The Power Of Your Purse: Lingerie Edition

I have a bone to pick with L Brands. The parent company of your favorite mall stores including Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works has a major problem when it comes to gender diversity on the corporate level.

There are two women on its 10-person board of directors. One of them, Abigail Wexner, is the wife of CEO Les Wexner. What’s more, there are no women in the company’s C-suite; in other words, that company trying to get you to buy bras based on the sexiness of its models is run mostly by men. 

It looks like investors have a bone to pick now too, though. The company announced this week that it is lowering guidance for the rest of the year. The company will make less money than expected this year because same store sales have fallen, according to the latest earnings report.. 

As a result of the news, L Brands shares fell more than 7% on Thursday before bouncing back slightly. 

The company is reportedly struggling because it decided to stop selling bathing suits and apparel at Victoria’s Secret. Its swimwear business had been worth about $500 million, according to CNBC

I think this is a place where we could be exercising the power of our purses just a little bit more. We can shop for undies at female-founded boutiques like Thistle and Spire or Nubian Skin. We can buy yummy-smelling fragrance from Pinrose and P.F. Candle Co., both of which are founded by women. 

It sometimes takes a little work to find places like these to replace our favorite mall stores that have poor practices when it comes to hiring women. But it’s a necessity in today’s world. Money in the United States is power. If we keep putting ours toward companies we believe in, we can eventually make change. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #16

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What The Google Manifesto Means For Women In Tech

On Aug. 5, news broke that a Google engineer had sent around a 10-page memo to fellow employees that detailed reasons he was skeptical of gender biases in the tech industry, specifically at Google. He claimed that women are biologically less pre-disposed to tech industry jobs.  

Beyond it being wildly unprofessional to send a memo on one's personal beliefs on gender diversity in the workplace, it's clear that Google, one of the largest tech companies in the world, has a major problem.

Sigh, another tech company, another gender diversity scandal. When will it end? It's important to highlight the fact that this screed comes out of an industry that was pioneered by women. Women were some of the first people to work as coders, back when the job was seen as something more secretarial than one with clout. Women like Grace Hopper, Ada Lovelace, Jean Jennings Bartik and Kathy Kleiman revolutionized the industry.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #15

Stitch Fix Files Confidential IPO

This week’s business news included a huge item from women-owned and operated Stitch Fix, an online fashion retailer that offers personal styling advice. 

The company, founded by former Grubhub Director Katrina Lake back in 2010, has filed confidentially for an initial public offering. Translation: You can soon own stock in Stitch Fix.

The company filed a confidential document with the Securities & Exchange Commission last Friday, according to Recode. Reuters previously valued the company between $3 and $4 billion.

Lake, the company’s founder, had previously been sexually harassed by a former partner at venture capital firm Lightspeed Venture Partners. She removed the harasser from her board of directors but was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement at the time because she was in the middle of fundraising. 

Her story is just one of many in the venture capital world, where sexual harassment runs rampant. While the equities market remains a boys club, stricter regulation gives us hope that Lake and her company will be able to succeed without being harassed by men all day. 

In addition to acting as a nice redemption story, the news that Stitch Fix is filing for a public offering signifies that retail isn’t dead - it’s just a changing industry. 

As malls are closing and traditional retailers such as Sears and J.C. Penney flounder, online retailers like Stitch Fix have managed to carve out a portion of the market by offering services such as personal styling.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #14

The Retirement Crisis Women Are Facing

I saw a pretty terrifying statistic this week that reminded me of why She Spends exists. Just 17% of older women polled were able to pass a retirement planning literacy test, according to The American College of Financial Services.

The test includes 38 questions about planning for retirement, such as how much you should have saved up, how your retirement investments work and when you can use them. If you’re interested, you can take the quiz here

While the men who took the quiz didn’t fare well either (just 35% of men polled passed the quiz), it’s clear that there’s yet another gender gap we have to bridge. 

“The results of this study reveal that women continue to require more financial education and
increased planning,” Jocelyn Wright, State Farm chair in women and financial services said in a statement. “Throughout their lifetime women will face challenges that include longer
life expectancy, lower income, increased need for long-term care and they are more likely to
experience widowhood.”

So not only are our financial literacy levels lower than those of men, but we also have all these extra challenges that go along with being a woman to surmount as we save for retirement. Also of note: people with more money did better on the quiz than poorer individuals. And because women make less than men, we’re more likely to exist in lower income brackets.

Other interesting findings? Women who were the primary financial planners in their households did better on the quiz, and those who shared the decisions with their spouse actually scored worse than average (just 12% passed!). 

It’s clear that we need some work when it comes to financial knowledge. Keep following She Spends(and have a look back at our piece on retirement savings). Pass the newsletter along to a friend. The importance of this knowledge cannot be understated. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #13

The Woman Behind One of China’s Biggest Corporations

Ever hear of Alibaba? It’s an e-commerce brand based in China that has both business-to-business and retail capabilities. Founded in 1999, the site is now trading at $152.11 per share and is worth $384 billion overall. 

While its founder and former CEO Jack Ma often gets most of the credit for the way the company revolutionized the Chinese economy, its chief financial officer, Maggie Wu, deserves some credit. 

Maggie Wu, also known as Wei Wu, has worked at Alibaba since 2007 and was promoted to CFO in 2013. Wu oversaw the world’s largest initial public offering (IPO) when Alibaba went public in 2014. The stock was initially valued at $25 billion and trades under the ticker BABA. 

Though the company did experience a hiccup recently - the Securities and Exchange Commission began investigating its accounting practices last year - it continues to grow in popularity. 

Not only can we look to Wu as an example of an executive role model overseas, but we can also follow her progress as a woman in a male-dominated c-suite. Alibaba officials have signaled that the company’s goal is to reap half of its revenues from outside of China, which means we’ll likely hear much more from Wu soon. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #12

The Venture Capital Firm Investing In Women

Venture capital has a severe gender equity problem. For the uninitiated, venture capital funds invest money into startups. These investments are risky, because if the company is a flop, they lose big. If the company, like Glossier, for example, succeeds, so to do investors.

Enter XFactor, a small venture capital fund worth $3 million that invests in startups with at least one woman founder. The firm offers a one time $100,000 investment to startup founders with "billion dollar market opportunities."

Why does it matter? We've discussed previously how this impacts woman-owned startups, from the huge fundraising gap to the lack of representation of women, especially women of color. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #11

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The College Course That Will Teach Future Start-Up Owners How to Promote Gender Equality

We talk a lot at She Spends about the massive gender inequities going on in Silicon Valley. But solving this problem isn't as easy as we think.

Enter Fern Mandelbaum, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who started a 10-week course at Stanford to teach tech bros about what it means to be inclusive. Her goal is to teach students about racial and gender inclusion in the workplace.

It's certainly a welcome change in the tech industry, which often pays lip service to diversity without actually implementing change.  While we certainly hope to live in a world where founders already care about these issues, it's nice to see a top university taking major steps to make change.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #10

Diversity Programs: Not Every One Is Equal

It likely doesn't come as a surprise that approximately 90% of companies have diversity programs. It's a nice buzzword that looks good on paper for a company, even if it doesn't actually practice diversity programs.

A new report from the Boston Consulting Group showed that even though many women's companies have diversity programs, a mere 27% said they felt like the benefitted from them. 

According to the group, there are some real things that can be done to create actual change. First, a clear business case must be established. Having a more diverse staff and a company focused on these types of initiatives is better for the bottom line, period. Second, men need to be involved in the process. So do white people, and able bodies people, and straight people. It needs to be an effort of the privileged to help those with fewer opportunities. Third, actual implementation matters. If the program looks great on paper but doesn't pan out, a company needs to reassess. And finally, being flexible and open to compromise, especially in individual markets, is crucial.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #9

 

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We Really Need To Talk About Healthcare In The U.S.

The thirteen Republican men who brokered the replacement for the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) have finally broken their silence. On Thursday they released the text of their replacement to the public, and things are looking grim.

Beyond taking away healthcare from millions - all for tax cuts for the wealthy in this country - this bill would defund Planned Parenthood and ensure that many conditions become pre-existing. Early next week, the Congressional Budget Office will score the bill. Since it's similar to the bill proposed in the House of Representatives, we can imagine that the CBO's score on the bill will not be good.

I never thought I'd be thankful for Ted Cruz, and yet, here I am. He and three other Senators are considering opposing the bill, since they say it doesn't do enough to eradicate Obamacare. That, in our opinion, sucks, but hey, at least they're getting in they're own way!

This weekend, while it is Pride Weekend in New York (and you know we'll be celebrating!), it's important to show up to protests and Senators' offices to call for them to vote against the bill. Our lives depend on it.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #8

Are We Really Going to Waste More Breath on How Terrible Uber is to Women?

Yes, yes we are. After a former female employee wrote in a blog post that she had been sexually harassed while working for the company in February, the company was put on notice as a bro's club. But in the ensuing months, things have gotten worse.

Last week, Kara Swisher and Johana Bhuiyan of Recode broke the story that a top executive had been fired after obtaining the medical records of a passenger who had been raped by her Uber driver. That executive, Eric Alexander, former president of the Asia Pacific division of the company, passed those records around to others at the company. He stepped down, but even more sexism was to come.

This week at an all-hands meeting held by Uber to address sexism, one of its board members, David Bonderman of TPG Capital, basically called his fellow board member, Arianna Huffington, too chatty. At a meeting about sexism. He called a woman too talkative. YIKES. He did step down, but we suggest downloading Lyft if you haven't yet. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #7

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The Only Woman Leading a Fortune 500 Cosmetics Company

Who would have guessed that as far as Fortune 500 companies go, Avon is way ahead of its peers when it comes to gender representation? A Cosmetics Design report from this week highlighted the fact that Sheri McCoy, the company's CEO, is the only female chief executive of a Fortune 500 cosmetics company. L Brands, Johnson & Johnson, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Clorox are other cosmetic makers in the Fortune 500, but their CEOs are not female. 

While there are many female CEOs of smaller cosmetics makers - think Emily Weiss of Glossier, Mary Dillon of Ulta and Miko Branch of Miss Jessie's haircare, to name a few - most are further downstream. 

And juggernauts like Sephora and Shiseido still have male CEOs. Why does it matter? The products are made to target women. Need we say more? Female executives also often help companies see better returns on investments, regardless of their products. Here's hoping for more representation in the coming years. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #6

Why That Wall Street Journal Article on Female Executive Pay was Totally B.S.

This week the Wall Street Journal published a promising report on female executive pay. Headlines read "Though Outnumbered, Female CEOs Earn More Than Male Chiefs." How exciting, right?

Read a little further. The survey included 21 female CEOs, and 382 male chief executives. Woah. That's pretty inequitable, right? As Fast Company noted, the lead of the story was that women were making $2 million more than men as executives on average, not that 95% of all chief executives were men. 
 
But it gets worse. Glamour reported today that the difference can mainly be accounted for by three female executives - Hewlett Packard's Meg Whitman, IBM's Virginia Rometty, and PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi. The Journal called this trend an "unusual reversal" of the gender pay gap. Sadly, though, the pay gap isn't closer to being bridged. And this story didn't help things.

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #5

What the "Fuck-off Fund" Has To Do With Ruth Madoff (& Why You Should Care)

I've been thinking about Ruth Madoff a lot this week. It feels like we're in some sort of Bernie Madoff bonanza - I saw a few headlines and even a podcast about Madoff at the end of last week. The hubbub seems to have been caused by the release of the new HBO movie, The Wizard of Lies (which is based on a book by incredible journalist Diana Henriques) on Saturday.

Quick rewind though. A little history: Bernie Madoff became the embodiment of the 2008 recession after it was revealed that he had been running a Ponzi scheme for years. Basically, he told people that if they invested their money with him, they'd get massive returns. He faked some trades and showed unreal returns, but eventually, it caught up with him. He ultimately lost investors billions.

So where does Ruth come in? She had been living a life of luxury in Manhattan, blissfully unaware of what her husband Bernie had been up to. There's a scene in the Wizard of Lies movie where Ruth literally asks "what's a Ponzi scheme?" She had no clue what her husband was up to, and in her cluelessness, she became complicit in his lies. What's more is that Ruth's life has changed radically since her husband went to jail. Ruth was allowed to keep $2.5 million her husband earned through the scheme, but in the process, she lost her two sons - one of whom committed suicide as a result of the fraud, and the other who lost his life to cancer believed to have been brought back from remission by all of the stress the situation caused.

I think Ruth's life, while truly tragic, can act as sort of a warning to us all. Sometimes it feels easy to say, oh, I'm not the math-oriented person, I'll let my partner handle the finances. But that can really screw up our lives in myriad ways. The fuck-off fund, a story circulated by women last year, shares the same lesson. It's important to have some measure of financial independence, even if you're in the most perfect relationship on earth. You never know what could happen with your partner. They could be running the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time, and you definitely don't want to be screwed over by something like that. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #4

That Fundraising Gap In Venture Capital? Yeah, It's Huge.

A huge investment gap is crushing female-run startups. Venture capitalists - investors with a lot of money who use it to fund startups - are investing way less in women-led startups than those led by men. Fortune reported in March that women-led companies made up just 4.9% of the startups that received investments from venture capitalists. 

Angry yet? It's about to get worse. This week the Harvard Business Review recorded venture capitalists' conversations about pitches from both women- and men-led companies. The results were bleak. The average male entrepreneur was characterized by VCs as "young and promising" according to the research, while women entrepreneurs were seen as "young, but inexperienced."

This gets worse when you juxtapose it against some of the most successful venture capital-funded startups run by women, like beauty brand Glossier and workout gear maker Outdoor Voices. Just this week, at TechCrunch's Disrupt Conference, founders Emily Weiss and Tyler Haney discussed their success as venture capital-funded apparel and beauty brands.

As Weiss said: "Beauty is not traditionally a VC kind of business. But it’s a quarter-of-a-trillion-dollar market globally, and ripe for disruption. The data speaks for itself.”

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #3

What's Going On in J.Crew's C-Suite?

Preppy retailer J. Crew (JCG) announced at the end of April that the company had made major changes to its executive board. Former chief design officer Jenna Lyons stepped down from the company at the beginning of the month after the retailer continually underperformed. Her replacement? Somsack Sikhounmuong, who previously designed for Madewell, took over the position. This change, though, shifted the balance in the c-suite from majority female to majority male. Other changes included the move of Lisa Greenwald to chief merchandising officer. 

So the c-suite is now majority male...what about the board of directors? Of its eight members, only one, Carrie Wheeler, identifies as a woman. That's bad news for the retailer, as research shows that companies with boards with at least 3 women continually outperform companies who have fewer than three women on their boards.

J. Crew's year-end earnings report was pretty dismal -- revenues for 2016 declined by 3% and missed analyst expectations. This is as a rash of retailers been forced to close stores. Some have even filed for bankruptcy. 

So how can J. Crew turn it around? She Spends recommends starting with the c-suite and board, where shakeups are already occurring. And if they don't? At least we'll have a fantastic bankruptcy sale to look forward to. 

Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #2

The Activist Firm Pressuring Big Banks to Narrow the Wage Gap

Each week this newsletter will feature women making a difference in industries that are traditionally male dominated. I'm especially interested in finance, as the investment gap is still SO HUGE. If you happen to know a woman doing something cool in terms of gender equity, send her our way!

This week we're featuring an activist investment firm that is working to close the wage gap in a surprising way. For the uninitiated, activist investing occurs when a company created to invest money on behalf of shareholders buys a large stake in a publicly traded company. This tends to be more than 5% of shares, but it depends on who you ask. Activist firms purchase large stakes in companies in hopes of making changes -- anything from nominating members to the board to forcing the company to sell itself. 

Arjuna Capital, the activist investment arm of Boston-based Baldwin Brothers, has been using its stakes in companies like Wells Fargo, CitiGroup and Bank of America to address the pay gap between men and women. This is a rarity in activist investing - firms are typically focused on making their targets more profitable. But then again, maybe it makes sense. After all, women make up 51% of the target audience for banks based in the U.S. If we use our ~power of the purse~ correctly, we can push these banks to disclose salaries of employees (which will most likely reveal a pay disparity). Arjuna is just a bit ahead of the game. 

- Alicia McElhaney / She Spends Issue #1