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In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep, played a powerful editor whose demands exasperate her assistant, played by Anne Hathaway. In this photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox , Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada" wears a Bill Blass jacket and dress, and a Roberto Cavalli belt as she flips through racks of designer clothes. (AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox) (Associated Press)
In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep, played a powerful editor whose demands exasperate her assistant, played by Anne Hathaway. In this photo provided by Twentieth Century Fox , Meryl Streep's character in "The Devil Wears Prada" wears a Bill Blass jacket and dress, and a Roberto Cavalli belt as she flips through racks of designer clothes. (AP Photo/Twentieth Century Fox) (Associated Press)

Women@work

What do you value: Title, paycheque or corporate culture? Add to ...

When a recruiter contacted me some time ago about a role at a prestigious media company, with an impressive job title and above-average paycheque, I felt obligated to explore the opportunity.

The weeks-long process was exhausting, involving multiple interviews, once on a weekend and once on a statutory holiday. On one occasion, I was expected to wait for nearly five hours for a phone interview with a senior executive. The whole experience made me realize just how much I value respect and consideration. By the end, I was asking myself whether the company and I would be a good fit, even if the job were a gem.

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As a society, we sometimes extol the virtues of soul-destroying corporate culture. Consider the movie The Devil Wears Prada, in which the glamour of working for Meryl’s Streep’s demanding character appeared to outweigh the suffering under her heartless tendencies. And in the initial pages of Greg Smith ’s Why I left Goldman Sachs, he writes admiringly of the hazing-style meetings that often left interns in tears.

While a flashy job title with a lucrative paycheque can serve as a siren call to many, especially in a challenging economy, there are good reasons to resist temptation and instead examine a company’s corporate culture.

Laura Henderson, co-author of How Women Lead: The 8 Essential Strategies Successful Women Know, suggests that corporate culture should trump title and pay.

Their book profiles 15 highly successful women and found that women look for a workplace that appreciates what they bring to the role and also has compatible values.

“Jobs can change. You can get a promotion, you can get moved to another section but the culture will not change. It will be consistent in one where there is a fit or there isn’t,” Ms. Henderson said.

Generally speaking, she and co-author Sharon Hadary gleaned from their research that women want to work for a company that “just feels right.”

That translates into a work environment that honours “all the other parts of your life so you don’t need to pretend they don’t exist,” Ms. Henderson said.

“It’s a company that you’re proud to say you work for,” she added.

Increasingly, the question of finding a company that matches their values ranks high for many job applicants.

Anushka Grant, a senior manager in client service quality at consulting firm Deloitte in Toronto, finds that the question of corporate culture is a frequent issue in their recruitment process.

“Just two weeks ago, I was interviewing a candidate and one of her first questions in her first interview was,How does the firm support work-life balance? What specific programs exist?” said Ms. Grant, who has had three children since joining the firm.

A decade ago, “few people were comfortable asking some of these questions,” she added.

In a nod to her employer’s culture, Ms. Grant co-founded a program called Career Moms to support women returning to work after maternity leave. A Deloitte Dads group has also come to life.

“While title is important, I would argue that corporate culture is more important when deciding on your career path,” said Ms. Grant.

For some companies, culture trumps everything. For example, online shoe retailer Zappos offers new employees $2,000 to leave during the course of their training: The company wants to ensure its staff stay for more than just a paycheque. The tactic might seem extreme, but rests on sound business logic because a healthy corporate culture not only encourages talent retention, it also improves the bottom line.

“Culture is being seen as a key differentiator in the market for attracting and retaining top talent, as well as beating your competition,” said Bonnie Flatt, founder of Flatt & Associates, an executive coaching and leadership development firm in Toronto.

Ms. Flatt said she has a client in the service sector that is trying to change its culture from one in which information was not shared freely and staff did not challenge instructions. The company’s new focus emphasizes the sharing of knowledge, but management also wants all of its employees to connect with the firm’s purpose.

“I don’t think culture is more important to men or women,” Ms. Flatt added.

“We, as human beings, want to work in cultures that support and nurture us, liberate our human spirit and create the space for us to do great work individually and collectively.”

Leah Eichler is founder of Femme-o-Nomics, a networking and content portal for professional women and r/ally, a mobile collaboration app.

E-mail: leah.eichler@femme-o-nomics.com

Follow on Twitter: @LeahEichler

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