. And so you came to Silicon Valley, or what did you ... went to school to ... ?
So, where I’m from people don’t usually go off far for school, to be honest, but I had an uncle who’d gone to Stanford, and I did well in school, and he said, “You should apply,” and I got in, crazily enough, and ...
Nobody gets in now, just so you know.
Yeah, I know, I know.
Like, three people.
It’s kind of crazy. It’s totally crazy.
And I got on a plane, and I fell asleep, and I suddenly woke up in California and it was one of the most amazing things you’ve ever seen, ’cause you grow up in Ohio, California is like this far-away land where stars live and everything else, and my grandmother was convinced every major sin originated in California, so everyone was opposed to me going, but I went and it was amazing, and that kind of opened ...
So you stayed here, and then you got into computers.
I did. I’m a software engineer. In my soul, I’m a software engineer. I write code. And I always wanted to start a company. I had a dream of starting a company from going way, way back. But as I was graduating Stanford, I just felt like I didn’t know enough. I was a good engineer, but I didn’t know marketing. I talked to a lot of tech founders that feel this way too. I didn’t know marketing, I didn’t know finance, I didn’t know a lot of what I thought I would need to start a company, and so I thought, “Okay, I’ll go work at a big company for a while and learn.” So I went to work at Microsoft. And by the way, people still, to this day, when I say I go to work at Microsoft, they’re like, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t say anything. I said it silently inside my head, but ...
You don’t understand. In 1993, Microsoft was dominant in a way that no other company ... Even today, no one had that kind of ... It was amazing, and I worked on Windows for a little while and got a really good education. And then met Rich Barton, who was starting ...
Well, it was Microsoft Travel Technologies.
That’s right. You don’t remember, but they had a thing called Mungo Park, which ...
Oh, I remember Mungo Park.
Do you remember Mungo Park? Kara Swisher remembers Mungo Park, all of it.
And Microsoft Dodge, and Microsoft Beethoven, and ...
Underwire, the women’s site.
I don’t remember that one.
Oh yeah, that was real tasteless. Underwire. I was like, “What?” when I heard. I was like, “No.”
That is kind of crazy. That’s a goofy name.
Ballmer was like, “What do you mean?” I’m like, “Oh my God, if I have to explain it to you ...”
Ballmer’s a funny guy.
Yeah, yeah. I guess.
Yes. Lots of stories.
That’s one way of putting it. So, Rich was working on Microsoft Travel, and then it spun off into Expedia. And why did you move there? It was an early time for Expedia.
Yeah, I got to Expedia really really early. It was one of these things, another lesson I kind of look back on over my career. I kind of had to choose who I was going to place my bet on, and I met Rich, and I met a couple other leaders at Microsoft, and I placed my bet on Rich as potentially being my mentor and that’s the way it turned out. He’s been my mentor for 25 years, and sort of the rest is history.
Right, so you worked on Expedia, which ... Things have changed so drastically in the travel space, but it was literally the first iteration of what was going to happen.
Yeah, it was, and again, the thing that was interesting is ... You’ve gotta remember, we were building a website in ’94, ’95. Nothing existed, so for the engineers listening to this, it was all on C++. I’ve lost years of my life to tracking down memory leaks. There was no security infrastructure. We had to write all of it. It was kind of a crazy, crazy, Wild West time on the internet. But it was fun. We grew really really fast. Rich convinced Ballmer and Bill to spin us out. I think we’re still the only company that Microsoft ever let go.
Right, right, could be. I’d have to think, yeah.
We spun out, went public, and that was a crazy, crazy ride. And I learned an awful lot about building companies and building cultures, because the Microsoft culture was super fascinating, the culture we built at Expedia was super fascinating, and I took that on to my other companies.
Right, and so you went from there to where?
So I stayed at Expedia for quite some time, and then in 2000 ... I guess it must have been 2005, I moved here to run Hotwire. Expedia had acquired Hotwire, and I moved to San Francisco from ... ’Cause I had been in Seattle all this time. Acquired Hotwire and moved down here, did that for a year, and then I needed a break. I was tired, so I took a year off. I worked on my house for a little while, and I learned how to fix anything in my house, which I recommend to anybody. For a geek it was a really fun thing, and then I spent a good six to nine months playing World of Warcraft.
Oh, okay. My children play that.
Which was awesome.
Okay. But how do you get to Glassdoor, because ... I mean, Expedia’s sort of a judgment site, essentially.
Well, so Glassdoor, I guess, triangulated from two forces. One was Warcraft and gaming, and I’ll come back to that one, but the main one was transparency. So we didn’t realize until about halfway through Expedia that what we thought were an e-commerce site, and if you would have stopped me, I would have told you that, but in reality what we were doing was providing transparency to the travel landscape. We didn’t understand that, but if you’ll think about it in hindsight, you had to call every hotel.
Oh, I remember. You call agents and airlines. You couldn’t call airlines, actually.
And then if you went to an agent they had the green screen, and you kind of felt like they were interpreting it, and you wish you could just take control of it yourself and look at it, and that’s fundamentally what we did, is we provided that transparency, and that allowed us to build a really interesting business. Rich went on to do that same thing in real estate with Zillow.
And so Rich and I got back together and were thinking about what big decision do people make in their life where, because of the way the world is developed, they have very little information to help them. Real estate was an example, travel was an example, and where you go to work was a glaring example where people knew nothing. Maybe you knew one person that worked at a company and you could ask them what’s it like, but you knew very very little. You knew very very little about salary information and fair pay, and that’s come to be very very important.
So we knew that it would be hard. We knew that it would be somewhat tricky to get right, but if we could get that information out of people’s heads in a constructive way, we could make a contribution, and we might be able to build a really big business around that, and so that’s how Glassdoor was born.
But where was it thought of? Because there’d been ... People had whisper networks about companies and people know each other, but there isn’t a lot of knowledge about companies or about how people really operate.
Do you mean literally how did the idea come up?
Rich and I were on the phone, I had been playing World of Warcraft for like seven months, and I learned this about myself: I hit the max level in World of Warcraft, and the next day I called Barton and I was like, “Okay, I’m done.” I’m so goal-driven, it’s very interesting. I learned that about me, and so we literally started brainstorming on the phone about things, and he’s like, “You know, you remember that time we left this ...” We had left a printout of ... Every company takes these surveys, and then there’s the detailed comments at the end, and those are the best, and Rich had printed them.
Or the worst, or wherever your perspective ...
Both, yeah. They’re what you want to read. The numbers aren’t that useful.
100 percent, yeah.
Richard printed them out, and he’d left them on a printer, and he was like, “You remember that?”
Well done, Rich.
Yeah, exactly. And his assistant luckily had saved him, but we’re like, “What if that had just gotten out? And what if the spreadsheet that had everyone’s salary and stock, what if it just became public knowledge? How bad would that be?” And we started going through the thought experiment of it.
People think Glassdoor was — used to think, anyway — Glassdoor was built to stick it to the man, and I used to joke. I’m like, “I think I am the man. Rich and I are the man.” We were both CEOs of companies. That wasn’t what we were trying to do. We were trying to figure out ... It’s really bad for companies when people make poor decisions about where they go to work, and they usually do that because they have poor information. And so if we could just pull this together in a constructive way, it would be really really valuable.
The part that came from gaming was the constructive part is based on the community rules and norms, and that’s the hard part about a site like Glassdoor or any user-generated site. What I experienced in gaming was, the first time I ever actually belonged to a community, for one. I got up, was happy to see my guildmates, and the rules and norms that were adopted really kind of ... There were some groups that were toxic and there were some groups that were not toxic, and it was super fascinating to see how very small, subtle decisions were what separated the two.
Absolutely. I wrote about that today, was talking about that concept of community, that if you make rules ... It’s not just rules. You need to have values. You have to have all kinds of things.
People confuse rules with values.
And a way to enforce them. So when we launched Glassdoor, we started collecting these reviews, and we read them before we published them, mostly ’cause we wanted to see what’s going to come in, and we weren’t sure yet.
Right, ’cause it could be used as disgruntled ...
But that then ... We were just feeling it as we were reading it, we were like, “Wow, this is really valuable,” and so to this day, I think we’re still the only site that pre-moderates. So when you post something on Glassdoor, it doesn’t go live. It goes to a moderator who decides if it fits norms and guidelines, then it goes live.
I want to talk about this later, ’cause it was exactly what I wrote about Twitter today, that they need to have, at some point, people ... Facebook and others. But we’ll get to that later. So you decided ... Was it more like you wanted to get the salary information, or just the feedback information, or is there any one part of it than when you were first conceiving of it? And then I want to talk about what it turned into.
There were three legs to the stool. There was, “What’s it like to work at the company?”
Right, which is comments.
Yep. There was salary, because that’s so critically important and we knew that, and there was basically, “How much confidence do you have in senior leadership?” And that was one of those tiny decisions at the time. We were like, “Hey, let’s do a CEO approval rating, just like a presidential approval rating.” Turned out to be a big deal, because lo and behold, lots of CEOs care about that rating, and it opened a lot of doors to us and it helped us become important in their organizations because it was very personal. It’s funny. We tested at the time, there was going to be a fourth leg to that stool. We were going to let you rate your manager.
Your individual manager, all the way through the org, and we did the tests with users where we sat behind a two-way mirror, and they loved this concept of Glassdoor. It was just a concept thing then, and they were like, “This is great. Can I get it? Does it exist?” And you know you’ve got something when people say that. And then we’d get to the part where we’re rating their manager, and then it was like ... It took about four seconds, and you could just see their brain turn, and they’d be like, “Wait a minute. Does this mean I could be up there? This sucks. This concept is terrible.”
Judge not lest ye be judged.
But it was just clear we couldn’t do that. That wasn’t going to work. It would take more time to figure that out.
So the idea was, because one of the things that had broken out in Silicon Valley was this 360 evaluation, which was already within companies. Why is that different? That’s what they try to do to try to get the full scope. They never get the full scope because people are dishonest about their work experience inside of a company, I find.
Yeah, it’s interesting.
You have to pull it out of them, for sure.
Yes, so it’s very interesting. What’s different about Glassdoor from things like that is first off, it’s public. The very nature of ...
Let me explain. A 360 meaning you get reviewed by everyone around you, from assistants to people above, but go ahead.
Right, and typically it either goes only to you or to you and your manager. But it’s private. It doesn’t go ... It’s not open and available. And so I don’t even think we fully understood at the time how powerful this would be, but the idea that this information was public and that anyone could see it meant that even though many companies get the same information internally from surveys, they get a more authentic tone from an independent third party and a platform, and also, it forces companies to do something about it.
Right, ’cause people can see it.
Having run a company, it’s so easy to take those surveys, and even well-intentioned, you mean to fix the stuff in them ...
Right, like, “Oh, that’s a disgruntled ...” You start to figure.
Well, even if you don’t, you know it’s a problem, and you know you should fix it, and just it never makes the list. When it’s public and it’s harming your ability to hire and recruit, it sort of forces you to deal with it, and I’ve had that experience with our own problems on Glassdoor, posted on Glassdoor.
Right, about Glassdoor. So when you’re putting these things public, the idea is to effectuate change that people want to do. They wanna have some sort of change. Let’s get back to the idea, and in the next section we’ll talk more about this, but of sticking it to the man, ’cause that’s how people looked at sites like Glassdoor. Whatever it was, it was Yelp or wherever it was — and obviously we can talk about the gaming the system later — but you didn’t think of it as sticking it to the man, right? How it didn’t ...
Yeah, and to be honest ...
That’s precisely what you were doing.
Well, I wouldn’t have even told you that my main goal was effecting change, ’cause it wasn’t, actually. I think that was a pleasant side effect. My main goal really was to educate job-seekers on what different cultures were like. Because there are very few bad companies. Yes, I’ve met them, but most companies are just very different. There’s really type-A companies that are super aggressive, and there’s companies that are lifestyle companies and they’re more laid-back, and it’s kind of ... Figuring out which one fits you matters.
Right, and there’s just bad people within companies.
Sure, that is true too. And by the way, that’s part of the reason CEO approval rating, we felt, was so important, is because when it’s the very tippy-top person, it does tend to affect the whole organization.
Absolutely, 100 percent.
Yes, I agree with that 100 percent. And so, yeah, that was our goal, was to educate job-seekers. And so it took a while for companies to come around on this. But there was a kind of a wave of transparency happening around us anyway, and that helped. Twitter was happening, LinkedIn was happening, Facebook was happening, and it was kind of clear that — Yelp was happening, TripAdvisor — that if it could be reviewed, it was probably going to be reviewed.
Right, so why not make it the workplace?
And then the question was ... Well, it was different for us, and what I always felt from the beginning was this was a little different, though. This was a review of a company and a serious topic, and so I always felt a responsibility to get the community rules and norms right and to make it constructive, because there had been sites before us attempting this, and they kind of devolved into cesspools.
Cesspools, right. It’s a big topic, in fact. I keep referring to this column I did, but I said Twitter has devolved into a cesspool too much. They’ve not allowed ... Talk about the standards you put in place.
I don’t want to talk about Twitter. I’m talking about yours, because it is the kind of thing that, exactly, could ... like, “I hate my boss.” It’s not constructive, it’s just a lot of griping. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with disgruntled people, because it’s a good thing to hear from them. But you’d want to hear from more people, so that you have a fuller conceptual idea of ...
That’s exactly right.
So what was different about Glassdoor was that we couldn’t ... A lot of sites, like Yelp or TripAdvisor or other user-generated sites, 0.1 percent of people can leave the majority of the reviews, because they stay at a bunch of hotels or they eat at a bunch of restaurants.
If you’re reviewing companies, it just doesn’t work that way. You work at a company, and even in the Bay Area, you only change every two years. So we needed lots more people to contribute. That is definitely true, so the structure of the site had to encourage that. And so, there was a variety of ways we did that.
But we mostly listened to the community; Jeremy Stoppelman from Yelp once gave me that advice, early on. He said, “Look, your community’s going to tell you where it wants and needs to go.”
We used their reviews, and the complaints about their reviews, to listen to what was fair. Things we heard were, one, it’s okay to talk about quasi-public figures in reviews. Not okay to talk about people that are not quasi-public figures, and that pretty rapidly meant we ...
You couldn’t do individual managers.
Yeah, we made a rule which said, you couldn’t even do the singularly identified thing. You can’t say, like, the Regional Director of Akron. That’s still individually identifying it. The review comes down.
Or never goes up. So there’s that rule. There was rules around, early on, there was no way for an employer to respond. Then we allowed for an employer to respond, and for a job seeker to respond back, and this tit for tat started, and that was bad. That got really bad fast.
Then, we adopted the one response method, which is basically, the review goes up, the employer gets to respond, and that’s it.
That felt like the right balance.
Yeah, because the person had his say, or they did.
They both had their say, right?
Hard things we’ve had to figure out over the years are, when someone alleges sexual harassment in the workplace.
Well, we’ll get to that, it’s a whole, yeah. But, go ahead. Go ahead, talk about it.
Well, we always look at it through the lens of, “Will it help a job seeker on whether to go to work here?” Obviously, that information is relevant to whether you’re going to go to work there, and so we allow it. There were other types of crimes being reported in reviews that weren’t relevant to whether you’d go to work there, per se.
Right. Like what?
And we decided — basically, violent crimes, or drug use, or this person ... a lot of times, it’s one person doing something to another person, which doesn’t necessarily reflect the workplace as a whole.
And so, a lot of times, we would say, “Okay, that belongs more with law enforcement, it doesn’t belong on the site.”
Yup, yup, yup.
We’re talking about things that matter, about whether you’d go to work here.
Right, right, and so, over time, you evolved these standards, or values, or ... well, there’s values and standards and rules, they’re all different things. But I find that unusual, because a lot of companies sit here and say, “I don’t do that.” They just sort of have a free-for-all, “open is best” kind of thing, whatever floats.
Companies that make choices like this ... like, I remember, Apple, when they made the App Store choices. Now, they haven’t been perfect, but they certainly, definitely were mocked at the time that they did that, I remember. Like, “What? You can’t decide about anything,” and I was like, “Yeah, they kind of can. It’s their store.”
They can put anything they want on their shelves.
Talk about that concept, because not putting things up is such an anathema to Silicon Valley people. They’re like, “Let’s get it all out there and let’s see it!” I think it becomes, like you said, a cesspool.
Yeah. Well, I think it was a little ... Glassdoor was different enough, because of the seriousness of what was being discussed, it’s different than Facebook, and it’s different than Twitter.
Right, right. There’s some serious things being discussed on it.
There are, but, I mean, it’s such a broad diversity of topics happening on those platforms, I have some sympathy for the decision of when and where and how to moderate. It was pretty clear to us, early on, that this was going to be a serious conversation. It was meant to be a serious ... we wanted it to be a serious conversation.
We didn’t want it to be … Do you remember, at the time, there was ... Am I allowed to swear?
There was fuckedcompany.com.
Fuck, yes. Yes, I do.
Okay, and we had had a mantra internally: “We don’t want to be a fuckedcompany.com.”
Right. Look at that guy.
Well, it was really humorous, but not very helpful.
Yeah. What was that guy’s name who ran it?
I don’t know.
I had him at my house once. He was funny.
I bet he was!
Anyway, he was really funny.
It was super funny and entertaining, but it wasn’t actionable or useful.
Yeah, yeah. Tell me why. Explain. Because, it was just like bellyaching. And mean.
Yeah. It wasn’t actionable or useful information. You didn’t feel like you were getting the full story or a nuanced version of the story.
You were getting a sensationalized, extreme version.
“That company sucks,” that kind of thing.
Yeah, exactly, and so, we didn’t want to be that. We wanted to be a serious review about a company’s shortcomings and the things that make it great, and one of the things we asked is, advice to senior management. Like, if you could sit with Steve Ballmer, what would you tell him on how to run Microsoft at the time?
Right. Right. So you’re encouraging helpful discussion.
People, like, it was crazy when we surveyed users. That changed the whole tone. They were, like, “oh,” like it ...
“Do I have to be helpful?”
That was one of those subtle mindset things that put people in the mindset of, “Yeah, if I could tell him, what would I tell him?”
And made them serious.
Yeah, right. See, talking about that, because when you have an anonymous platform, it devolves. Devolves is what happens a lot, and pretty much almost every platform devolves.
Well, there’s anonymous, there’s shade of gray on that, first off. A Glassdoor is anonymous to the community. Those people are not anonymous to us.
We have to have an email address, and yeah, we also have to be able to communicate with you, or we will take down all of your content on our site.
For all the reasons they talk about today. But at the same time, it’s super important that your information be anonymous to, obviously, the community and workplaces. Because the workplace ...
Yeah. No, obviously. Yeah.
They will retaliate, and one of the debates we had early on was, should we require a company email address to contribute?
Like Facebook did with colleges, or whatever.
Or Dell. Yeah, exactly. Or, at microsoft.com, or at dell.com, or something like that, and we feared that companies could just go look at logs and see that people had ...
Right. So they want to use their Gmail account with them.
It turns out, big companies won’t do that. Big companies ...
Big companies could do it.
They could, but we don’t see that.
What we do see is little companies, like, they’re usually small law firms in Florida. I don’t know why.
Well, they’re a little sketchy.
Seemed to be the worst behavior is behaviors, when it comes to this.
Yeah. Right. So, trying to figure out who’s being mean about that.
Exactly! And they will. They’ll go look at, like, every last thing, because they presented it to us. They’re like, “I know who left this review. Here’s the firewall logs.”
It’s like, “Oh, my God! This is terrible.”
I mean, God, right, yeah. Can’t take a criticism, can you, right?
But again, going back to that, devolving. You ask helpful questions ...
Which suggest that you want a serious answer, and then people don’t just throw mud at each other.
But it does create a situation where you’re going to get a certain type of person, versus the whole company. How do you solve for that?
Great question, and we worried about this early on. We were really afraid we’d see this bimodal distribution, either people that hate their company or love their company, and no one in the middle.
Like I said earlier, we needed to get a really broad distribution.
Which is where the truth is, right?
Yes, I agree, and so, we created various mechanisms on the site, the strongest of which was, if you wanted to see salary information, you had to give. It’s called give to get. You had to contribute. So you couldn’t, unlike Yelp or TripAdvisor or others, you couldn’t consume content on Glassdoor without contributing.
To this day, actually, you can’t, after three or four page views, consume without contributing.
Ooh, that’s interesting. You have to make them say something.
Yeah, you have to give something. Now, it can be a salary. If it’s just going to be light, it’ll be on your phone. Typically, it’s a salary, but some people ... I was skeptical, but I was stunned at the quality of reviews we got from mobile devices like this. It shocked me.
Yeah, okay, so they had to contribute to something, and to create a thing. So what, then, became the goal? I want to talk about the business model, also, but what became, then, the goal? As to give, just as a clearinghouse for information, if you can make better hiring decisions, essentially?
Yeah, that’s right, that’s exactly right. Our mission is to help people.
Or go in to get hired.
We wanted to help people find a job in a company they love.
So, if we could get the information that helped you figure out, like, “What’s the story with this company?” and, “I have this offer in front of me. Is it fair? Could I ask for a little bit more, or would I be overplaying my hand?” Interview questions were a huge one.
Like, in the ’08 recession? People were freaked out. There were people laid off that had not been ever laid off.
And an interview is one of the most stressful things that you do, short of public speaking, and they said, “If I could just be a fly on someone else’s interview,” like, “How long is it gonna take?” “What are they gonna ask me?”
That was one of those times we went, “Okay.”
Helpful information, right.
“We can get that information. Our community would gladly give that information.”
Right, tell you what it’s like there. Ultimately, the idea is to give people, place people where they belong? Because it’s usually a pull situation, where the companies pull into people. They pull from LinkedIn, or they pull ... versus a push situation, where the employees select companies they like, too, or not.
You mean the hiring process?
Yes, the hiring process.
Pull versus push?
It’s always focused on the company.
You’re used to the Bay Area.
It’s pull in the Bay Area, for sure, just because there’s such a shortage of tech workers.
But I don’t think, in the general economy, and certainly, outside the United States and the world economy ...
It’s pretty balanced. The bluer you go, the more push it is, and the more knowledge worker you go, the more pull it is, I would say.
Right, okay, that’s interesting.
So, your goal is to get people to understand where they, if they’re good, to walk about working somewhere. You ever thought to do more editorial things, where you would take the synopsis of what people say and then do that? Can you talk about that?
I could probably describe Patagonia from talking to people who work there, myself, and I haven’t done much research. Or, Google, or-
Ah, interesting. We have avoided Glassdoor speculating on these companies.
For conflict reasons.
What we have done, though, is, and we have this great vantage point,with which to say, “What are the patterns we see in great companies?” And we publish this Best Places To Work list every year.
Then we can look and see, like, “Okay, what are these 50 companies doing, all, that’s all the same?” We publish a lot of stuff around that.
Right, talk about that.
Well, so, and we hired an economist to basically, then, begin to bring some science to bear on this. Let’s see, my favorite findings on this. Did you know, there is an inverse correlation between work/life balance and CEO approval rating? Meaning, the lower the work ... it’s slight, but it’s there. The lower work/life balance is, typically, the higher CEO approval rating is.
Okay, well, once you go and unpack it, what you find is, it is ... people are willingly trading off work/life balance to go to work for these iconic leaders and companies.
Oh, I see. Oh.
And so, like, the New York Times article about ...
It’s like, culty.
Amazon, and Bezos slamming Amazon’s work/life balance. Like, we had given the Times all this data, which kind of contradicted their article. Because, what it said was, “Yes, Amazon has terrible work/life balance. That’s not the point.”
The point is, people are willingly doing that, to go after this mission.
Yeah. Actually, that was one interesting issue I had with that guy. I mean, I think, being sort of shocked by it, I was like, “They like it, and they picked there, so ...”
Exactly! And in fact ...
I don’t know. Those rich people want to get abused, that’s their beeswax. You pick what you want. You pick the kind of place you want. Not every workplace is the same.
Especially a place like that.
I think that’s the hard part is, we imagine all workplaces should all be the nice, same, nice place. I mean, you pick Ellison for a certain thing, and you pick Google for a certain thing. I’m just picking tech companies.
You’re dead right, and they’re totally different, right? I mean, Ellison’s environment is totally different than Zuckerberg’s.
Right, right, right.
Well, internally, yeah. Yeah, they’re different, and then there’s other things that work into it, as where you want to go from there and its corporate reputation, and everyday things like that. So what else? Give me another one. That’s real interesting. That makes total sense, though.
Ah, so that was fascinating, yup.
You want to believe in somebody.
Things that drive employee ... Oh, this is one that’s fascinating. It was either the No. 1 or No. 2 driver of employee satisfaction was growth opportunities. Particularly, it skewed, the more knowledge worker you got, and the more you got into large metropolitan hubs, the more true it became. Because what people are doing is, on the day they are dropping into a job, they’re basically starting to think about their next job.
Yup, 100 percent.
And so, what they’re doing is, they’re basically saying, what can you do to help me in the two or three years I’ll be here so that my next step will be a step up?
That is what they really value.
Which, companies do a terrible job. That’s ...
Well, around diversity, it’s real interesting. They spend a lot of time hiring, but not a lot of time retaining and training and managing people.
Retaining is tough, but training and managing, you’re right.
Well, but moving people up, who aren’t used to, you know what I mean, moving those people up? They just leave them, and then, that’s it. They think the hiring is the last stop on the ...
I guess that’s fair that companies have been slow to invest.
I’ve heard it from a lot of diverse candidates, yeah.
I think that’s probably fair, that companies have been slow to invest in this.
Then they don’t do well, and they’re like, “Oh, look, we hired diversity and they didn’t do well.” It just goes ... it’s like, “You didn’t do anything to change the way it was done.” Anyway, it’s an interesting ...
Yeah, yeah. So that was one. One of the biggest ones that I think has been fascinating is because we have so much pay data. It’s detailed, and it’s down to the person and their job title and their location and their company. We were able to unpack the pay gap in a way that I don’t think anyone had been able to do before.
So you’ve heard the data that says women are paid 76 cents on the dollar, for $1 in men. That’s true, but it’s a broad average, which isn’t that helpful, and I think actually doesn’t help the cause. Because if you say that to me or any other leader, I think we’d go, “Yeah, I don’t pay women 26 percent less. That doesn’t make any sense.” It doesn’t resonate.
If you unpack it, it’s like, I forget the exact numbers, but 15 percent of it’s tenure, and women have typically less tenure, because they drop out to have babies, and for other reasons, and then, the rest of it is job titles. Or another, like, 10 percent of it is job titles. So, career sorting. Women are told, sort of from an early age, “You don’t belong in tech. You don’t belong in math. You belong here,” and they tend to be lower-paying jobs.
When you take those, and I’m not excusing those two, but it helps to understand them. It helps to understand that, okay, career sorting makes it this much of a difference. Then there’s 6 percent left that is unexplainable, that is probably the true, true bias.
Of sexism, yeah.
Right, and how people ask for money and everything.
Yes, and that’s helpful, too, because then that’s a number that I think a lot of people go, “I could see how, if I weren’t really paying attention ...”
Six percent could get by me.
Right, absolutely, 100 percent, absolutely.
And how people ask for money, how they negotiate for money.
Then you can start studying that. We publish these tools on our site.
Yeah, because you don’t want anecdotal. Anecdotally, I can tell you, men are more aggressive asking for money.
As a boss, it’s 100 percent. That’s not everybody, but it’s a clear, you can feel it in it.
As a broad categorization, and it seems to be true, yes.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, which is interesting, and then, you don’t know what to do about it.
Like, what do you do? Like, please ask for more money. You’re not really, and that’s not really your business, right?
Yeah, I know. Well, so, at Glassdoor, what we do now is, we started using this. So our economists built this model that basically looked at our, when we do reviews every six months and when we get pay raises and bonuses now, we can basically look to see, did we have gender bias? Once we normalize for tenure and job title, and we found that we didn’t. But what’s awesome is, once you have that model, every time we do reviews and every time we give raises, we can see if we can introduce anything into it.
You can look at review scores. You can look at bonuses.
Is there any groups that have bias by gender, or ...
Right, right, right, which is hard. We’re here with Robert Hohman. He is the cofounder and CEO of Glassdoor. We’ve just been talking about salaries, which is sort of, I think, the big ... even though people talk about whether they like their job or they feel good about their job, money really is a great equalizer in terms of how you feel.
It’s not the No. 1 driver.
Okay. All right. Tell me the No. 1 driver.
So, opportunities for growth is there.
Confidence in your leadership is there.
It’s like, money is No. 4, or something like this. It’s not even in the top three.
I guess, what I mean is, equity of money. Like, that people know who makes what, and stuff like that.
Fairness matters. Yeah, that’s fair.
Fairness, yeah. So, I think it was Ellen Pao who was onstage, who was talking about this of blind hiring. People have talked about that concept of not knowing who the candidates are.
Can you ... How does that ... What do you think about that?
I think it’s a great idea, I guess. I think it’s a fine idea. I guess, you know, I think what’s challenging is in the Bay Area in particular ... Bias in hiring right now I think takes a couple forms. I think it takes the form of the community or what already exists in the company.
Like some workplaces are just not clearly friendly to women or certain groups.
People of color.
Right. That’s something that has to get better. Then, I think there’s this massive problem upstream, which is that certain groups and women and other groups have been being told for years you don’t belong in these careers or whatever else, so we’re reaping the benefits of that still. It’s going to take years for that to work.
Because, you know, girls can code and minorities can code. A bunch of other organizations are starting to fix that now. It’s still going to take 15 years before those people are showing up in our candidate flow.
I know, it’s a pipeline issue.
It is. But it’s real. The blind thing doesn’t resonate that much with me, only because look, if the person can code, we don’t care. Almost everybody I work with doesn’t care what color they are, what religion they are.
Right. But there are lots of people who have stories that their coding gets judged differently. I mean, dozens and dozens. It’s not a ...
I think that’s fair.
It’s not a goblin that suddenly appears.
I think that’s more to do with once they’re then in place at a company.
Right. How they’re judged.
How ... Is there bias within the company.
I think we definitely can do better there, for sure, if these stories that we’re hearing ...
Right. I’m not a shrinking violet, but I’ve had so many ... Imagine doing a sexist remark to me and I’ve had it. It’s like, you know what I mean?
Yes. There’s no doubt.
There’s people who have ... It’s not the right time. I can imagine if I’ve gotten them, everybody’s gotten them kind of thing.
It’s education too, because I think a lot of people don’t even realize they’re doing it in some cases.
I’m going to argue with you. I think they do. I think they often do, and I think it’s an easy out to say, “Oh I had no idea.”
Maybe. I may be a little over-idealistic, but I think ... I see a lot of ignorance.
Oh I think there’s lots of lovely people.
I see a lot of ignorance around this topic, where people are like, “What’d I say?”
Yeah. Well, I know.
It’s like, that’s not okay. You can’t say that.
Yet it happens over and over again. It’s like at some point it’s like, “Clean your room.”
You know what I mean? It’s ultimately ... I make a joke and I don’t think I believe it fully. It’s unconscious bias versus ... I think some of it’s very conscious and it’s not. Because it never changes. Once it’s pointed out it still doesn’t change, so therefore you’re aware of it. What happens is a CEO doesn’t put it on the list of ... Like you were saying. It’s No. 4 or whatever it is. It’s often No. 14 and not No. 1. It never will get to No. 1, therefore will never happen, because it’s got to come from the top down.
Yeah. I think that’s fair. The good news is, Gen Z and even millennials are demanding this.
They want to work at a place that is inclusive and that is taking these things seriously. If they’re not, it’ll take time but they’re going to hold them accountable.
Let’s actually end up talking about that. Lots of companies now, they’ve all these message boards. They’ve got all these internal ones. Just like what you’re doing where I’ve sent ... I’ve written about ones at Yahoo, ones at Facebook and different things like that. People can be very, very clear about what they don’t like. I think a lot of these companies like Google and others have encouraged that. Real complaints. I remember Sergey and Larry had started their Friday “Scream at Sergey and Larry” sessions essentially, which I liked. I’ve been at many of them. I think they’re astonishing what people complain about. Like, it’s usually like, “The pudding wasn’t good.” I’m like, “Stop it.”
I know. The coffee. Coffee. Limited coffee flavors.
I’ve gotten that one, actually.
I know. Sometimes I’m like, “Really?”
No, we’re not in a bubble here.
This isn’t a first-world problem. I don’t even know what world it is. Fantasy-world problem. But I like that. The idea of complaining to the boss, like the flat structure.
Talk about that concept, like, the idea. It’s been around, this concept of complaining, but right now people are not just complaining. They’re wanting to do something about it. Like Google going into China. There’s a huge hubbub going on internally at Google in a very vocal group of employees who do not want this to happen. Same thing with Microsoft and ICE. Using ICE. Or people ... Lots of, just all over the place, employees are sort of rising up. They are really the base, if you want to use a political term, of these CEOs. People feel more emboldened to talk.
I think what has happened ... Well, I think at a macro point, here’s what I think has happened. I think that in our parents’ generation, and even to a degree in our generation, you were expected to check your heart at the door on your way in and come do your work, and pick your heart up on the way out the door. You know, your philanthropic work, your do-good work, whatever you felt was important was supposed to be separate from work.
I think starting with the millennial generation, let’s call it people under 30, we definitely see this clearly in the data too. They are demanding that companies break down that dichotomy. In fact, they’re rewarding companies who are able to align their work with a positive impact in the world. They want to know, I’m working 40, 50, 60, 100 hours a week. Is it ... Tell me how I’m making the world a better place. I’ll give you incrementally ... Those companies can pay a little less. Like, they get real value for that.
I think this is just the next evolution and extension of that. Now this is a very small group of companies. We should acknowledge that. But I think that’s what we’re seeing, is that people are bringing more of their entire world view to work. Now, I think it’s a very complicated sticky subject. Like, if you’re CEO of a company ... Fact is, if you’re CEO of a company of any size, you’ve got dramatically different world views. You’ve got people that voted for Trump. You’ve got people that didn’t vote for Trump. You’ve got people that are everywhere in between. You can’t claim to be an inclusive environment if you’re going to tell people who voted for Trump that they have no place in your workplace, I don’t think.
Right. I don’t think that’s what it is. I’m talking about they have opinions. These employees have opinions on doing work. Like Google people don’t want to work on the Defense Department things. They don’t want to ... Like, there’s a lot more speaking up.
Yeah. I get that. I was just using Trump as an example.
I get that, and I think that’s absolutely their right. I mean, my father-in-law refused to serve in ... He flew peacekeeping ... He flew food aid missions because he refused to drop bombs. I think that’s your right. That’s just an extension of something that happened in the ’50s. Yeah. That’s a personal decision, though.
Right. But it’s the speaking up of employees. I want to talk about that trend. This idea that people now can speak up a lot more than they used to. Or maybe they don’t.
Oh sure. Again, the force of transparency in the world, and also what’s happened too is this balance of power, especially in knowledge workers. If you go all the way back to the 1950s, the labor economy. Labor was completely interchangeable. If you didn’t like what was going on here, I’ll just replace you, because on the assembly line I just need you to do this thing. As we became a tech and knowledge economy over the last 70 years, talent began to matter. You actually could make a big difference relative to the guy next to you on the assembly line. You were not interchangeable anymore. That meant your opinions were something that had to be dealt with.
Right. Where does it go from here? Where does it go? You guys make money how?
We’re a recruiting company at the end of the day.
Recruiting company, yeah.
Yup. We help companies hire.
Giving them insights into what people think about their company, correct?
We make most of our money by helping companies hire on the platform. They list jobs. They can sponsor jobs. They can have a why work for us section on Glassdoor. Explain their mission, vision and values. Because job seekers will tell you, they really value what the community says, but they want to hear from the company too.
They know that that’s the other side of the coin. Then, sure, come ...
But those nasty reviews can be right next to the stuff that they’re trying ...
They can. Yes, they can. We will not ever take a review down for a company that is working with us.
They just have to deal with it.
They just have to deal with it.
Yeah. Is there something that comes to you to have good reviews? What do you think of the qualities of good companies are then, and the ones, the bad ones?
The consistent themes that we see around ... I’m drawn to the leader, because it typically has a lot to do with the leader. Clear communication around a bold mission and vision. Like, Trump wins the ... Not that Trump wins the day again and again and again. You can just point to these leaders who are just really good at saying that’s where we’re going. Communicating it again and again and again. Everybody understands it. They feel like they’re a part of it. They could be making ... They’re not tech companies.
I remember in ’08, Caterpillar, the company that makes backhoes and stuff, laid off. Had a huge lay-off and their ratings went up because their leadership did such an amazing job actually outlining, “This is the mountain we’re climbing. Those of you that are left, this is what we’re going to do.” People deeply appreciated it.
Right, because they got the honest truth.
That’s one. Clear direction. Clear leadership. It’s a key one too. It’s not just the CEO. People talk a lot about senior leadership as a group. Who the CEO allows into that circle really speaks volumes about what they truly believe.
And can’t be underestimated. That one shows up again and again and again too.
Right. Then bad. What are the things that pop up? Obviously lack of communication.
Rudderless. Companies that don’t seem to know where they’re going. What do people typically complain about? Trying to think. We don’t study bad that often. We study the things that make companies great, so I’m trying to think anecdotally what I’ve heard. You know, again, a lot of it’ll go to the leader. People will complain a lot about just a hypocritical leader that just says one thing and does something completely differently. Nothing kills people as much as that.
Right, absolutely. Where’s it go from here? What happens now? You obviously are mobile. What else? Let’s finish up talking about that. Where does it ...
We’re launching in over a dozen new countries this year. We operate in 15 countries now. We’ll add over a dozen this year.
I assume they’re a different environment.
Excited about that.
You know, it’s kind of interesting. We expected it, and everybody said, “Oh the Germans will never tell you this.”
Germans never stop talking.
It turns out they do. Right. It’s almost exactly the same. You know, the French are pretty much the same. The U.K.
Except with a lot more hand-waving.
We’re launching in Italy this year, so we’ll get more of it this year, you’re right.
Try to take “basta” out. Go ahead.
Asia could be different. Asia is something we’ll tackle probably in the next year or two. That may be where we begin to see our first real deep cultural differences. But we’ll see. That’s big for us. Obviously we agreed to be acquired by Recruit just a couple months ago. That’s exciting, because fundamentally hiring is a matching problem. You’re taking a company and you’re taking people and you’re being like, “Who would do well?” That fundamentally is a data problem. Data problems fundamentally are typically scale problems.
We’re pretty big. We see 60 million people a month to our service. But we’re not as big as Recruit or Indeed. Having Indeed as a sister company and being a part of the Recruit portfolio and allowing us to begin to think about ways that we can use our mutual scale to do this. We can begin to, I think, help people find jobs at levels that just no one else is likely to —
How does LinkedIn and others fit in to that?
LinkedIn is one of the biggest competitors we have. They’re huge. They have a tremendous amount of awesome data.
Owned by Microsoft.
What’s that? Owned by Microsoft. Hopefully a little distracted. Off integrating their data into all kinds of other things. I will say this. Amazing data. I don’t know if in their bones they’re a recruiting company. The thing that drew me to Recruit is in our bones, we are helping people find jobs. That’s why we get up in the morning.
I’m going to get a call from Jeff Weiner, but go ahead.
I don’t know. Maybe Jeff believes that. I don’t think he does though. He’s about connecting people with economic opportunity. In many ways they have a broader mission in some ways.
Yeah. We’re kind of focused on a more narrow slice of it. Of like, we want to help people get jobs. That was Recruit’s mission and Indeed’s mission. That all aligned really, really well.
All right. Last question. What’s the very worst review you’ve ever seen?
I know you have one.
The very ... Well we probably wouldn’t have posted it.
Yeah. Well maybe. What’s the one you’ve posted?
Well okay. We get ... Can I just tell you on this topic some of the funniest, most memorable moments I have at Glassdoor are the content moderation meetings that we have where we get together like every couple months to revise the rules.
Right. I like that you do that, by the way.
We will pull a review. We’ll pull a review and we’ll put it in front of us. We’ll be like, does it belong or does it not belong? We have seen everything. We have seen more ways to spell “fuck” than you can imagine. Right? Like we debated it. Well, if it’s P-H-U-C-K, is that okay? Or if it’s a euphemism for it is that okay? Or is it not?
That is a great management meeting to have. I think I would like to be in that meeting.
It’s funny, man. Then of course, you get the really, really serious accusations, but like most of it’s pretty funny.
It’s like “The Office,” right.
The worst stuff is probably around accusations of sexual harassment. Like, I guess the one I’m ... Okay, one is jogged. Company ... Then we agonize over allowing it on the site. We did allow it. Someone said the CEO only hires blondes and they disappear into his office for hours on end and rumors fly. It’s like, okay are we going to allow this? Are we not going to allow it? Does it belong? Well, it kind of matters if you’re a woman. A blonde woman thinking of going to work here.
So we allowed it and we took the heat for it. Yeah.
Good for you. Well, this has been fascinating, Robert. I really appreciate it. Thank you for coming on the show. You’re going to stay with Glassdoor. Is that right?
I am. I’m excited. Yeah.
Good. Good. Fantastic. Recruit is owned ... It’s out of Asia, right?
It’s out of Japan, yeah.
Japan. That’s what I thought.
That’s right. Anyway, this is really interesting. We’ll have you come back for more.