When I was preparing to launch my first book, I hired two highly recommended media coaches to help me prep for the book tour. They were pros. I respected them. So I felt both relieved and excited when they were complimentary about the book and how I presented myself. However, there was a but… just one “tweak” to suggest: I wore jewelry and dressed in a very feminine way, they noted. I should consider “toning that down” in order to be taken seriously because it was “distracting”.
Speechless. I took a deep breathe before responding. I felt instantly both insulted and defensive. I wanted to say- “Seriously? You do know that I run a fashion company, right? My partner Blythe Harris is also a female, and together, we’ve created a large scale global business. ” They did know, and they weren’t ill intended. Let’s not kill the messenger. Reality check. Some people see feminine and they think the opposite of power. They see a business focused on women and think of it as less than. There is a bias. Leaders don’t typically look like me. In 2017 alone, startups with women founders received only 2 percent of the entire venture capital funding. Male entrepreneurs are still twice as likely to receive funding than female entrepreneurs. More unsettling, a recent Harvard study showed that entrepreneurial pitches delivered by men were viewed more favorably than those by women — even when the content of the pitch was exactly the same.
I finally replied. “Thank you. I see where you are coming from. I’m not going to tone it down though, I’m going to find a way to turn it up. I’d rather take one for the team- I have daughters. I want them to live in a world where you can be unapologetically female and taken seriously.”
What do you do when you know the bias is real? You don’t conform and feed the bias, you look for an opportunity to change it. If women saw themselves more in the face of business leaders, would they be more confident in their own business endeavors? When women are more confident and comfortable in their own skin, they can do more for the world, their families, and themselves. Since that day, I intended to find a way to show more diversity in what the world thinks of as a business leader.
Fate tends to cooperate with your intentions. Our amazing Stella & Dot team found the All Woman Project, a charity that develops content aimed at diversifying imagery of women in the media. We partnered with them to feature seven female entrepreneurs. These women, of different backgrounds and ethnicities, sizes and arenas of impact, are creating and contributing to the seismic shift we are witnessing right now of women getting a louder voice in this world. We purposefully highlighted women who have not been on the cover of Forbes (yet), because this moment is about so much more than the few token women we see most visibly in the media (although we’re impressed and inspired by them, too). It’s about the bar owner, the women’s festival founder, the digital influencer, the tech maven, the Independent Stylist — among so many other women out there hustling. The campaign aligned with the Stella & Dot Family of Brands celebrating 10 years of impact- and nearly $500 million in flexible earnings created.
We launched the campaign with a pledge: To eliminate all photoshopping on women’s faces or bodies that would alter their size, ethnic appearance, or signs of aging. Because in the same world where we can be feminine and leaders, we want women to be celebrated for what makes them unique. We shouldn’t be wondering why we don’t look like the images we see in the media when even the models don’t look like that in real life! Bottom line, we don’t want to contribute to women worrying about the size of their ass, we want to help them focus on kicking ass.
The day before the campaign launched, Blythe and I shared our motivation for this step on Facebook. Within 24 hours, amplified by the amazing community of women running their own businesses on the platform we created together, we had broadcast our message to 10s of thousands of people. We admit it- we still like glitter, and the color pink, especially when its blush. We love our families and community. We also like other seriously girly things- like confidence, industry reinvention, impact, and ambition.
Note: In the video, we are wearing some pretty fabulous jewelry.