You Shouldn’t Have to Ask: Open and Inclusive Insurance

I was listening to NPR on the way in to the office this week when Melissa Block started talking about Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. Her story got me thinking about an exchange I had with on Twitter a few weeks ago. It started when Leigh Honeywell tweeted about the kind of culture she looks for – specifically, that she wants to know if a company’s health insurance is transgender-inclusive, even though it’s not an issue that affects her directly.

This started me to thinking. But what prodded me to action was when Trynity Mirell posted that she was looking for a new job.  She said she could only consider roles with trans-inclusive health insurance.

It seems obvious in retrospect, but I’d never thought of it before this conversation started: for some people, the fine print in the insurance coverage is the difference between being able to take a job or not.

I had no idea if our insurance was inclusive. It had never occurred to me to check. But it didn’t take much imagination to realize the predicament of someone searching for a job, knowing that the details of the health insurance offered could spell bankruptcy for them. What’s worse, there’s no way to find out the answers short of asking directly – an uncomfortable conversation for some people that could expose the job-seeker to questions and illegal discrimination.

What’s more, it’s not just transgender men and women who face this challenge. If you’re facing chronic illness, bariatric surgery, or mental health issues, you need to know if your job will cover your needs. The fine print on a health insurance plan could turn your dream job into a financial catastrophe. In some parts of the country, even benefits we here in Seattle take for granted (like the coverage of contraception) are at the whims of the plan or employer.

It’s not fair to force candidates to disclose these deeply personal matters in the course of a job interview. I sat down with Kira, our head of business operations, to try and find a way to fix this. We wound up doing two things that we think are extremely important, and we urge other companies to do the same.

First, we’re posting the full insurance summaries of our current insurance plans. Candidates can look at these documents even before applying to understand what coverage we offer and know if it will work for them.

Second, we’re publishing important details that are not covered in the summaries. We asked our health plan representatives about the major issues that we’ve heard are important and are not addressed in the insurance summary, but are only buried in the fine print of the actual plan documents: fertility, bariatric surgery, and gender reassignment. Here’s what we learned about the insurance we offer at Glowforge, beyond the broad strokes of the plans (attached below):

  • Fertility treatments are covered when they treat an underlying condition, but not otherwise. IVF is not covered.
  • Bariatric surgery is covered if it is medically necessary.
  • Gender reassignment surgery and other transgender-related care is covered if medically necessary.

I wish these answers were even more inclusive, because otherwise, we’re pretty proud of our insurance at Glowforge. As a small startup, our options are limited: we can’t demand additions to the big insurance companies’ standard coverage list, so we can’t get them to cover all three of these conditions under all circumstances. When we get bigger, we intend to do that. For now, we’re doing what we can: we chose the plan that we could find with the most coverage for our employees, present and future.

Beyond that, though, it’s coverage we’re excited to offer to our team. Our insurance covers 90% of our costs, and ensures we’ll never pay more than $2,700 per year, per person, and only 2x that per family, no matter how big the family. We’ve got solid dental and vision coverage too, and Glowforge pays 100% of the premiums for the employee, plus half of the cost for dependents.

You can look at the documents linked below for more details. If you have any other questions or if there are any major omissions, you can email them to us at  Feel free to use an anonymous ‘throwaway’ email account, for example using  Also, feedback is very welcome. There are a lot of thoughtful people who’ve thought about these issues more than us, and we’d welcome opinions on how we could improve.

One important caveat: this post was correct as of the time of publishing, 6/5/2015. Insurance changes at least on a yearly basis, and sometimes more often. We’ll do our best to update this when it changes, but if you’re considering a job with us, and this question is an important one for you, email us (anonymously or not) to be sure you’ve got the latest information.

Glowforge 2015 Premera Medical Plan

Glowforge 2015 Delta Dental Plan

Glowforge 2015 VSP Vision Plan

A Different Kind of Job Offer

Negotiating your salary stinks. You’re excited about your new job, but before you can start, you have to have a giant argument about your personal finances with your soon-to-be-employer. You’re torn between being rude and being a patsy. Play the hardline? Take what’s offered?

I always hated this, no matter which side of the negotiation I was on. It’s unfair that people get paid more because they’re better negotiators. And it’s downright outrageous that, according to academic research, women get penalized for negotiating* – meaning, in many cases, they opt not to do it, and get paid less as a result.

At Glowforge, we’re trying to make things a little better, so we do it differently.  Here’s how a Glowforge job offer works**.

Before we even open the job position, we describe the role and figure out the right amount to pay by pulling data from Payscale, Glassdoor,, and others.  We aim to pay just above the 75th percentile for salary, meaning the majority of companies pay less than us for similar work.  But it also means that anyone who’s working here could choose instead to work at one of the giant local tech companies that write bigger monthly paychecks, if salary is the most important thing.

Early on in our conversation about the role, we’ll encourage you to look at some of those websites yourself so you can see if our typical pay differs from what you’re making now.

When we get closer to making an offer, we’ll talk to you about equity. I couldn’t find any good explanation of the expected value of startup equity so I wrote a blog post about it – be sure to check out the comments at the bottom for some great alternate perspectives. I’ll explain personally to you our financing situation, our long term goals, and answer any questions. Long story short, if you believe in our company, the equity is a great deal; if you don’t, you won’t want to be here anyway.

Then we give you a job offer, with an important caveat: we tell you that we’re going to make the offer better. You have the opportunity to sleep on it and decide what’s most important to you. Do you need more salary to make the numbers work? Are you OK with the salary, and want to go all-in on the stock? Or maybe just split the difference? It’s important to us that you find the right balance for your needs, and the best way for us to do that is to just ask.

Once we know what part of the job offer is most important to you, we’ll come back with the very best job offer we can. It will be better than our first one – more stock, or more salary, or more of both, depending on which you ask for (it won’t get lower).  We won’t keep a secret negotiation budget in our pocket or make you pretend you have counteroffers to get our best deal. We’ll just put it on the table.

We realize that this is a tradeoff. There are some self-described “rock stars” who are really good at negotiating their salary and follow the money wherever it goes. With this approach to job offers, we don’t hire them.

But that means we all get to work with people who are here for something a little more than the paycheck. People who are excited about creating the future together. And we think that, ultimately, that’s the very best part of the offer.


* Glowforge advisor Cate Huston recommends the book “Women Don’t Ask” for a more detailed look at this. She also points out that people of color may have the same negotiation penalty, although the research we could find on it wasn’t specific to job negotiations.

** For most but not all roles – for example, if and when we hire a VP of Sales (a role where we actually do want to pay people for their negotiation skills), we’ll tell them openly that this doesn’t apply.