Jessica Jensen, chief marketing officer with recruitment website Indeed, knows about work-life balance
When Jessica Jensen started off her career in corporate America in the 1990s, there was a rigid but unwritten rule book as to how women should look and act. The uniform included stockings (tights), she recalls.
“I remember a woman in consulting when I started, she said, ‘Now, you need to sit up at the table, put your arms on the table and make your points’,” she said demonstrating the stiff posture she was advised to take.
Work has transformed in the intervening years, with the pandemic accelerating even more change.
For Jensen, chief marketing officer with leading recruitment website Indeed, which employs 1,200 people in Ireland and 12,000 worldwide, these changes are positive on many levels.
“I can be my funny ridiculous self. We can wear whatever we want to wear – there is so much more freedom,” says Jensen, whose CV includes studying improv comedy in LA with teachers such as actress Melissa McCarthy. “When I started working, gay people were not out. You’d really whisper under your breath about somebody being gay. And, thank God, that has changed enormously.”
As a large employer and significant player in the jobs market, Indeed is at the forefront of the fast-changing world of recruitment, in which many employers are grappling with post-pandemic restrictions.
“I like to say the only two good things to come out of Covid are children learning to wash their hands, and people re-evaluating their relationship with work.
“I think there’s been a fundamental shift in terms of the need for flexibility, a desire to reduce business travel, and a desire to have work fit into life – and not the other way around. It’s all causing workers to think differently about what they want from their companies and organisations.
“It’s forcing employers to be more flexible, more open-minded, and to meet employees in a way that sustains their lives and their work.”
Jensen, who has held senior roles at Facebook and Apple, insists new ways of working aren’t just a fad.
“I don’t think it’s a youth movement. I think people up and down the chain of age are seeing the value in it.”
Some bosses are being drawn back to the offices, however, most notably in areas such as financial services.
“I don’t know if that’s going to work,” says Jensen. “I think that workers have more power now, and there’s more jobs than labour supply. People are voting with their feet.
“I think companies that draw a hard line around ‘back-in-the-office’
policies are going to struggle to retain and attract the best people.”
Jensen took a circuitous route to the boardroom of a multinational company. Originally from the state of Kansas in the US, at the age of 14 her family moved to San Diego, California. Then, after attending college in Massachusetts, she lived and worked in Japan.
“My dad’s a painter and I was really obsessed with Japanese art,” she says.
Jensen worked for California’s trade representatives in Tokyo, before returning to the US to join Boston Consulting Group. Later she became general manager of a number of Yahoo! consumer businesses.
“I realised that, in my heart, I was an artist – so I started migrating to marketing. But really I’m first and foremost a business strategist who has become a marketer over time.”
It was during her time in management consulting that she dallied with improv comedy, taking classes with an Los Angeles improv troupe called The Groundlings.
“I had no delusions that I would become a professional comedian,” she says with a smile. “I did it as a release. I loved being silly – and, you know, I wouldn’t say management consulting was relaxing.”
In the course of her career, Jensen found herself working for some major tech players. So how did she find attitudes to women in Silicon Valley?
“I don’t ever feel comfortable saying it’s hard for women to succeed in tech, because it’s entirely dependent on the company,” she says.
“But to be clear, there is a ‘tech bro’ culture in Silicon Valley. I think the startup world and the VC world have both historically seen a lot of male cronyism. But I think it’s improving.”
Jensen sits on the board of a women’s VC council called F7.
“We’re making strides,” she says.
Given that company culture seems to vary from firm to firm, how can prospective employees judge what it’s like on the ground, ahead of joining?
“I think kicking the tyres is incredibly important,” she says, adding that online employer reviews – such as you’ll find on Indeed’s sister site Glassdoor – are useful.
“I always say to women who ask about their career journey, ‘Use your network, find three women from that company in different departments – and ask them to give you the straight story.’ That can be quite revealing.
“I think a lot of companies put on a beautiful ‘diversity face’, but that’s not the actual day-to-day of experience of people in the company.”
Jensen spent five years at Facebook (now Meta), where she was head of platforms, products and insights and business marketing during an incredibly fraught time at the social media giant. She says the experience was “fascinating”.
“When I joined, we were 4,000 people – and when I left, we were almost 30,000 people. I was there when we acquired Instagram, when we acquired WhatsApp, when we launched Messenger...
“I got to see an incredible portfolio of companies around the world not only grow but really deal with societal, political issues. And I went through Cambridge Analytica, overseeing internal comms. I wouldn’t recommend that job to anyone.”
She also witnessed at first hand the world’s increasingly suspicious view of Facebook.
“We went from being exciting tech-industry darlings to being the scourge of media – some of which was deserved, some of which was not. It was personally very painful to see this thing I worked so hard on, that I really believed in, being pilloried.”
But Jensen believes in regulation for technology.
“I think technology is generally good for society, because it makes us more connected, more efficient – and frankly, it frees us from tedium in many regards.
“However, I definitely acknowledge the ills of social media. I’m raising an 11-year-old daughter, so I’m soaking in the challenges of navigating and trying to control that.
“I support governments and policy makers engaging with business to try to find the right balance, because these things can absolutely be toxic.”
Jensen, who joined Indeed as chief marketing officer during the pandemic, is a strong advocate of equality and diversity – an ethos which no doubt helped it to reach the top 10 in the Sunday Independent/Statista Ireland’s 150 Best Employers in 2022, which is published today.
Gender balance is a key priority at Indeed – and the company has been actively working to achieve this.
“I would say, as a company, we are very committed to salary transparency – both in the workplace overall and for ourselves.
“Let’s get it out in the open, let’s shine a light on it. At Indeed, we have salary transparency and we have just had a really robust conversation in our Slack channels about salaries. We believe that everyone should know for a given level, for a given type of role, what they should be making.”
The company also has a very active women’s group, covering learning and development opportunities.
She believe flexibility has been very advantageous for caregivers, who are often women. But she also is quick to acknowledge that working from home has its own challenges.
“We’re all struggling to find ways to have clear demarcations between work and home life.
“Laptops and computers give us freedom to do a meeting while we’re waiting for our children at the dentist, or something like that – but there’s the burden of feeling constantly accessible. And mobile phones don’t help with that.”
She believes that leaders and managers should draw lines around personal time.
“We have to be active and proactive to draw these lines and shut off, or digital work can invade all the time you have. It’s a real concern.”
Indeed’s latest initiative to support its workers is called the Family Forming benefit. In addition to digital support services, the package includes financial reimbursement for expenses related to IVF, egg and sperm freezing, and surrogacy.
There was a time when staff not in need of such benefits might have resented financial benefits applying only to a certain group of staff. However, she feels Indeed’s holistic approach to workers avoids this.
“We are equally accepting of people who need to take time. We offer mental health leave or personal leave. I have people on my team – male and female – who have certain sporting things that they want to do at certain times, and we work around their schedules.”
Though this was Jensen’s first visit to Dublin with Indeed, she was often in town when she was with Facebook and is effusive in her praise of the country, suggesting Ireland should not overly concern itself with changes to corporate tax.
“The quality of talent here is superlative. We’re here for the people. It’s a wonderful hub to do business across Europe. We have a wonderful relationship with the Irish Government and with companies and partnerships here. This is our European home and that’s utterly critical to us.
“Does tax play a role? Of course. But it’s much, much bigger than that.
“We think of it as the Silicon Valley of Europe. We think of it as a talent hub, an innovation hub. It’s a joy to work with people who have such an expansive view.”
While the jobs markets is extremely buoyant at the moment, the world is seeing huge economic uncertainty. However, Jensen is optimistic.
“I thought the last two and a half years were pretty wild, and I don’t see anything calming down – which is truly, truly amazing.
“At Indeed we are very fortunate that the demand for labour is enormous, and we are growing very well.
“Obviously the world has shown it can turn upside down in an instant – but we are hiring very heavily in Ireland and in many other markets, so we will continue to grow here as long as humanly possible.”